Other Factors in South African Wine: Big Love?

Wine is not an island unto itself. Political events, weather, economy, safety (health, food, national) – all kinds of exogenous variables feed into consumer choices and perceptions. So news about Zuma of South Africa, the president with oh-so-many wives, certainly affects how we think in puritan America about South African wines.

Having spent several weeks recently in the CapeTown and Stellenbosch/Paarl area, I enjoyed more wines than I can remember. Even though I lifted a lot of glasses, somehow I missed out on the Zulu “Big Love” thing. Maybe next visit. But my overall impression of South AFrican wines is that they have New World tones with an Old World overlay.

In many ways, that sums up the market dynamics for South African wines too.

The recent Wine Business Monthly.com series of articles was intensely interesting to me. The article didn’t reach deeply into the mechanism of BEE – Black Economic Empowerment – the government mandate to staff more positions up and down the hierarchy of a winery and the wine industry itself – with black and colored workers, and also with women of color as a unique target group for more Economic Empowerment job formation.

I’m an old-fashioned liberal who did social work in my 20’s in the ghettos of Newark, NJ. I’m a firm believer in the need to break the cycle of poverty through economic programs. In my estimation, reparation is a good way to go, and that’s what BEE is, at core.

The South African wine industry is learning how to accommodate this mandated change in their workforce and management composition. This is happening on top of the usual agribusiness and marketing challenges that a wine industry faces.

But South Africans of all colors are a hardworking and determined people, and the wines will prevail. The Laduma program, wine tourism, wiser use of WOSA and USAPA marketing dollars will all add up.

And someday we hope to see South African wines in their own section of the shop or menu … instead of grouped into the “other imports” category. THAT’s the real challenge – getting out of “other”. I’m just not sure how many wives that will take to accomplish...

(Photo attribution: left, Pieter Bauermeister-afp-gettyimages; right AP/Jerome Delay)

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