The UK accounts for about a quarter of all South African wine exports. Last year, the value of the Cape’s trade with the UK rose by an incredible 28%.
Jo Wehring, UK market manager for Wines of South Africa, says: “Over the past 10 years we’ve been working on changing the image of South African wine from being cheap and cheerful to being a premium, exciting producer. The UK indie sector has been vital in getting that message across.”
Chris Racey, Mumbles Fine Wines, south Wales: “I’m a big fan of South Africa and have been travelling there for many years. We are 38% up on South Africa year on year.
“A lot of effort has gone into it. I don’t think it’s customer driven, it’s more by the team who promote it in store.
“We have had given it a bit more shelf space and run regular offers. The uptake has been very positive and we get repeat custom.
“We sell a lot of entry-level stuff as South Africa is good value, but I think the terroir-driven wines are starting to express themselves as opposed to the more generic varietals. The estates that are more cognisant of terroir and its role in the final bottling are succeeding more than those who have their heads in the sand.”
Penny Edwards, Cellar Door Wines, St Albans: “I am southern African and have family in South Africa, and lots of friends who are winemakers or work in the wine trade, so I have made an extra effort over the past two years to increase my range and push South African wine on social media and in store. Our uplift has been quite significant.”
Alan Irvine, The Scottish Gantry, Stirling and Milngavie: “If you have customers who’ve visited South Africa, been in the vineyards or have family out there, that is a key part to your selling.
“We’ve brought in wines that cover broad bases in terms of styles and price points and they all move equally well. Probably the mid-range, at around £15 to £20 a bottle, sells best. I would say our growth is in line with the [overall 28% export increase] figure and it’s driven by various things.”
Daniel Grigg, Museum Wines, Blandford Forum: “I think it’s the best value wine in the world. The New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc we were selling to pubs at £7.50 is now nine pounds something and it’s not any better. All of our trade accounts have switched to a South African. They’re still paying £7.50 and they’ve got a better wine.
“Similarly, Provence rosé is not as good value as it was and South Africa is one of the few countries outside of France where they have figured out that people want a pale pink rosé with just 12% alcohol. The South Africans are tapping into that.
“Then there’s MCC, Champagne method sparkling wine. We’ve got a zero dosage wine, which has spent eight years on lees and it’s £14 to the trade or £24.99 on our website. If you compare that to Champagne, it would be three times that, at least.”
Jason Millar, Theatre of Wine, London: “We’re not really relying on cross-selling: we don’t need South Africa as an alternative, for example, to New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or a Provence rosé.
“It’s sold very much on the basis that it’s an interesting country that has a lot to say for itself. It has old vines, it has interesting blends and great winemaker stories and those are the things we lead with, particularly since the South Africa new wave when we started listing these wines about a decade ago.
“Rather than have a conversation based around price point, I’m more interested in talking about what winemakers like Chris Albrecht [at Bouchard Finlayson] and Sam O’Keefe at Lismore are doing and the way they are shaping and defining the industry.
“The dynamism and creativity coming from South Africa excites my customers.”
Erik Laan, The Vineking, Surrey: “What’s been fascinating for me is, over the last 10 years, the new generation coming in.
“South Africa works really well for us, though I think my customers do struggle a bit on higher priced wines, and some of the styles are a little bit more niche.
“For real wine geeks we love the wines that are a bit more ethereal, Grenaches and things like this, but my customers still love Meerlust, and the classics.
“The South Africans have got the can-do attitude in spades. They have a real collegiate approach to winemaking.
“They have a good system via Stellenbosch University where they take people in from the townships to work in the wineries. There’s a real rise of talent there that you don’t see anywhere else.”
Read the full South Africa round table report, published in partnership with Wines of South Africa, in the May 2022 edition of The Wine Merchant