South Africa must “sort out terroir message”

8th October, 2012 by Lucy Shaw

Anthony Hamilton Russell, owner of Hamilton Russell Vineyards in Walker Bay, believes South Africa needs to “sort out its terroir message” in order for it to be taken seriously as a fine wine producing country.

Anthony Hamilton Russell

Speaking to the drinks business at Cape Wine last month, Hamilton Russell said:

“Sorting out our terroir message will help us promote our fine wine offering. The importance of terroir very much exists in South Africa, it just hasn’t been communicated properly yet.

“Terroir is fundamental to the Pinots I produce. The stony, clay-rich soil in Hemel-en-Aarde helps us to get closer in style to Burgundy than any other New World country,” he said.

He also admitted that it has been “tough” being a South African fine wine producer and trying to convince the world of the worth of the country’s top wines.

“I’m proud everyone has persevered. If we were American our wines would be on allocation,” he said.

Paul Cluver, managing director of Elgin-based Paul Cluver Wines, agrees that South Africa’s top end wines offer “outstanding” value.

“You’d never find the same quality/price ratio in France or the US. We’re just suffering from a bit of an image problem.

“People are not willing to pay more than around £20 for South African wine at the moment. We need to shift our focus to our premium offering and market ourselves better,” Cluver told db.

Hamilton Russell’s Walker Bay neighbour Peter Finlayson, owner of top Pinot producer Bouchard Finlayson, agrees that South can get closest to Burgundy in terms of tannin content.

The Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, where many of South Africa’s finest Pinot Noirs are made

“Our best Pinots are well structured, with good tannins and good extraction.

“There are no vacuums in the wine business. I’m seeing a lot of newcomers to Pinot Noir here trying to capitalise on the favourable returns it affords,” he told db.

Finlayson believes the challenge for South Africa moving forward is to look at terroir specification.

“We need to streamline our efforts and focus on making wines with a sense of place. I’d like to see the terroir approach really take hold across the Cape. I’m starting to see it happen,” he said.

Thys Lombard, sales and marketing manager of Tokara meanwhile, believes the key to success in the fine wine sphere lies in pricing the wines down slightly, so they remain exceptional value.

“South African fine wines are starting to enter the market at the price they are supposed to be.

“We got complacent, but we’ve lost our arrogance and become critical of ourselves, which is healthy. We’ve gone back to the drawing board.

“It’s a good thing that our best wines are not priced too highly. We’re aiming for the top of course, but I’m happy for us to be thriving in the middle at the moment.”

South African wine writer Michael Fridjhon agrees that rather than trying to dominate the very top tier, South African fine wines can carve out a niche at £10-£20.

“I’m not sure the future of South African fine wine lies with icon wines. The £10-20 bracket is where we should be ploughing our furrows,” he told db.

An in-depth look into South African fine wine appears in the October issue of the drinks business, out now.

4 Responses to “South Africa must “sort out terroir message””

  1. Glugger says:

    For proof that South Africa has got its act together, look no further than last night’s Wine Society tasting. 12 growers, including Warwick Estate, Miles Mossop, Meerlust, Chamonix, Beaumont, etc, all showing very well indeed. And Cape Wine the other week showed the great advances that have been made by this wonderful winemaking country. Great value for money to be found.

  2. I find it highly disturbing that educated winemakers in South Africa are slinging the word terroir around like they own it. Terroir is not only soil and weather! Here’s my post from a few weeks back: Why South Africa and similar new world producers can not use the word Terroir
    http://winetimes.co/2012/09/21/why-south-africa-and-similar-new-world-producers-can-not-use-the-word-terroir/

  3. peter bishop says:

    the sucess od Adi Badenhorst and Eben Sadie in hyping the swartland with the grenache/syrah etc etc range of reds and whites gives a huge message. they have chosen terroir that uses the heat of that area. hamilton Russell has\ primed pinot nor to Hermanus (which does not exclude what Jan Boland Coetzee does with Pinot Noir). Anthony’s terror call is an admission that his soiul is not the same as Burgundians, but neither he nor Bouchard Finlayson can disclaim the Burgundian feel. So the challenge is for Stellenbosch to use its terroir to give status to the king , Cabernet Sauvignon, not just in limited quantities , but to reallt see if it can return to the ascendancy in cabernet sauvignon that it had from 1972 to 1984. thus each region can put claim to understanding its terroir, and thus justifying its place on a chosen market.

  4. Gerda Mouton says:

    South African wines offer high quality at excellent value in the international markets. A strong and clear terroir message will support our quality wine marketing and branding message. However, we need all winemakers to be passionate about this cause in order to find the uniqueness of their production areas and to define the smallest common denominator of quality for their wines.

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