Sunday, May 07, 2006

Wine across America – California Dreaming!

The late night arrival of Team South Africa on the East Coast with an additional 3 time-zone changes was a minor shock as the road-show rolls on. After 3 months of non-stop rain that has been seriously affecting budding and shoot-development in California, the skies finally opened on the day of the Wines of South Africa tasting downtown, a stones throw from the eponymous Embarcadero. By many accounts, this tasting has been the most successful of the tour to date. Restaurateurs, retailers and eager consumers arrived in droves and kept everyone busy with an intense interest in learning more about South African wine. It is once again clear how closely linked tourism and wine are in selling brand South Africa. A large majority of the consumers had either been to South Africa or knew of someone that was going and this provided the key draw card, in my opinion. Americans have an embarrassment of choice and this is what has made America the enormous consumer culture that it is – or was it the other way around? The consumer, on the one hand, can be a little jaded and confused by choice. But if the message and the choice is communicated clearly and unambiguously to the consumer, they show an incredible willingness to open themselves up to trying something new. I have said this before – but feel that it is important to restate. Americans want us to teach them about our products and they want to buy them. We just need to start working on a clear message because at the moment our little wine industry does not have the financial or logistical clout to really get the message across. Sydney Harbour Bridge sells more Australian wine than you can imagine. ‘Finding Nemo’ and many other cultural icons has driven a whole generation to find Aussie interesting and exciting. We got close with Lion King – but it was really not there, was it?
On the subject of repeating myself, If I hear another consumer complaining that the wines on the WOSA show are not available in the USA, I will scream. It is always going to be difficult to give ‘new entrants’ an opportunity to show their wines, but perhaps we are putting the cart before the horse on this one. Perhaps these producers have had an opportunity to learn a huge amount about the US market and get a feeling for how to go about positioning themselves to enter the market, but it seems like an illogical and costly entry and market research solution. The tasting this afternoon in Costa Mesa, South of LA is being hosted by a prominent retailer called Hi-Time liquors. Once again the problem is going to raise its head as the consumers can only purchase the wines that the retailer stocks, and at best wines that have Californian distribution – it’s a tough school.
Wow! The Costa Mesa Orange County tasting was a hit – the consumers came out in droves and we were run off of our feet. This tasting must have rated as one the most intense and focused consumer wine tastings that I have ever been privileged to participate in. Wines poured, winemakers sweated, consumers listened and the wines of South Africa touched the perfect Southern California market. It was a monumental tasting and even impressed the organizers. I arrived a little more than 10 minutes before the tasting started ( a little late) and had to fight through about 100 people queuing at the door to get in. Big thank must go to Hi-Time Cellars for their excellent organization and boundless energy – the show was great!
I would like to pay tribute to the WOSA team for the effort and organization in putting this tour together – it has been an eye-opener for many producers and will be a catalyst for South Africa in this market. It is also a catalyst for greater cooperation in building South African wines in the US by building brand South Africa. One of the great minds behind doing just that is Yvonne Johnston at the SA International Marketing Council. It has been said that a bottle of wine in every wine shop and on every wine list in America will act as a positive reinforcer for Brand South Africa’s generic image. The wine industry has a lot to offer our marketing drive and we should not play second-fiddle. Tourism and many other SA industries engaged in marketing all have an excellent opportunity to harness synergies by partnering with WOSA – wine is exploding in America and we are in the right place at the right time – but there will not be more than one chance to get it right.

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