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South African Wines

Many friends and wine enthusiasts have taken a keen interest in the Vigilantes’ stance in bringing back good value wines to share. However, as soon as I mentioned that my present value hotspot was South Africa, I tend to get a lukewarm response at best and usually a shrug of the shoulders as if to say “what’s that”, or more directly, “I don’t drink South African wines!”

I owe it to my South African friends working in the wine industry to set the record straight, or at least throw some facts out there to share. South Africa has a long and proud tradition of making quality table wine, ever since the first vine was planted on the Cape by Jan van Riebeeck back in April 1652. In contrast, the first vine was planted in Australia in 1788, some 130 years afterwards. For sure the image of South African wine took a pounding in the 20th century because of the boycotts on products of South Africa in protest of the Apartheid system. In the 90’s, after Apartheid had ended, the world market was opened to them and South African wines experienced a rebirth and began to gain recognition again.

In response to this, many of South Africa’s producers quickly adapted and began to utilize new winemaking and viticultural technologies. The once dominating nationwide co-operative KWV was reorganized and became a private business that sparked an even greater incentive for improving the quality of the wines.This was due in part to the fact that many wineries and owners who had become accustomed to the price fixing structure purchasing their surplus stock for distillation had to become increasingly competitive by focusing on the creation of quality wines.

Located at the southernmost tip of the continent where the Atlantic and Indian oceans converge, most of South Africa’s wine regions enjoy a Mediterranean climate due to the coastal influences. The winter months tend to be cool and wet with springtime frosts being a rare occurrence. The growing season, which lasts from November through April, is generally warm and dry.

Along with the varied climate, the unique geography also plays a large role in the South African wine industry.The soil among the different wine regions varies as much as the climate does. There is a huge range of soil types among the different (and even within the same) vineyards as well as macro climates that are influenced by the geography of this vast region.

There are over 50 different soil types in the Stellenbosch wine region alone. Each soil type and macroclimate produces a subtly different flavor in the finished product.Not only is South Africa a fine producer of quality wines, it is also prominent in the production of world class fortified wines and brandies.

So that is all good background stuff to let us know that there is quality out there is South Africa, but how does it matter to us Vigilantes since we are looking out for Value? Well, let’s refer back to our value defining formula: Value = Quality / Price. Part of the trick to getting good value is to keep costs low so that the price could also be kept proportionally lower. So how does South Africa keep its price down compared to other wine producing countries?

  • Lower production costs - in terms of land and labour, South Africa is much cheaper compared to her Southern Hemisphere cousins, and by quite considerable margins.
  • Conservative pricing strategy - a lot of the South African wineries still playing catch up with other New World countries for consumer awareness. They are hesitant in raising prices, even though quality has already been well established.
  • Weakness in the local currency - due to sporadic political and economic challenges, their currency the Rand has been under a continuing period of weakness against other major currencies.

My suggestion is to take advantage while it lasts, and where better to do so than through the Value Vigilantes!

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