The fuss about fizz

Wednesday, 15 December, 2004
Graham Howe
Diner's Club put MCC under the spotlight, selecting the category for the first time in a decade - and awarded Graham Beck's Pieter Ferreira the coveted winemaker of the year trophy. While Bon Courage's Jacques Bruere won the WINE-Amorim Cap Classique Challenge 2004, Pongracz won the SAA MCC Trophy. Finally, Simonsig's Kaapse Vonkel, the Cape's first bottle-fermented fizz, won Best Sparkling Wine at the Perswjin 2004 Awards in Holland, beating 175 entries from around the world.
Thirty years after the release of the Cape's first bottle-fermented bubbly by Simonsig, there are over thirty producers of Méthode Cap Classique (MCC) in the Cape - and an estimated eighty cellars or producers with sparkling wines in their portfolio. The Diner's Club Winemaker of the Year 2004 award attracted a staggering 54 entries - and Veritas handed out 27 medals in the MCC and sparkling wine categories. Innovations in recent years have seen the release of rose, natural, varietal and semi-dry MCC wines by Graham Beck, Cabriere, Moreson, Villiera and JC le Roux - as well as packaging innovations in 187ml bubbly bottles. Although MCC represents the growing, top-end of a niche market, it only accounts for an estimated 20% of total sparkling wine sales by volume. Despite the surge in the number of producers, Sawis statistics suggest that the domestic market for sparkling wine has remained more or less stagnant over the last two decades - with sales of 7,9m litres in 2003/2004 pegged at the same level as 8m litres in 1988. Indeed, consumption peaked at 9,3m litres during the millennial celebrations of 1999, declining to 5,6m in 2000. The alcoholic beverage review 2004 reports, 'After demonstrating a resounding spurt of growth (of 14,7% over 2002/03), sparkling wine seems to have throttled back somewhat.' Sparkling wine is marketed as a celebratory drink around the world - a trend reflected in South Africa at this time of year. The surge in sales of sparkling wine over the festive season may yet boost sluggish trends in consumption during 2004. More than any other drink, bubbly is all about image. Indeed, two-thirds of the cost of every bottle of champagne is reportedly incurred in marketing in a sector with a huge, glossy ad-spend. Will exports lead the way? Exports of sparkling wine by leading South African producers such as JC le Roux, Graham Beck and Westcorp are finding new niche markets, with foreign sales growing from 779 312 litres in 2001 to 1,4m litres in 2002 - led by Inanda Brut, SA's top-selling bubbly in the UK. Closer to home, resorts in southern Africa and the Indian Ocean islands are also reportedly big consumers of local bubbly. Winemaker Melanie le Roux, who is celebrating ten years at JC le Roux - the leader in the sparkling wine market in South Africa - says Distell are developing new niche markets abroad. JC le Roux, the only dedicated bubbly facility in South Africa, now exports 30% of all production - Pongracz is the second biggest-selling bubbly in Sweden at 100 000 litres, a best-seller in Belgium and sells 50 000 litres in the UK at Oddbins. She says JC le Roux's La Vallee is their biggest-selling MCC - 'A transition between sweet and dry sparkling wine that gets consumers into the dry MCC's.' She also reports booming sales in JC le Roux's carbonated Sauvignon Blanc wines, another innovation. According to the alcoholic beverage review 2004, the market leaders in the domestic sparkling wine market are, respectively, JC le Roux (the only sparkling wine in South Africa's top forty liquor brands), Grand Mousseux, 5th Avenue Cold Duck (another brand with staying power) and Peche Royale - all Distell brands. Grand Mousseux, South Africa's oldest sparkling wine brand was launched in 1929 by SFW founder Charles Winshaw, and celebrates its 75th anniversary. Lastly, there's Cinzano Spumante, a long-established trademark on the comeback trail, acquired by E Snell & Company in 2004. · alcoholic beverage review 2004, incorporating beverage business yearbook, is published by Hotel & Restaurant. For subscriptions and sales, contact the publishers Ramsay, Son & Parker at (021) 530 3143, raziya@rsp.co.za or see www.hotelandrestaurant.co.za

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 www.blog.getaway.co.za - 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 ."