Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Pennsylvania, New York and Illinois - the train continues rolling!

Great excitement for South African wine is that the head winebuyer for the PLCB (Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board) has decided that it is about time that South Africa is featured as wine of the onth and October 2006 it will be. After an excellent lunch with Steve Pollack, Mark Hazurand the guys from the Wine Merchant a broad agreement was made on how to proceed. Pennsylvania is a monopoly state and over 150 wine stores and outlets are owned and controlled by the State. This could be an opportunity? Steve has undertaken to assemble 125 store managers in one place for a whole afternoon in September for a South African seminar in which we can ‘educate’ them about South Africa, our geography, geology, climate and wines. I spoke to Rory Callahan and he has committed to presenting the seminar – he will need some backup. Bill Kohl who is the GM of the Harrisburg Hilton has agreed to make the conference facilities available to us in September at no cost and so we are all set. This is going to be enormous for South Africa! Well done Rory!
> The train to NYC was uneventful and a late arrival and check into the crappy Holiday Inn was not very exciting! My shoebox (hotel room) at $290 per night was a firm welcome to NYC gift and I realized that NYC is back after the horrors of 9/11. Boy this place is expensive.
> Back onto the train on Saturday and a great visit to Farmingdale, a vaguely charming town on Long Island. My train was delayed twice due to brush fires and I ended up taking a bus, another train and 2 taxis to make my way to Stew Leonards Wine Shop. I spent the afternoon doing a tasting and educating the guys on South African wine – they reported a steady growth in their South African sales, but mentioned that South Africa had not yet really dome anything significant to compel customers to reach for our wines. The shelves were also (at the bottom) languishing with expired vintages of wines that I cringed at. Perhaps our friends at the big winery in Paarl could do something to try to sell through some of the unsold back vintages polluting the South African category and taking up valuable shelf space around the country?
> Monday … the big day and the WOSA tasting in the Puck building on Lafayette street was all ready to go. Wines of South Africa and the supporting contingent have to be congratulated for putting on a great show and showing a spectacular face to the buyers and trade of NYC. I was proud to be South African as I saw all the winemakers and agents in a beautiful venue, well dressed and with a wonderful selection of SA wines. The tasting started slowly and then started building until it was fantastically busy – it really was good and the trade poured in. For those that had dome some preparation, it was a great opportunity. I cannot speak for the participating producers without importers about the success of the day – but my gut feel is that it might have been a little less successful business wise? There was a good mix of sommeliers, waiting staff, wine shop owners/buyers and other wine buyers and they all seemed really interested. Pinotage was popular and I heard this remark a number of producers who were caught off guard. The fruity, yummy Pinotage wines that had a little sugar found favour with the patrons. You can agree or choose to disagree, but the fact remains that wines with higher extract, good concentration, some sweet oak, a little residual sugar and a smooth finish do wine the customer over in the US. Now, we can fight this, or we can accept it and listen to the market. This does not mean a wholesale corruption of winemaking philosophy and South African terroir – we should just make a point to understand our markets and adapt ourselves to this. This is not a global direction and w4e should treat this topic carefully and not just accept it. It could get heated if treated lightly. We should perhaps open this topic to greater debate and I intend raising this topic at a Rootstock forum some time this year. Anyone want to join in the debate? Click on the comment tab below to start the debate.
> I write this column from my airplane seat en route Chicago for the next installment of the WOSA tour – the windy city will meat the marauding South African wine industry on Wednesday and we can expect to meet some interested and influential customers. Stay tuned.
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