Popping the cork on the KZN wine scene

Monday, 18 November, 2019
Laurie Cooper
We all know that, historically, the KZN public has been fairly reserved when buying wine, with Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot being a staple in most KZN wine racks but has this shifted in recent years, and has the KZN wine landscape changed?

There is no doubt that there has been a seismic shift in the consumer’s approach to wine as the wine culture of KZN matures with each year. Wine sales are up, education has increased and wine lovers are gaining confidence with each sip.

The KZN public have proven to be some of the most brand loyal consumers with brand recognition being the number one influence when buying wine. The likes of Waterford, Springfield, Warwick and Hartenberg remain firm favourites. Consumers are looking for trusted brands that deliver consistency and quality at an affordable level. That said, with the increase in wine tastings across the province, consumers are being exposed to new wines on a more regular basis resulting in them being far more adventurous in their wine choices.

In recent years, there has been an exponential rise in wine pairings with regular events available to the public at the provinces’ top restaurants such as The Chefs Table, Café 1999 and the Living Room at Summerhill. Other wine events include sundowners at the Jackie Cameron School of Food and Wine and the popular guest winemaker days at Abingdon Wine Estate. While these events used to be the responsibility of the sales reps and agents, we have seen an increase in winemakers willing to travel to KwaZulu-Natal to personally share the story of their wines. This can only result in a wider brand awareness, particularly of the previously smaller lesser known winemakers who are producing world class wines, wines that the previously forgotten KZN public would never have been exposed to, and, in turn, resulting in the public’s willingness to show their appreciation and loyalty by buying by the case load.

Jackie Cameron School of Food and Wine

In 2018, market research announced that the KZN public were willing to pay more per bottle than any other province, topping both Gauteng and the Western Cape. Consumers want the very best and are no longer satisfied by the entry level wines but are thirsty for a showcase of the premium range. There is a growing generation of wine enthusiasts in KZN, particularly in areas North of Durban, such as Ballito and Umhlanga,who have a keen interest in wine and significant disposable income to pursue their passion.

With no wine heritage to fall back on and few expectations, the KZN public has shown an appetite for learning and a complete absence of any wine ego. Wine is so far removed from the Zulu culture, that a lack of knowledge in wine is embraced and celebrated as a blank canvas. This increase in knowledge is largely supported by KZN’s first wine school, the KZN School of Wine. Situated at Abingdon Wine Estate in the KZN Midlands, the KZN School of Wine enables the public to partake in fun unaffiliated wine courses through to intense WSET qualifications as well as sommelier programmes. The school is also the only one in the province to offer internationally recognized qualifications from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust. It actively trains staff from many of the province’s hotels, restaurants, lodges and chef schools.

Education, coupled with a growing wine industry of its own, has brought about a localized wine route (albeit a small one) that has enabled the public to enjoy wine tastings and local wine on their very doorstep. The wine estates are situated in the midlands, away from the humidity of Durban and at the foothills of the Drakensberg mountains. These high-altitude sites (above 1000 mt) offer a continental climate and a unique viticultural aspect to wine in South Africa. Abingdon Wine Estate produced its first vintage from 100% estate grown grapes in 2007 and has since produced over 100 certified estate wines. The estate boasts a full range of wines to include a Méthode Traditionelle Sparkling Wine, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier, Rosé, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Nebbiolo. 

Across the valley, the public can also enjoy a tasting at Highgate Wine Estate and venture into the Drakensberg to sample the wines of Cathedral Peak Wine Estate.

The KZN wine industry and the market it serves is still in its adolescent stages, but one that is showing great promise and potential for the future. One certainly hopes it will continue on its journey of growth and like a fine wine, will improve and appreciate with age