Friday, October 16, 2009

Is South Africa about to adjust it’s positioning?

WINE.CO.ZA readers receive daily (sporadic) blog postings from the UK. Occasional contributor Mike Ratcliffe, the MD of Warwick Wine Estate and the American joint venture winery, Vilafonte, sends live updates and photos of what's hot and happening at the this year's Mega Tasting punctuated with personal observation and irreverent thoughts. This posting was written on the high-speed Virgin train between London and Glasgow - via wifi. Follow Mike on Twitter www.twitter.com/mikeratcliffe

The second day at the WOSA Mega-tasting was kind of like the first day, except that it was 24 hours later and I was feeling that much more exhausted. There was nothing of particular excitement to report in the sense that we were not surprised by a visit from Nelson Mandela or Robert Parker . The visitor numbers appeared to be higher and there was a general buzz around the room as everyone went about their business of sniffing, swirling and spitting. Again the lack of presence from all but actual wine buyers and journos was a disappointment as the mega-tasting is an excellent opportunity for everyone from MW students to waiters and budding sommeliers to have a one-stop shop for SA wine. While the coordination, presentation and winery attendance at the show were impressive, one cannot help but ask if a one-day show would have had the same impact. It is understandable that it is not always convenient to attend on a particular day, but with the exceptional lead times and forward planning you would think that the trade would be able to organise themselves. The problem with giving people too many options is that they tend to exercise them.
From a personal point of view, the event was well worth the time and investment and I feel satisfied that it would be very difficult to replicate the excellent face-time and new business that I achieved as a solo operator. Perhaps the brains-trust that organise the event could think of some way to further differentiate this event. Perhaps an indoor football tournament of SA wine producers and UK wine hacks would have added an element of fun to the sometimes sombre proceedings? But then again, this is a wine trade show in London and an element of formality is to be expected.
While the days have been focused on trade interactions, I have now spent three nights on the trot immersing myself in consumer tastings. In excess of 900 ordinary consumers pitched up for the three events in London and Glasgow and the incredible enthusiasm and support for SA wines warmed the heart of even the most jaded globe-trotting wino.
‘I had no idea that SA wines are so good.’
‘These wines present incredible
value and knock the spots off the French’,
‘South African wines just keep
getting better’
These were some of the typical comments heard over and again at the consumer tastings. So lets analyse, just for a second, the fact that the trade are the ‘gate-keepers’ for South African wine into the UK and there is no surprise that price and potential margin are almost always the primary variables for judging the acceptability of a wine. Given the excitement from the consumers, one could question if the trade has underestimated the enthusiasm of the general wine drinking public for the inherent quality of top South African wines? Is the old ‘value proposition’ positioning of South African wine artificially supported by the embedded historical purchasing habits of the gate-keepers. Are wine buyers taking sufficient initiative in realigning SA quality with appropriate pricing or are they simply perpetuating values that are, perhaps, no longer relevant? Are SA producers aware that South African price/quality ratios are ‘off the charts’ relevant to many of our competitors and that given current Euro exchange rates we have an ability reposition ourselves?
Consumers are generally honest and candid, especially given their power to vote with their wallets. If the consumer enthusiasm encountered over the past week were somehow translated up the value chain to the gate-keepers, it is hard to believe that South African wine is not about to adjust it’s value positioning in the right direction.
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