12 Dec 2013 Premium SA wine producers set up new accreditation scheme
The Cape Vintner Classification (CVC) is an independent body committed to the accreditation, governance and promotion of distinctive Cape wines whose stamp will assure customers of the quality of the wine and integrity of the wine-making process.
While South Africa produces many premium wines, the country’s wine-makers still struggle to attract the full attention of the top wine critics and can’t sell their wines at a price that reflects the quality of their product.
This is partly as a result of South Africa’s success in exporting cheap wine in bulk and partly because the industry has failed to mobilise behind one set of goal-posts.
“We think we are in one boat,” says Johann Rupert, owner of Anthonij Rupert Wyne, “but in reality one needs an air traffic controller to manage the egos and prevent collisions”.
“The Cape has three and a half centuries of wine making culture and vintners who have passed their knowledge of soils and vineyards from one generation to the next,” he adds. “It’s time our top producers begin telling their story a little more forcefully and the CVC is the ideal vehicle to do that.”
“We need a new way to represent the true value and potential of South African wine,” adds Jean Engelbrecht, owner of Rust en Vrede wine estate and a founder member of CVC. “The international landscape has changed in the last decade and our structures no longer serve our needs.”
It was about six years ago Rupert and six of his fellows in the industry began talking about what it would take to “raise the bar” on South African wine. “It took three times as long as it took to draw up South Africa’s constitution,” he says. “The result is not perfect but it’s a good start and it should get good buy-in.”
CVC will begin the accreditation process for membership on January 2, 2014. Any winemaker wanting to participate in the scheme will have to meet certain minimum standards: they need to own a registered wine estate not smaller than 20 hectares and which produces no less than 6 000 cases of wine annually.
In addition members will submit to an independent audit that assesses the estate on the basis of technical and environmental standards; cellar door facilities; ethical matters and not least of all, wine quality.
Typically to be registered as a wine estate, the grapes used in the wine-making must come from the farm itself, or neighbouring farms and the wine must be produced on the farm. Only then can the word Estate be used on the label.
“But this is ridiculous,” says Duimpie Bayly, a veteran of the wine industry and chairman of the CVC board. “It means that anyone with a patch of land, a grape vine and a garage-press can be registered as an estate.”
“This is not a club,” adds Rupert. “The process must be empirical, transparent and objective. Everyone must be able to see why someone succeeded or not. That is the only way this can work.”
CVC is also not an attempt by a small group to bypass established organisations in the industry such as Fairtrade or export promotion agency, Wines of South Africa. Instead the intent is to complement their efforts.
Siobhan Thompson, the new CEO of Wosa is not threatened. “This is a gift. Our job at WOSA is to promote all South African wine. We cannot promote just premium wine or just bulk wine. So if a group is working to raise the profile of premium wines, it will benefit the entire industry.”
In certain cases it seems CVC members are happy to bypass some industry bodies. Wieta, the Wine Industry Ethical Trade Association has not found favour with everyone.
“My standards are higher than those of Wieta,” says Rupert. “I do not see the need to have labour relations bedevilled by what is really a semi-political body. We will adhere to international labour standards, and if we become aware of criminals who are mistreating their people (not just in CVC) we will make sure they do not export.”
Around 30 wine farms have applied for membership, including Springfield, Waterford, DeMorgenzon, Groot Constantia, Vriesenhof Vineyards, Vergelegen, Delaire Graff Estate and Kanonkop.
Once the accreditation process is underway, CVC will begin an international road show.