Chenin - are we confusing the consumer?

Wednesday, 16 September, 2009
Judy Brower, WINE.CO.ZA
Are we confusing the wine explorer by offering too much with Chenin? Carolyn Barton explores Chenin Blanc at the recent Chenin Blanc Technical Day hosted by the Chenin Blanc Association at Kleine Zalze
After worrying that I had missed the start of the Chenin Blanc Technical Day arriving after 10am, I was relieved to find that I had missed only the very technical stuff (whew!), and just caught the tail end of an incredibly complicated yeast discussion!

The Kleine Zalze function room was filled to capacity with over 120 winemakers, marketers, media and general interested parties. The difficulty is in keeping both marketers and winemakers interested while covering both technical and business topics, but by keeping many of the technical presentations short and to the point - everyone managed to get something valuable from the morning.

For me the most interested and thought-provoking was the summing up of Chenin by Carolyn Barton - the woman behind the wines at Makro.  The stats speak for themselves: With 13 stores nationally, 1,500 wines listed, more than 100 running metres of wines on the shelves - they are a force to be reckoned when trying to sell your wine in South Africa.

When tasting the Chenins as an exercise for the presentation. they found most of the wines to be really good. The issue seemed to be that there are so many different styles of Chenin that we seem to be confusing the customer and also don't tell them what is in the bottle - we don't use the back labels effectively.
On the other hand, when people are looking for Sauvignon blanc, the taste profile is fairly specific, but with Chenin we have sweet, fruity, dry and everything inbetween.  "It is all fine to make such a wide range, but inform the consumer, educate the consumer" says Carolyn.
Over the last 12 months (Sept 2008 - Aug 2009, the white wine wine volume sold at Makro was split as follows:
  •    32% Sauvignon blanc
  •    10.4% Chardonnay
  •    6.6% Chenin blanc (which was 4% only 5 years ago)
  •    2.6% Other Varietals
  •    47.6% Blends
With Price Points per bottle:
  •    R  0 - 24   27%
  •    R25 - 44   54.4% 
  •    R45 - 79   16.2%
  •   > R80       1.7%
However, 50% of all Chenin Volume sold are the Top 6 Chenins - which sell on average at R29 (Vat inclusive) per bottle. Interesting to note is that the Top 6 Sauvignon blanc sellers average a price of R39 per bottle!
Have a look at the videos for more insight into Chenin blanc from Carolyn Barton from Makro. Some are long but well worth a viewing. Well done to the Chenin Blanc Assocation in getting her to speak - we don't often hear what is really happening on the shop floor and what the consumer is buying and looking for...