Changing Face of Wine Patrons

Long gone are the days when wine-drinking was the pursuit of a certain demographic, a certain age group and a certain culture. Some traditionalists may lament the manoeuvres of a romantic-industry becoming approachable and accessible. However, we find it heart-warming to see the spectrum of wine consumers broadening.

This shift has been evident in the changing demographics of festival-goers in the Western Cape, with the latest Soetes & Soup Festival in Breedekloof being no exception. Change is in the air, or shall we say, in the nose, and it’s not the vintages adding a different flavour to South Africa’s wine industry. The broad tapestry that is South Africa’s diverse populous is coming out in force more readily; it is adding a richer dynamic to wine appellations that were previously perceived to be overtly conservative and monocultural.

This diversification is excellent for the wine regions in question; it diversifies the tourism offering as customers become broader in their amenity needs, it adds multiculturalism to lesser-known districts and forces wine producers to think broadly, creatively and become more innovative.

It doesn’t help only empowering the staff associated with the production of wine, as is the case with FairTrade; consumers of all backgrounds need to feel welcome if a brand is to be perceived as “progressive.” Du Toitskloof has always prided itself on being “progressive.” Thus, our utter joy in seeing the tapestry of whom we welcome into our cellar doors and at our tasting-stands becoming more varied. Slowly but surely, we are becoming a universal brand with universal appeal.

The most successful tourism brands in the world are those that are known as “diverse and welcoming destinations.” It is not the exclusive, aloof and single-minded destinations that warm the hearts of potential visitors. It’s this reason why a city like Riyadh does not attract the same numbers as Dubai does.

This is what we’re aiming to achieve be diversifying our offering, including enlarging our deli, improving our landscaping and tasting room, adding adventure-tourism options and broadening our wine offering with the likes of Quest and Cape Beach Club. We want you to feel welcome in our ‘home’ and we want you to enjoy our fruits-of-the-vine whilst building fond memories. No matter your origin, hue or language, we want you to become part of the Du Toitskloof family. The more the merrier!

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By: Andres de Wet

Can Newer Wine Regions Make Waves?

Breedekloof Wine Route, surrounding the village of Rawsonville, can learn a tremendous amount from newer wine regions. Although the art of growing vines and making wine is an old, intrinsic art in the valley, the wine route as a marketing entity, is relatively new. Thus, the area faces numerous challenges in making a name for itself.

Hermanus-vs-Rawsonville

I picked up the new Essential Guide to South African Wines: Terroir & Travel (authors: Elmari Swart, Izak Smit); I was excited by its fresh look, reminding me of the graphics-rich DK Travel Guides. I was left disappointed, albeit not all that surprised, when I realised the Breede River Valley appeared glaringly absent, despite it being the largest, by-volume, contributor to Cape Winelands’ production.  There it finally was, Breedekloof and Worcester, given a concise, text-based description, alongside Plettenberg Bay and Orange River towards the end of the book.

Where I picked up this book was more significant though. I was in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, one of South Africa’s southernmost regions, just to the north of picturesque, whale-famous, Hermanus. It too, is a newer wine route, with Walker Bay only afforded full wine region status in May 2004. It has its shortcomings and strengths, as does our region, the Breedekloof. What we lack, they have and conversely: They have a tourist hub town, we do not; they have no major tarred through route, we do. This will soon change, as the R320 is being sealed from the Hemel-en-Aarde valley to the N2 in Caledon.

Their uniqueness as a region is glaringly obvious. Somehow the cellars are doing something out-of-the-ordinary here, that sets this region apart, even from juggernauts like Stellenbosch and Frasnchhoek. It’s quirky, fresh, accommodating and amenity-rich, without being commercial cheese. Could this be why this dead-end road with no sealed outlet (yet), appears to be thriving? Is it the power of Hermanus over the Camphill Ridge? Or is it that one cellar struts her stuff in Parisian burlesque garb, whilst another does so in traditional Cape-Dutch attire? One cellar oozes über-contemporary chic and the other, gothic revivalist grace? Is it that some are glaringly nouveau-riche and others, historic-conservationist and traditional? The diversity in a distance of barely 10km, was so much to take in: I was happy, in awe, but exhausted.

One may say we have an uphill battle, as the village of Rawsonville could never compete with the town, that is Hermanus. This is probably true for the foreseeable future; they just have the tourism critical mass already. They have the sea and the whales and we don’t. However, we do have greater wine volumes, offer better value-for-money, taller mountains and easier access to all parts of the Cape and the rest of South Africa for that matter. All our roads are already tarred, so why the lack of attention?

Could it lie in our ability to be quirky, to redefine ourselves and create that in our cellars: setting us apart, making ourselves unique? I’m still debating how this can be enacted, but one thing is for sure, Hemel-en-Aarde is one unique little area with some weird and wonderful cellars. If our wine route’s value-for-money, wine quality and statuesque beauty is anything to go by, our region could do the same. We just need to find that thing that defines us. We need to do that, which the regional juggernauts cannot do, and do it well. If a “dead-end valley” can do it, so can we.

