The South African wine industry is experiencing one of its most exciting phases in history. Overall, wine quality has increased dramatically over the past five years, international recognition is at an all-time high and the consumer is now spoilt for choice, with a wealth of new producers, varieties and styles.
Though winery input costs have risen and the continued drought may mean a significant drop in yield, the battered rand has helped exports and aids profitability. South African wine offers tremendous value locally and abroad, but premium South African wines are surging in price, widening the gap against everyday sipping wines.
So what are some of the trends emerging in 2018? We speak to Roland Peens, director of Wine Cellar – fine wine merchants – about his five top trends and predictions.
1. Premium rosé
Rosé is ever popular currently and the growth of the premium rosé category continues around the world. It has, however, taken some time in South Africa as we have had to shake off the poor-quality, semi-sweet, bright pink image. Rosé can be a by-product of red-wine making in order to make reds more concentrated. It can also be a blend of left-over red and white wines. The category of premium rosé is quality-focused and when created well, rosé can offer the freshness of a fine white and the depth of a light red. The south of France is famous for its rosé from Bandol in Provence, some of which can age for decades. Serious rosé is gaining popularity in South Africa and more producers are figuring out how to make and market exciting wines. The talk of the town is the Jean Roi Cap Provincial Rosé 2016 from L’Ormarins. It’s a blend of varieties, including a large Cinsaut component from the Swartland. Light salmon in colour, there is lovely depth of florals, citrus, and a savoury and textured finish. Well worth its R300 price tag!
2. Sauvignon Blanc is back
Over the past decade in SA, Sauvignon Blanc has been hurdled by Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc as the leading white varieties. Usually offering a crisp acidity, tropical flavours and green-pepper notes, South African Sauvignon Blanc can be rather watery, however, and offers less excitement than other varieties. But, older vines, lower yields and more authentic winemaking can make for serious, long-aging versions. Bloemendal Suider Terras Sauvignon Blanc 2015 is arguably SA’s best, produced from a 35-year-old heritage block, high up in Durbanville in the Western Cape. It is powerful, richly textured and has the structure to age a decade, or even two. At R500 it is also SA’s most expensive. 2017 is also quickly being regarded as the best vintage of Sauvignon Blanc in the past decade, so expect your favourite Sauvie to have an extra gear this year.
3. Drought will affect prices
Three years of drought in the Western Cape is going to severely impact on yields in 2018, as water quotas are slashed and the vines struggle to keep up production. This will not only decrease volumes but also push up costs in years to come. Expect entry-level wines to become more expensive as stocks are diminished and the drought continues. Economically and politically, this is a major concern as large-volume wineries operate at marginal profitability levels.
4. Buy the great vintages en primeur
As entry-level wines will be affected by the drought, SA’s premium wines will also be affected, but in a different way. Lower yields and smaller berries make for more concentrated and perhaps better-quality wines. Farming and production costs will continue to push SA’s premium wines up faster than inflation. With relatively small volumes for South Africa’s top wines, especially gaining huge international following, demand will be bigger than supply. The model of en primeur, or buying pre-release, will become more popular for the highly demanded great vintages. Buying pre-release wine not only allows you to secure your purchase early, but also to speculate on the price if you think it may appreciate on release. As the quality of the fine 2017 vintage is realised, expect there to be a strong demand to buy 2017 en primeur already in 2018.
5. Online retail boom
South Africa is still behind in online retail, with mature markets such as the US or UK buying five times more goods online than SA. As the internet becomes faster, transactions more secure and e-commerce more efficient, expect to buy more of your wine online. It is great to peruse the bottles on a shelf, but expect lower prices online, more information, no lugging of heavy wine boxes, shopping in your nightie and, of course, no parking issues…