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4G advances aim to be ‘best wine of the Southern Hemisphere’

The man behind South Africa’s ambitious 4G wine venture has acknowledged the challenge of creating a “new category” for the global wine market.

Philipp Axt, CEO of 4G Wine Estate

Introducing the 2012 vintage, the third commercial release produced by this self-proclaimed “First Growth of the Cape”, 4G Wine Estate’s CEO Philipp Axt described his project as “the talk of the country” in South Africa.

“Some are reluctant to see change, but others say that it’s good to have someone from outside looking to take us in a different direction,” he told the drinks business of his peers’ reaction to 4G, which releases a maximum of 6,000 bottles per year of its grand vin at around £250 each.

Emphasising the difference between 4G and South Africa’s other high end wines, Axt maintained: “Even the boutique wines are targeted at high production – 30,000 bottles, not 3,000 – so it’s difficult to change their financial model.”

With 4G’s vineyards spreading out on a 130km radius across the Western Cape from its winery base in Stellenbosch, Axt summed up the mentality as a meeting between Old World and New World mindsets.

“We’re combining Bordeaux and Hermitage in style,” he claimed of the predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah blend, noting the additional Bordelais influence of consultant Denis Dubourdieu.

“We have the Burgundian approach in selecting vineyard, or even rows in the vineyard, and combine that with the New World blending approach to have the maximum complexity,” explained Axt.

He praised the particular suitability of the Cape for such a project, maintaining that no other country “has the concentration of very different microclimates in one spot.”

By way of example, Axt noted: “We have one vineyard that’s like Bordeaux, 400m high and 3km from the sea. Then you drive 30km and you’re in the middle of the desert with thick fruit and it’s totally different. That’s specific to the Cape.”

Each vintage carries a unique name and subtly different label by German artist Sebastian Blinde, designed to appeal to collectors

As for the market’s reaction to 4G, Axt remarked: “We are happy so far.” Noting that the maiden 2010 vintage received critical ratings “on a par with the big wines we want to play with,” he noted: “2011 and 2012 went beyond that.”

Reporting “very positive” feedback to the wines from the UK, Axt stressed the importance of this country as “the most educated market in the world with the biggest variety of products.”

Turning to Germany and the US, he acknowledged the barrier presented by strong loyalty to domestic wines, but suggested: “New York is more open.” In terms of Asian opportunities, Axt remarked: “The Far East is much more focused on established brands so it’s more difficult o get something new in there”, although he noted an exception for the “more educated” Japanese market.

Having previously compared his venture to Australian icon Penfolds Grange, Axt said: “The idea was to make the best wine of the Southern Hemisphere and then ultimately to take on the Northern Hemisphere. That’s a vast universe of quite different styles but being a part of that playground is fascinating.”

However, he accepted that achieving his high ambitions for the brand would take time, saying: “We are creating a new category and the market must understand that. Professionals understand it, but consumers will take a bit longer. We are trying to do something different for South Africa.”

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