Diversity and longevity
You are always made to feel most welcome when visiting South African Wineries, but no more so than when you arrive 24 hours early for a visit at Stellenbosch Vineyards. I guess my excuse is my enthusiasm for the South African wine industry.
Stellenbosch Vineyards were the first cooperative in South Africa to form a wine company and since 1998 it has been a public company. Nonetheless this is not a new venture as the original Welmoed farm, where the current business is located, dates back to 1690.
In true professional style I am welcomed by Jonathen Ralph, who is responsible for sales in the U.K and parts of the European market. Jonathen explains that currently South Africa produces more wine than it consumes, as is true of many markets. So what are the solutions for a company that produces more than 1 million bottles annually? To export of course, this is the key to commercial viability. Certainly Stellenbosch vineyards have a strong export focus, having a fully staffed export department and strong distributor network. While these are crucial for export, in themselves they do not equal success. To succeed you must provide innovative products, in the desired quantities at a commercial price. Stellenbosch Vineyards export around 80% of production, with Northern Europe being a major market. They produce well-known brands, such as Arniston Bay and Welmoed, and also supply major supermarkets, such as Albert Hein in Holland.
Nonetheless to stay ahead in the competitive export market you must innovate, thus the launch of Arinston Bay infusions, a wine based range of drinks with added botanicals and fruit flavours. While many in the wine trade look down on these wine based products we have to remember that fruit has been mixed with wine for many centuries, think of Sangria in Spain or sipping Vin Chaud on the French ski slopes. Furthermore both the spirit and cider industry are using fruit and added ingredients in order to grow their market share, with fruit ciders and spirit based cocktails. As these often appeal to younger and new to alcohol consumers a danger for the wine industry could be that if products, such as Fruit Fusions, are not developed certain consumer groups will abandon wine in favour of other alcohol. There is also an argument that this fusion, or mixing, of differing drink types is an extension of fusion food, which blends together differing cuisines.
However having all your eggs in the export basket could be dangerous. Outside forces, such as currency fluctuations or trade agreements, can adversely affect your business. While only 20% of Stellenbosch Vineyards wines are sold in South Africa, 20% of 1 million bottles is still a sizeable business. Therefore the home market cannot be ignored. One way to build your home market is to offer onsite vineyard events, such as the successful Pizza and Wine Festival held at Stellenbosch Vineyards earlier this year. These types of events not only encourage locals but also tourists, which can have a knock on effect for export when the tourists return home. Additionally there are on site conference facilities a restaurant and a shop. While currently only around 5% of sales are generated through the onsite shop, these sales often provide a greater return, as the overheads, compared to selling thorough other outlets, are usually lower.
While there is a strong focus at Stellenbosch Vineyards is mid-market branded export products, again it would be dangerous to have all your wines in this basket. So this is certainly not the only string to their bow. Stellenbosch Vineyards produce several ranges from the premium Flagship range, made in exceptional vintages. There is also the Credo range, made from grapes from the best Stellenbosch terroirs, then barrel selected by winemaker Abraham De Villiers and his team. Next the ‘Stellenbosch Vineyard’ range leads to the accessible and easy drinking styles, such as Four Secrets and Arniston Bay, which Abraham and his team also make and blend; thus producing wines for a range of occasions.
So at Stellenbosch Vineyards there is a strong streak of diversity running through this long established wine business that has allowed them to last for over 400 years.
BayWinemaker Abraham De Villiers, Communications Chantelle Boucher and Petri du Beer winemaking
Wines tasted included
- Shiraz Rose with a lively fresh palate and appealing strawberry colour
- Verdelho, delicious wine with a broad structured palate, this wine sees MLF, lees stirring and some barrel fermentation.
- Pinotage a lighter style focusing on juicy, bright red berry fruits. The fruit is sourced from the cooler areas of False Bay