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.
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!