South African wine board approves regulatory reforms

South African wine regulatory authorities have approved proposals that will make it easier to certify unconventional wine styles.

The Swartland Independent group has successfully campaigned for new six new classes of wine to be included in the WSB's certification process (Photo: Swartland Independent)

The Swartland Independent group has successfully campaigned for new six new classes of wine to be included in the South African Wine and Spirit Board’s certification process (Photo: Swartland Independent)

The South African Wine and Spirit Board (WSB) made amendments to its wine regulations last month following extensive lobbying from the Swartland Independent group of winemakers.

WSB certification sets the quality standard for all wines being exported from the country, as well as providing comprehensive data on a wine’s origin, content and age through its Wine of Origin scheme.

The regulatory amendments include the introduction of six new classes of wine – “skin-macerated white”, “extended barrel-aged white/gris”, “natural pale/non-fortified pale”, “methode ancestrale”, “alternative white/red” and “sun wine”.

Some South African winemakers, particularly those working in Swartland – many of whom make ‘natural’ styles of wine – had expressed concerns that there wines were being rejected by the regulatory board despite being in high demand in foreign markets.

Craig Hawkins, who runs the ‘natural-style’ Testalonga label in northern Swartland with his wife, Carla, has encountered problems with the authorities on several occasions.

The Swartland Independent group, headed by Hawkins but now including 25 other wineries, first contacted the WSB and South African Wine Information and Systems (Sawis), which controls wine industry information and administrates the industry’s Wine of Origin system, to discuss their concerns about aspects of South African wine regulation two years ago.

The major issue, Hawkins said, was that it was not possible to categorise certain wines he produced under the existing WSB regulations.

“As all wines in South Africa need to be tasted and approved before receiving their final seal of approval, this led to many issues regarding certain wine styles, such as orange wines and oxidative/sherry-style wines,” he said.

“Ultimately, many of our wines had to go through rigorous tastings and board meetings with the relevant winemaker and the WSB members to discuss why this wine should be allowed export. 

“There really was no box to tick for the wines to be classed under and this ultimately led to non-certification of many of our wines. 

“It was not that we were trying to reinvent the wheel but rather express something that has not been expressed before in South Africa, hence the need of new categories.

Craig Hawkins, leader of the Swartland Independent group, has been lobbying for regulatory change for two years

Craig Hawkins, leader of the Swartland Independent group, has been lobbying for regulatory change for two years

The long road to reform

Hawkins expressed his relief that reform had finally been achieved and praised the WSB for its open-mindedness, also suggesting that the next generation of winemakers in South Africa would now have a “broader playing field”.

“For a good four or five years before [the Swartland Independent group] finally got together with the WSB and Sawis, it was very frustrating. The good news is that the new proposed categories have been approved,” he said.

“Credit to the WSB/Sawis for actually doing something about it. I think its a wonderful example of old school meets new school and finding a way to work together and move forward for the benefit of the country.

“The next young generation of winemakers who may explore new theories etc will have a broader playing field.

“I have seen many young guys/girls who get a wine rejected then convert to a more ‘safe approach’ instead of sticking to something they believe in and actually trying making it work the next year.”

The new regulations were approved on 21 August 2015 following two years of discussion and legal administration.

We would like to think that the board has always been an advocate for innovation, which we see these new classes of wine as,” Hugo van der Merwe, secretary of the South African Wine and Spirit Board, said.

“We are excited to be part of the journey of these new wines.”

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