Battle of the brands

Friday, 2 April, 2004
Graham Howe
Cape Wine 2004 showcase
There's no business like show business - and the glitz and glam of showbiz has come to Cape Wine 2004. Bringing the winelands to the waterfront, the biggest showcase ever for South African wine has opened with all that pizzazz at Cape Town 's new International Convention Centre this week.

While African choirs (and a live cheetah) raised the roof, a feather-clad model preened like an ostrich in the foyer, welcoming amused foreign guests to the show. Top chef Bruce Robertson drew the crowds with his sensational pairing of warthog biltong and beetroot espetada, offal pofadders, mackerel martinis and ice-cream cones served with Laborie wines.

With over 330 producers, wine routes and negociants showing over 4 000 wines, Cape Wine 2004 has opened an invaluable 4-day window for international buyers, trade, sommeliers and journalists. Marking a decade in the evolution of South African wine since the country's first democratic elections and re-entry into export markets, Cape Wine 2004 is decidedly democratic - providing a stage for all-comers, from grassroots garagistes and boutique cellars to heritage estates and the big wine corporations.

Resembling a battle of the brands, the big guns competed for the spotlight. Like Charlize Theron, Brand South Africa came home to celebrate its successes abroad. The vital role played by the big brands in spearheading the country's export drive is one of the most visible aspects of Cape Wine 2004. Giant banners marketing the big brands - Kumala, Goiya, Arniston Bay, Douglas Green, Golden Kaan, Two Oceans, Nederburg - vied for attention in a pageant of colour, beneath giant landscape panoramas of the winelands.

The local wine trade was exposed to many top export brands for the first time. Single varietal bag-in-the-box wine, somewhat of a novelty on the domestic market, is a high-flyer for Western Wines (Cape Original Shiraz by three litres). Golden Kaan, the joint venture between KWV and Racke (a German partner), a huge success story in Germany, where the single varietal range has moved 160 000 cases since its launch a year ago.

Alec Louw, European Sales director for Golden Kaan, is on a mission. He says, ‘Our home base is Robertson. We want to establish a global South African wine brand with the credentials and legs. Next month we're going into fifteen states in the US before rolling into the UK at the LIWSF in May.’ Fiona Phillips of Cyber Cellar was showing her own brand, Umkhulu, another new South African brand doing well on the vital US market.

The big six - Western Wines/Origin, KWV, Distell, Vinfruco, WestCorp, Douglas Green Bellingham - made merchandised stands an art-form. Front-runners were Distell's double-decker, KWV's elegant demo-bar and Western/Origin Wines who showcased their drive-brands in ingenious convex divisions. The latter unveiled their new Inzala tri-varietal range as well as the new Kumala Organic range launched in Sainsbury's this month.

Deals went down in the busy booths as the real business of the fair got underway. In the words of Kobus Deetlefs, ‘You've got to have a line in the water.’ Expectations ran high with buyers from all over the world nibbling on the bait. Paul de Wet of Zandvliet drew attention with his Chardonnay 2003 Gold winner at the Chardonnay du Monde 2004, commenting, ‘You never know where a tasting can lead to.’

A snap survey of participants gave the thumbs up to Cape Wine 2004. Philip Jonker, winemaker at Weltevrede, comments, ‘Cape Wine 2004 is an opportunity for us to strengthen relationships with our agents and to meet agents from new countries we want to export to. They come to us - it's easier than taking a road-show abroad. The visibility is important. We're experiencing strong interest from German buyers here.’

The Simonsberg ward was well-represented, united in an entire section of stands. Anne Cointreau-Huchon of Morgenhof, comments, ‘We're standing together! We're already represented in 27 countries but we're still meeting delegations which are showing interest in our wines from countries as diverse as Sweden, Dubai and India. This is an international event that puts the spotlight on the evolution of South African wine.’

Nora Thiel of Delheim says much of the action takes place behind the scenes, entertaining buyers and journalists visiting Cape Wine 2004 at more intimate events. She says, ‘You've got to be well-prepared for a wine show - know your markets, know your prices in different countries. We're talking to buyers from Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Greece. The Olympic Games and an enlarged EU all open up new markets.’

Paul Sullivan, UK-based sales director of Western Wines has the last word. ‘Cape Wine 2004 is a hell of a showing. We're playing like a team at last. There's a good match of premium quality brands and boutique wines. Buyers and agents know that if you want to represent a South African wine, this is the biggest and best. The turn-out is very good.’

Graham Howe

Graham Howe is a well-known gourmet travel writer based in Cape Town. One of South Africa's most experienced lifestyle journalists, he has contributed hundreds of food, wine and travel features to South African and British publications over the last 25 years.

He is wine and food contributor for Eat Out and WINE.CO.ZA, which is possibly the longest continuous wine column in the world, having published over 400 articles on this extensive South African Wine Portal.

When not exploring the Cape winelands, this adventurous globetrotter reports on exotic destinations around the world as a travel correspondent for the Intrepid Explorer and - and for the weekly travel show on SAFM radio.

Over the last decade, he has visited over fifty countries on travel assignments from the Aran Islands and the Arctic to Borneo and Tristan da Cunha - and entertained readers with his adventures through the winelands of the world from the Mosel to the Yarra ."