Andy Roediger, in a wine tasting on New World wines today, mentioned; “Our skills are evolving. We are making better wines today than 10 years ago. Pinot noir from NZ has evolved in quality probably by 20% the last 4-5 yrs….” I agree with Andy. South Africa certainly came a long way. Its winemakers are travelling the world, getting exposure to all sorts of winemaking techniques, wine styles, grape varietals, cultures and markets. And the best catalyst probably, in driving us as South African winemakers to be the best we can be (gosh – I am sounding like USA military recruitment), is the fierce competition not only locally, but also internationally. With everything that has happened the past couple of years, from earth quakes to changing weather patterns, from the crash of the US economy to the rise of China (we have 3 shops now in the main street of my local town…), from Australia creating a strong “Brand Australia” to consumers growing tired of critter labels, we are experiencing the pressure to establish a strong “Brand South Africa” internationally.

By now you probably wondering what point I am trying to make. Well, here it is: I am growing tired of some of the international “benchmarks” of the South African wine category, simply because I wonder if there is any control about “what we show where, the message behind what we show, and sometimes even how we are trying to carry the message over”.

I’ll explain. I have just arrived back from the country under the rainbow (the one with the potential pot of gold and the saving grace of the wine industry…) – the USA. I spent two weeks walking the streets, calling on accounts with distributors. I took close to 600 pictures, amongst them a couple of pictures of hard working, successful South African brands such as Mulderbosch, Excelsior, Fairview and Jardin (yes – Jordan, but just like the Highlander, there can be only one and the USA has one…). I must add that I am extremely proud to be associated with these brands reflecting the potential of South Africa.

But unfortunately, besides the fact that South Africa is not a category in the USA like Australia or even a region like Rioja, I saw too many brands which are promoted by shelve talkers that say “the most awarded wine from South Africa” which is not only a lie, but definitely not a reflection of the potential of South Africa, nor what we have learned, nor our abilities or knowledge. It is not a reflection of our diversity, or the character of the environment, nor the message that we want to establish or the experience we have gained. And I am not only talking about shelve talkers, but I am also talking about brands from South Africa carrying the message that says “THIS is South Africa…” Felt to me the only message they reflect is one of a “quick buck to be made by being dishonest to consumers.”

I do not have an answer. I think it is a generic principle. One of sufficient control in what we produce, how we promote it, and what we use to promote it.

Bertus Fourie is a winemaker, turned Enology lecturer and creator of the Barista coffee Pinotage.