Fun Beyond the Boerewors Curtain

Revelry and great wine on DuToitskloof Wines’ front lawns.

Residents of Cape Town’s northern suburbs have had to contend with the moniker of living beyond the Boerewors Curtain for years. For a length of time, I’ve wondered exactly where this curtain is drawn spatially. I’ve hypothetically placed this metaphorical curtain at the N7, but geographic debates aside. Those who live beyond this curtain have one glaring positive; they’re so much closer to the bulk of the Cape Winelands.

If Durbanville residents are beyond the Boerewors Curtain, then surely when one goes through the tunnel near Paarl, you’re in the Offal Section? If the Cape is a giant butchery, are we the liver and kidneys and the Cape Town CBD the fillet mignon? If this is so, offal has never been this good…

Rawsonville and its associated Breedekloof Wine Route are about to pull out all the stops. The second weekend of October is time for any Cape resident or visitor to get out of their comfort zones and explore this ‘exotic side of the butchery.’ If there is any weekend when this lesser-known region shines and dons a cloak of excitement, entertainment and excellence, it is now. The Breedekloof Outdoor and Wine Festival is not to be missed, if finding quality and hidden-gems is your thing.

You may think venturing beyond the tunnel leaves you starved for amenities and options. This simply is not true, especially on this weekend. Many a visitor has commented on how this region’s scenery is awe-inspiring, out-competing most wine regions in shear mountainous beauty. Many also remark how wine quality and price-point leaves them dumbfounded. The genuineness of the valley’s residents, quaint eateries and personable accommodation and wineries leave our guests with lingering memories.

If you haven’t experienced the fun to be had, sipping some of the country’s best Sauvignon Blanc under towering mountains, embarking on outdoor activities next to crystal clear streams, rocking to live music amongst the vines or just traversing an excellent wine route with close friends, this is your weekend. Only R60 opens up the entire region’s wines to you, with festival passes valid from Friday to Sunday; however, if you want to experience the real fun, Saturday’s your day!

Wake up at a respectable hour this Saturday, put on your comfortable shoes, get your car keys and have your R60 at the ready. It’s only an hour’s drive from Cape Town CBD, or a quick-and-easy 45 minutes for those lucky enough to live beyond the Boerewors Curtain and come visit our section. I promise you, the wines, entertainment and hospitality will not disappoint. You’ll wonder why you never chose to day-trip to Rawsonville before!

What Makes a Wine Region Successful?

The lesser known wine regions often desperately ponder what makes a wine region successful. It often erupts into a highly emotional, raucous debate where conflicting views pit conservatives against liberals and protectionists against the globally-minded.

Visitors enjoying some wine at a seemingly more successful Soetes&Soup Festival

What is very concerning about insular and lesser known wine regions, is often the fact they are lesser known, makes them even more adverse to letting go of their protectionist, almost survivalist mentality; the whole psychology of, the worse off you are, the harder you try to hoard what you have left. However, this is often a counterintuitive measure that results in more hardship.

Albeit, the worse your financial position is, the more difficult it becomes to invest in the very things that will improve your financial position. This goes for wine regions in general and some forgotten rural towns of the Western Cape. Such wasted glory is a sad sight; beautiful towns with surroundings that take your breath away, towns that Europeans, Americans and Canadians would die to see. However, these towns are locked in a poverty cycle, locked in protectionist mentalities and economic stagnation; few amenities exist and poor tourism and economic vision creates a toxic mix perpetuating the hardship.

Most wine regions also understand that any large body requires a heart, a core; a tourism and services hub that ties all the far-flung estates, cellars and other attractions together. Stellenbosch uses this very effectively and although Pniel, Kylemore and Klapmuts fall within this wine-of-origin area, they realise their core is the town of Stellenbosch. Even the new kid on the block, Robertson, grasps this. Bonnievale, McGregor and Ashton playing the role of the smaller cousins, but the natural and logical nucleus is Robertson and this name is what draws the tourists to the region as a whole.

Robertson is often used as a paragon of how an obscure region can quickly and effectively propel itself into the national and even international wine region limelight. Their festival, the Wacky Wine drink-fest that it is, is either loved or loathed. However no matter which way you slice it, it is deeply ingrained in the wine-drinking psyche and Robertson has created a model of marketing success. This success spills into their town’s main streets; cafés, restaurants, boutiques and new retail outlets are opening on a regular basis. Their main thoroughfares are well-maintained, meticulously landscaped and their success and tourism-mindedness almost exudes out of the pavements.

