New focus to the Cape's Wine Tourism

Tuesday, 20 April, 2004
Tessa de Kock for Nederburg
Wine Tourism Forum encourages wine producers to find ways to maximise their tourist appeal
Rapturous reviews on the Cape and its peerless beauty are now commonplace. In just the past few weeks, trendy monthly Wallpaper devoted a section to Cape Town and its hottest spots, along with the more establishment media like the Financial Times and The New York Times. The widely read US daily even likened Camps Bay to the Riviera.

Publications of this nature target the more affluent, who have a broad range of interests that commonly include wining and dining, which would explain to some degree why the Cape winelands have become the second biggest attraction in the region, after dockland shopping district, the V&A Waterfront, according to Lucy Warner of the Wine Tourism Forum and the fifth biggest nationally, bringing in a not-to-be-sneezed-at annual revenue of R3,5bn.

The Cape can boast among the loveliest winegrowing regions in the world flanked by ancient mountains and sea, enriched by a wealth of biodiversity and enhanced by historic manor houses on many wineries. It also has the enormously competitive advantage of having the majority of its winegrowing regions just an hour or two away from Cape Town and moreover, located close to one another, making it relatively easy to sample a very broad range of wineries and wine styles in as little as a day or two. Yet ironically there has been virtually no generic marketing of the Cape’s wine tourism or the creation of a coherent strategy in the decade since the advent of democracy.

There are many highly efficient and imaginative individuals and wine route organisations representing specific winegrowing areas, their wines, cuisine and other local attractions but, until this year, they all worked independently of one another, marketing different brands, positioning themselves differently with different sets of objectives.

Now Nicolette de Kock, a winemaker and assiduous marketer of the Stellenbosch American Express Wine Route, has been elected chair of the newly formed SA Wine Routes’ Forum with a mandate to grow domestic and foreign tourism throughout the winelands, stretching along the West Coast and the East Coasts and into the Cape’s Boland districts of Stellenbosch, Paarl, Worcester, Franschhoek, Wellington, Robertson and Tulbagh, as well as newer wine growing areas, as they become established.

Sheryl Ozinsky of Cape Town Tourism, acknowledged as one of the foremost marketers of the Cape and its environs, was flabbergasted when just two years ago she conducted a web search on wine tourist destinations that yielded 151 listings. Not one of the first 100 listed a South African wine tourism product. So disheartened was she that she didn’t bother to venture any further. But she did raise the issue with a group of wine producers and other members of the wine industry that prompted the formation of the Wine Tourism Forum.

Now Warner, a founder of the forum, De Kock and other pivotal players are addressing this deficiency through the creation of an overarching strategy they hope will be supported by Government bodies and the wine and tourism industries.

They and others, under the auspices of the forum, staged an exhibition at Cape Wine 2004, the national wine industry showcase for the international fraternity that was attended by close on 1 200 delegates. The stand highlighted most of the Cape’s 13 wine growing regions and the range of activities they offer from casual and fine dining, to hiking, biking, fishing, horse riding, theatre and the exploration of historical buildings, museums, antiques and contemporary art galleries. They also showed what splendid wedding and party venues many of our wineries make.

Forming a united front, they not only attracted potential wine tourists, but as importantly, they encouraged wine producers to start finding ways to maximise their tourist appeal, while supporting the sustainable development of local rural communities and their physical environments. And they invited members of the broader tourism industry to explore opportunities that could draw attention to Cape wines.

De Kock says the current stumbling blocks are the lack of uniformly world-class standards in cellar door service and inflexible visiting hours. She wants wine producers to follow a more customer-led approach, while many have been coasting along with one-size-fits-all tours and closing over weekends, the only time many local supporters can visit. They are often staffed by personnel who know, or care, little about wine, and are thus unable to answer wine-related queries from consumers.

But by focusing on training and the implementation of standards and by developing models for transformation that will allow historically disadvantaged groups to benefit, she is confident wine tourism will blossom, all the while contributing to job creation and social upliftment. And she sees no reason why an improved infrastructure will not attract potential investors.

Warner has praised the widespread enthusiasm that underpins the new collective focus on wine tourism, and regards the new Winescape glossy wine tourism quarterly, as well as a monthly newspaper for those in the wine tourism industry as a reflection of a new energy and enterprising approach that is evolving.

This is borne out by a research project currently underway at Nederburg, one of the Cape’s most popular wine tourist stops, to create a range of appealing options that cater to domestic and foreign markets.

Says the winery’s facilities manager Elsa van Dyk: ‘Nederburg has invested R70m to extend cellar and tourism facilities and right now we are liaising closely with tour operators and tour guides to develop ideas that suit their client base. Something we have already begun and which is working exceptionally well for example, is a range of themed food and wine pairings, where visitors can sample red wines and local cheeses or Asian-styled dishes with wine.’

The Cape Wine Academy has also extended its reach by introducing a range of wine culture and service courses for people working in wine tourism.

The V&A Waterfront already caters to wine tourists through several wine shops, wine bars and wine desks, but this is to date the only popular tourist destination to do so. Warner hopes to see Canal Walk, another major mall that entertains shoppers with special exhibitions and live acts, to extend its repertoire to include wine. And still others, as well as lodestar venues, like Kirstenbosch, The Castle of Good Hope, which is South Africa’s oldest building, established by Dutch settlers in the middle of the 17th century and various museums.

Ozinsky says that to help overcome the seasonal nature of the Cape’s perceived attractions, more can be done to market the destination during the autumn and winter months from May to September with ideas like the Cape Fireplace and Wine Route or, with the profusion of boutique cheese producers to have emerged, to offer cheese and wine trails.

‘Wine tourism is critical to the promotion of South Africa as a premier wine producing country,’ says Su Birch, CEO of Wines of South Africa, whose organisation promotes the country’s wine export and regularly brings media and other opinion formers to the Cape to experience its charms firsthand.

CAPTION: Nicolette de Kock, chair of the newly formed SA Wine Routes’ Forum