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SA #wine movers and shakers

The latest issue of UK magazine Decanter includes the fourth edition of its biennial Power List billed as “the people influencing what’s in your glass today”. Top of the list is Pierre Pringuet, CEO of Pernod Ricard, which according to Decanter is “arguably today’s most diverse, far-reaching major wine producer”, brands including Mumm, Perrier-Jouët, Campo Viejo (Spain) , Jacob’s Creek (Australia) and Brancott Estate (New Zealand). In second place, Eric de Rothschild, president of Domaines Barons de Rothschild, for his success with Lafite in China and third Robert Parker, influential US wine critic.

Wine magazine did a similar exercise back in 2006 coming up with the top 10 individuals defining the South African wine industry, the list running as follows: 1) Nelson Mandela (as the key figure in political transformation); 2) Charles Back of Fairview and Spice Route; 3) wine critic and consultant Michael Fridjhon; 4) John Platter as founder of wine guide Platter’s; 5) Linley Schultz, then chief winemaker at Distell; 6) Danie de Wet of De Wetshof but included for his general involvement in the industry; 7) Carrie Adams, partner in Johannesburg retailer Norman Goodfellows; 8) Stephanus Eksteen, national wine buyer for the Shoprite group; 9) Tim Rands, managing director of wholesaler and distributor Vinimark and 10) Mike Paul of Western Wines, then responsible for Kumala, which was then the largest South African brand and fourth overall in the UK, the country’s most important export market (see full article here).

Looking at that list it is quite extraordinary how little has changed in the five years since. Mandela at the top of the list was a figurehead for the change that the industry underwent post apartheid and could arguably remain there as industry continues to undergo fundamental restructuring; Schultz has left Distell for Alvi’s Drift, the Worcester operation processing 6 700 tons of grapes a year; Eksteen symbolised the power of supermarkets and he or any of his competitors in that market sector have to remain somewhere on the list; Mike Paul drops off the list – First Cape is currently South Africa’s biggest wine brand in the UK, Kumala has changed hands a number of times, Paul himself is now in consultancy.

What has changed recently? Major producer-wholesaler KWV has experienced a fundamental shake-up: it now has 60% black ownership, chairman of the board is former trade unionist Marcel Golding, while the chief winemaker is Australian Richard Rowe but could either Golding or Rowe yet said to be shaping what’s in your glass right now?

For me, however, an obvious omission from the original list is the private cellar winemaker, the “unknown soldier” of the South African wine industry. The number of wine cellars crushing grapes has increased dramatically in the last two decades or so, up from 212 in 1991 to 604 in 2009, this due in the unabated rise in private cellars, 19 being registered during the course of 2009 alone bringing the total to 524. Though static at 46%, micro-cellars vinifying fewer than 100 tons remain a powerful force in the industry, with them being among the most cutting-edge producers in terms of both production techniques as well as marketing.

by Christian Eedes

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