Contrast this with the Breedekloof Wine Route, a wine region with no town’s name, a region created for marketing purposes only. In fact, no Breedekloof exists, except in a brochure and in company name. Breedekloof is geographically, simply the western Breede River Valley. Then there’s the dysfunctional heart, Rawsonville – The town that never was. Here, lack of vision exudes from the cracked pavements, stagnation and rural blight is exposed for all to see. A horrific pity for a wine region that probably boasts the best value-for-money wines, produces the most wine in the country and arguably has some of the most dramatic landscapes of any wine region south of the equator. In fact, it is the region where the most vineyards get planted annually – production is on the up, in stark contrast to many regions in contraction. Where did it all go awry?

Frankly, lack-of-vision, protectionism and absence of partnerships; Breedekloof has been given a double-edged sword: genuine, down to earth people who make you feel you’re the only tourist here. The other unfortunate edge, the one whose roots are so deeply imbedded in the soil of the valley, the branches cannot reach over the mountain, never mind the rest of the globe. Thus, the solution; allowing visionaries to take the reigns in forging partnerships to get the town off its knees, allowing the knowledgeable to drive regional marketing and permitting lateral-thinkers to assume positions where a mandate can be carried out. Conservatism and protectionism is often threatened by these very aforementioned traits, often extricating or dismissing these individuals and ideas, using emotive arguments protecting tradition and patriarchy. However, disallowing this will end up only perpetuating the very hardship these protectionists lament.

Can lesser known wine regions achieve success? Yes, it has already been done, the proof exists. This success comes from letting go of those things the collective within the region know little about. Most are farmers, wine-makers or in associated agricultural services. Do what you do best, stick to your core business and allow people who have vision, to cultivate your success outside the vineyard. However, a word of warning; other regions are moving apace. To build a strong collective Cape Winelands brand, it is imperative that all Cape wine regions can hold their own and compete on a similar level, in a healthy manner. Waiting too long to jump aboard the marketing-train makes for an even more difficult game of catch-up. Don’t allow your region to eventually wake up one day and realise:

Our valley has been forgotten!

Petrol vs. Wine: The Real Cost of Staying Close

Aerial of western Breede River Valley (our region), with 1995m high DuToit's Peak looming behind.

With the price of desert-juice from Saudi Arabia rising at alarming rates, the ability to buy that which is illegal there, namely fermented juice of the vine, is becoming more and more difficult. In fact, it’s frightening to note that bulk wine can cost up to five times less that of petrol.  Scary! Perhaps we should start synthesising bio-fuel from grapes?

That aside, the wine connoisseur is left wanting; often having to choose between the flagship red, or having enough money for Caltex. Drive and drink like a pauper or walk and drink like a sommelier.

Keeping a Capetonian from the Winelands is like keeping a penguin from the water. Most need their weekend pilgrimage to the estates to see what’s on offer; to taste something delicious and new. After all, we pay the “lifestyle tax” of earning less in the Cape compared to our Gauteng compatriots, so we need to take advantage of that which we pay this “tax” for.

The logical conclusion for the petrol-wary-wine-seeking Capetonian: stay close, we’ll save. This logic is understandable; Constantia, Durbanville, Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschhoek all seem too alluring. People seldom blink an eye departing for a daytrip to the gorgeous vineyards of the Huguenots in ourFrench Corner. However, what few fathom is, that when you turn off the N1 onto the R45 (in Paarl) to explore the wineries of Franschhoek, the time taken to reach them is almost identical to pushing on through the tunnel to Rawsonville.

Yes, Breedekloof Wine Route and Rawsonville is not much more effort, yet the psychological barrier of the statuesque mountains keeps people in a mindset of: “It’s too far for a daytrip.” It simply isn’t!

The cost of petrol and toll; this is understandable fuzzy-logic again. However, Breedekloof runs on quality and value, whereas regions on the other side run on acclaim. What little extra is spent at Caltex or Engen is saved on value-for-money. Embarking on a wine tour in the hinterland will leave your wallet a little heavier upon leaving, yet not compromising on quality.

DuToitskloof Wines is a perfect example, once again announced Best Value for Money Cellar. It has been forced to build its name on giving the consumer more than they expect. It cannot run on the fame of Rawsonville; who’s heard of Rawsonville outside the Western Cape? Few, except the most geographically minded. So, local Breedekloof Wine Route producers have to pursue quality over fame to get their share of the competitive wine market.

Nevertheless, the genuine-feel of Rawsonville and the Breedekloof region of being off the beaten track, means visitors feel like guests, not like Disney-ticket holders waiting for the Winery’s-Wild-Ride.

Do yourself a favour and spend a little more at the pump, but get so much more at the cellar. The hinterland has much to see and do and even more to taste. The mountains erupt from the valley floor in a more spectacular fashion, the drive is almost unworldly in its beauty, the people welcoming and the wine, comparable to those from “that side of the berg,” but at half the price.

A little initial investment will yield great returns. Invest in a trip through the Huguenot Tunnel, but don’t tell the Huguenots in our neighbouring valley I told you to.