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Does anyone care about Cape wine?

Veteran and hugely respected wine writer, Michael Fridjohn, has penned a rather bleak outlook on SA wine’s status in the world… Well, we love it, but do read his provocative essay!

Since the end of isolation – pretty much 30 years ago – Cape wine has gone from being the pariah of international markets to an easy abuse victim.

For years we thought that the extraordinary boom in our export volumes was evidence that wine drinkers everywhere loved our version of sunshine in a bottle. Now we know (or at least should know) that the reason we’re so popular is that, in wine terms at least, we’re just an easy pomp.

Consider the facts: in the three decades since international markets started opening up for us, our exports have increased almost twenty fold. Pretty much half of our national production is sold abroad, a vastly greater percentage than either France or Italy could claim.

Compare that with 1992 when our official exports were around 2% of the total wine crop. It’s hard not to feel a sense of national pride at this achievement.

I’m afraid I’m going to have to return to my carefully chosen metaphor of the “easy pomp.” Unlike Farmer Brown’s famous chickens (which tasted so good because they ate so good), we sell so good because we price so good. When it comes to dropping our broeks, we are out of the starting blocks faster than Usain Bolt.

Very little of this is news to anyone who unpacks the numbers SAWIS dutifully shares on its website. Our bulk wine exports are growing and in 2021 represented around 63% of our total sales abroad. More than 30 years after Nelson Mandela walked out of the Victor Verster prison and our export markets began to open up, we are still predominantly a source of cheap quality wine.

And who are our customers? Anyone who will pay pretty much the same now as they did thirty years ago once you adjust for inflation and currency devaluation.

SAWIS does its best to whitewash the figures – showing that producer prices (up to 2021) were fractionally ahead of the Producer Price Index. However, when it comes to exports there’s only one figure that counts and that’s the hard currency selling price per litre. In 2021, including the far more lucrative local market, our grape growers banked an average of £0,33 per litre – which is pretty much the same as they were earning three decades ago…..

So, in short, no one loves us more than they did when the world “rediscovered” South Africa and we set out on the Rainbow cruise of a lifetime in the shadow of the Great Madiba. Meet the price, get the deal… and the price is the same old price. South Africa is no more of a brand today than it was when Nelson Mandela, stepping out of the Apartheid-era jail, obtained for us our get-out-of-jail pass.

What does that really tell us? In thirty years we’ve built no brand USP. There is nothing uniquely South African that the world is beating a path to our door to discover, to take home to justify traveling to one of the furthest (from first world international markets) wine regions of the world. Even our established new generation heroes are simply doing what wine geeks the world over are doing: rediscovering “old vines”, handling the fruit with the least visible intervention, talking a good talk….. Read the full article