CAPE WINELANDS, South Africa, Sept. 23 (Xinhua) — Vineyards that constantly emerged along roads in southwestern tip of South Africa were almost bare at this time of September, the first month of spring here, though opposite to those in winemaking countries in the Northern Hemisphere, South African wine estates expect their grapevines to start off the annual growth cycle with bud break in the month and harvest them around February.
Even a wine expert may not be able to recognize the different grape varieties from the appearance at this stage, given a wide range of grape varieties planted at farms of Western Cape Province, where small to medium-size wine estates could plant 20 grape varieties.
With traditional markets in Europe, the South African wine industry is now seeking to export more of its products to a developing market — China, which has already become a focus market of South Africa.
EMERGING MARKET OF SOUTH AFRICAN WINES
Currently, most of the exported South African wines are ended in Europe, but the wine industry is seeing good growth in the Chinese market and for South African wines the Chinese market is getting more and more attention, CEO of Wines of South Africa Siobhan Thompson told Xinhua in an interview at the organization’s headquarters in Stellenbosch Tuesday, about one hour’s drive from Cape Town’s central business district.
Thompson will be together with 22 members of the organization to participate in an online wine exhibition, namely South Africa-China Wine Digital Exhibition, Wednesday to deliver education and information on South African wines, inform Chinese customers and grow the user base of South African wines in China.
Hosted by China Construction Bank Johannesburg Branch, the exhibition aims to promote ongoing cooperation between South African high-quality wine producers and Chinese importers.
In 2020, South Africa was the eighth biggest wine production country, producing 4 percent of wines in the world.
Sales of South African wines in China dropped early last year when the latter was hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, but in the last 12 months there was a “good recovery” and the sales in China “have been doing exceptionally well,” with great growth in value of exports and rapid growth of white wines and sparkling wines, said Thompson, who said the data indicated that more Chinese consumers are drinking South African wines.
The organization, representing all South African producers of wine for export, is active in China in main different mediums and platforms, and participates in road shows across different cities in order to promote South African wines. It held nearly 50 events in the last 12 months alone.
“The Chinese market is a really important market for us for future growth,” she said.
GREAT POTENTIAL OF SOUTH AFRICAN WINES IN CHINA
Idiom Wines in Somerset West, Cape Town, which currently has an importer based in China’s Shanghai, will participate in the exhibition. Proud of its blended wines, such as the Bordeaux-style blend that has won various awards in wine competitions and South Africa’s unique Cape blend, the wine estate said there is “a very bright future for South African wines in China and in the world,” as the nation’s wine industry only started to realize its potential in the last few years.
Roberto Bottega, owner of Idiom, prepared to show, through events like the exhibition, that South African winemakers are quality producers making top and unique wines, and to convince the Chinese wine-loving people that South African wines are “important part of the wine world.”
The South African vintner planned a regional solution for South African wines in China that provides wines suitable for diverse Chinese cuisines. He cited an example of spicy food in western China’s Sichuan province, suggesting South African Shiraz and Viognier for matching the cuisine of that region, saying that they are able to handle the spicy flavor well and adapt “beautifully” to the spicy type of food.
Julian Johnsen of Vondeling Wines bought a farm at an unspoiled mountain in Western Cape’s Paarl in 2000 and keeps its 300-year wine-making history alive. The Briton has had 80 hectares of 15 different varieties planted and uses a historic building built in 1750 to accommodate tourists.
Johnsen, who has been to China for several times, is looking for a good and serious importer for his wines in China.
“I see massive potential for our wines in China. Because they are very undervalued and extremely good,” he said, insisting that South African wines are good despite less known in China compared with French, Italian and Australian wines.
Vondeling, which currently exports about 250,000 bottles of 12 different wines to China, has the capacity to export more if it finds serious importers, according to him.
Based on his experience of visiting China, Johnsen said South Africa’s indigenous Pinotage wines could match Chinese customers’ keen interest in red wines, adding that Vondeling’s Pinotage wines were in recent years voted twice the best Pinotage in South Africa. He also believed that his Rhone blends and Bordeaux blends will be very popular among Chinese consumers.
UNIQUE FLAVORS OF SOUTH AFRICAN WINES
“If you look at a master of wine, who is the top qualified wine person in the world, when they taste wine, they smell and taste it, then they can tell you not only which varieties of grape, but which country, which region, and sometimes which vineyard they come from,” said Julian Johnsen at his vineyard on the mountain slope, suggesting different vineyards have distinct flavors and that soil, aspect, sunshine and man’s manipulation are the main things that go into the flavor of wines.
Mainly situated in riverine valleys, Western Cape wine producers produce 93 percent of South African wines each year, according to Wines of South Africa. The country is a global leader in producing wines made from native Pinotage and Chenin Blanc originally from France, and has the most planting of Chenin Blanc in the world, according to CEO of Wines of South Africa Siobhan Thompson.
The massive body of Atlantic Ocean, cool fresh breeze, old soils but shorter history of planting grapes could give the region a chance of making wines with different flavors comparing to European countries, even using grapes of the same variety, according to Roberto Bottega, the owner of Idiom.
Before Idiom opened its visitors’ facilities in 2016, Bottega family used another winery in Western Cape’s coastal town of Hermanus to receive visitors. The family decided to invest in Idiom’s own facilities in Somerset West because “it’s important that every wine has a sense of place,” he said.
The South African wine industry saw a lot of new developments in the last decade, and with new techniques and vinification methods it has now moved to a new level, according to him.