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When desire is lacking

Published:  18 January, 2007

Every time I visit South Africa on wine business I come away with a feeling of unrealised potential.

A feeling of frustration that all that passion and excitement, energy and dynamism, combined with a breathtakingly wide range of wines has yet to be communicated to the consumer in a way that gives South Africa a competitive advantage.

This is not to imply a criticism of Kumala and the other mainstream brands; the mainstream sector after all in any category can only take consumers so far.

Nor is it a criticism of Wines of South Africa (WOSA); generic bodies can only create positive frameworks or haloes , they don't actually sell wine or launch brands.

In fact, the mainstream brands and WOSA have both, in my view, done a great job in helping to create a consumer and trade franchise from which South Africa should be able to launch premium propositions that resound with the consumer.

Yet South Africa lies almost last in the premium volume league table.

I've always believed that if one has aspirations to be a successful marketeer of premium wines then three words are key: regionality, personality and individuality.

The first refers to a sense of place, the second generally refers to the winemaker or brand "hero" and the third to the style of the wine. Any premium producer, or generic interested in developing a premium image, needs at least two of the three to succeed.

Based on this, South Africa's relative failure over 5 is mysterious. The Old World producing countries have an abundance of all three, yet Chile has relatively little individuality of style and relatively few personalities known to this market, and New Zealand also, in my view, suffers from too little individuality, yet both in different ways are ahead of South Africa.

Perhaps the very complexity of the South African premium range is a disadvantage given it implies a lack of focus, perhaps the relative failure of the two major producers is the issue or the fragmentation of the rest of the industry implies an inability to achieve critical mass.

Ultimately success comes down to desire. South Africa may have an export-or-die philosophy, but I'm not convinced the UK is its favoured destination. If not, it would be a shame.

After all, the hard work has been done, the foundations have been built; the rest should be relatively easy, and also profitable.