One for the road

Wednesday, 24 March, 2004
Neil Pendock
Airline departure lounges are a valuable showcase for the national wine industry
SA Airways first class lounge at Johannesburg International was rated in the top ten airport departure lounges in the world by the website last year. And this was no marketing marvel or advertorial poll, with placings decided by the votes of an incredible 918 336 internet respondents.

As the last place the well-heeled holiday maker/business mogul visits on a trip to SA, airline departure lounges are a valuable showcase for the national wine industry. British Airways are ironically the only airline to offer exclusively SA wines to departing first and business class passengers with a large selection of current Cape vintages and Graham Beck bubbly available.

Some SA wines also make it on board BA flights. Like the Brampton Cabernet/Merlot 2001, which was almost chosen for first class service, but then dropped as 'we felt some passengers might feel the name [not the wine] wasn't grand enough' according to BA wine selector Jancis Robinson. Not that Rustenberg owner Simon Barlow is complaining, as the orders for economy class service are in much larger volumes and hence more lucrative in the cash, if not the cachet, department.

The Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse offer the good value French fizz Jacquart, imported by Corné Delicatessen and available at well under R200/bottle, as well as Meerlust Merlot and Chardonnay plus a Pinotage for the daring. The lack of a Sauvignon Blanc is a missed opportunity, especially given the exciting range of fusion food available like the clubhouse salad of artichoke hearts and peppadews, bocconcini cheese with croutons and an apple vinaigrette.

SAA runs two separate lounges. The Baobab is for business class and features the airline’s wine selection which takes place annually using a panel of local and international experts. The first class Cycad lounge offers Michel Gonet Champagne, which is a brave move as first class passengers are notorious for drinking labels, with Grande Marque Champagnes favoured by the competition.

Brands are certainly well represented when it comes to whisky with Chivas Regal 18 year old and Glenfiddich both on offer. While few passengers would choose an airline on the basis of their favourite tipple being available in an airport departure lounge, with exorbitant prices the name of the game in the so-called 'duty free' outlets, departure lounges are a useful shop window for the SA wine industry to showcase its products.

A simple list of overseas stockists of lounge wines available to departing passengers would more than repay the distribution effort of supplying the Cape’s finest to the country’s airports. It’s all about lifestyle choices and with international travel a fact of life for so many potential Cape wine consumers, stocking the drinking holes of international lounge lizards, makes a lot of sense.