News / Africa

South Africa Cultivates Wine Market

A couple at the WineX Wine Festival in Sandton samples the red wine from Leopard's Leap, a winery on the Western Cape of South Africa, October 2012. (VOA/Peter Cox)
A couple at the WineX Wine Festival in Sandton samples the red wine from Leopard's Leap, a winery on the Western Cape of South Africa, October 2012. (VOA/Peter Cox)
South Africa is the world's seventh-largest wine-producing country.  As the wine industry has grown, there has been a growing focus on expanding the country's wine-drinking customer base.
 
Youth appeal

A high-end winery on the Western Cape of South Africa, Stellenzicht, has launched a new wine called Red ESCape.  The bottle label shows a cartoon-like USB cable that runs between computers, modems, grapes, satellite dishes and wine barrels.
 
Assistant winemaker Natalee Botha says the idea is to appeal to a broader and younger audience.
 
"We decided to make it more accessible for the public.  Do something funky with the label," she said.

The wine was marketed at the WineX festival in Sandton, a wealthy suburb of Johannesburg.
 
"It is funny," said Botha. "I had a guy from Sandton last night that told me, 'This is Sandton, honey, something like this is not going to work here.'  And I thought to myself, he has to remember that this whole country is not Sandton."

Black middle class

As South Africa's wine industry matures, Botha says wineries are looking to expand their customer base, trotting out new labels that will appeal to a broader cross-section of the country.

"The whole idea is that I want everyone to drink wine.  I want everyone to perceive wine as something cool.  I do not want people to find wine intimidating," she said.

The general consensus among winemakers is that South Africa's growing black middle class is a market that has been ignored.  But that has been changing.

South Africa's population is 79 percent black, but among wine consumers, that number has been much lower.  According to the All Media and Products Survey in 2006, 53 percent of the country's wine drinkers were black.  In 2010, that had grown to 63 percent.

Afika Fikeni, of Midrand, came out to sample white wines.

"It makes it easy for us to advance and bring more wine into our homes with the type of food we want to have.  Because we are not wine kind of people as black people, really.  It is a great event," said Fikeni.

He said the industry could do a better job of reaching out to black, middle-class consumers.

That's what winemaker Eugene Vanzyl of Leopard's Leap winery is trying to do.

"Obviously there is parts of the population that were not exposed to wine that much," he said. "We do a lot of tastings in areas that were not previously exposed to wine.  We do wine shows in Soweto and things like that."

Vanzyl says it is a growing process.

"I am pleasantly surprised to see the interest of the black consumer," he said. "It is really picking up quite nicely now.  It is a different market, because traditionally they are beer drinkers.  It is a bit of a challenge for us to slowly convince them, but it is becoming an 'in thing.'  That is the way it evolves, eh?"

In 10 years his winery has gone from selling 7,000 cases a year to 1.3 million cases.

Wineries are also finding ways to make their labels stand out on the shelf - hoping to attract novice wine drinkers.

Winemaker Duncan Savage was filling glasses with Splattered Toad Sauvignon Blanc.  The wine is named after a toad near their winery endangered by vehicles on nearby roads.  His bottles are adorned with a cartoon of a flattened toad.  It attracts the eye.  The taste attracts the palate.

"We started at 20,000 bottles in 2009 and in 2012, 300,000," he said. "People have latched onto it.  They absolutely love the concept.  It is quirky, it's fun and it appeals to a market that before we really did not have access to."

Wine aficionados

From 2005 to 2010, wine drinkers in South Africa grew from 1.7 million to three million.

"I walked in here and went to the wines I knew," said wine lover Kavita Chouhan.  "I got stuff that I know.  I do not really want to come try something new.  I know what is good.  If you think about what you drank in varsity, and what you drink now, it is definitely a change."

Chouhan said it has become popular to be serious about wine.

"Being a wine connoisseur has almost become fashionable," she said. "I do not know how many people actually enjoy doing it.  I am like, 'People should enjoy themselves.'  If they are not into wine, they should not be embarrassed to say that."

Winemakers are acknowledging the market for new consumers has great potential.

And Natalee Botha says there is great potential for the new Red ESCape wine her company is marketing.

"We have been thinking a lot about the concept.  And it is actually crazy that we do not think someone has tried it yet," she said. "It is a sleeping giant.  We do not have little plans with this wine."

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