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Neil Grant: SA wines ‘have come of age’

South Africa’s young winemakers are steadily putting South African wines on the map, says Neil Grant, founding member of the South African Sommeliers Association.

Neil Grant, founder and chairman of the South African Sommelier Association
Neil Grant, founder and chairman of the South African Sommelier Association

Speaking to the drinks business HK at the tail-end of his visit to Hong Kong, Neil Grant, the founder and former chairman of the South African Sommeliers Association said he believed that South African wine has “grown up” considerably over the last 20 years with a new-found sense of identity.

“There was a debate circulating for a while regarding whether South Africa was Old World or New World; seemingly all wine-producing countries have to be categorised as one or the other.

“But we can’t classify ourselves in this way, because we are neither. We’ve been producing wine for thousands of years but it’s only over the last 22 years [since the abolition of Apartheid] that we’ve been able to get back on track with our winemaking. We are now creating our own styles and making wine how we want. Many of our new generation of winemakers have international experience in other vineyards and have been able to make huge leaps forward in technology such as soil sampling and satellite mapping.”

On 11 April, Wines of South Africa (WOSA) hosted its annual South African Wine Festival in Hong Kong, and Michaela Stander, WOSA’a marketing manager said that this year saw much more focus on South Africa’s regional wine stars which champion their particular terroir.

“Twenty years ago producers produced a bit of everything,” she said. “But with international investment and education, regions are now known for their particular varietals. Hemel-en-Aarde is producing some stunning Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and Swartland is known for Chenin Blanc, Syrah and Rhone-style wines.”

Grant also pointed out that Hong Kong’s increasingly sophisticated consumer market is a potential “goldmine” for South African wine. Vinexpo’s recent study on Hong Kong’s biggest wine importers revealed that between 2010 and 2014, South African wines have increased by 22% in volume and is now Hong Kong’s tenth largest.

“The level of knowledge is much better than now than even three years ago and South Africa is no longer known in Hong Kong for just making Pinotage. We’re gaining a real sense of place with our wines and it has come of age.

“The quality is great for the price point and now is a great time to invest in South Africa, as with current winemaking techniques you’re looking at a bargain which can only get better as time goes on.”

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