It has never been more important for importers and distributors to be working with their winery partners around the world, helping to keep them informed about what is happening in their key sales markets, as well as making sure their buyers and customers know what is happening in those wineries. Here we talk to two of Seckford Agencies’ South African producers – Glenelly Estate and Kanonkop – about what impact their country’s lockdown has had on them.
No wine producing country has faced, and is living through, such stringent lockdown conditions as South Africa. Here Glenelly Estate’s chief executive, Nicolas Bureau, and Kanonkop’s winemaker, Abrie Beeslaar.
Glenelly Estate: Nicolas Bureau
How has the 2020 harvest gone?
We are really happy with the harvest, both in terms of volume and quality. We just managed to finish pressing before the lockdown, so the impact on the production side has been minimal.
(Winemaker, Luke O’Cuinneagain, adds: “We had to do very intensive sorting to remove any raisins, where we lost a lot of fruit. We have seen that the skin to juice ratio was high this year, ie less juice per berry and smaller berries. This has led to wines with good tannin structure and intensity with balance…
- For the un-oaked Chardonnays, it is looking exciting with very good aromatics, bright freshness, very clean and pure flavours
- Cabernet Franc had great bright colour due to lower pH and fine dense tannins. Very good balance in the wine early on with fruit and mineral tones.
- Merlot is proving the age of the vines is coming to the fore, we achieved good ripeness in the berry… The wine is fresh and has amazing fruit density.
- Syrah – we were able to achieve an elegant, fine style of wine, with freshness and balance. The wines are very perfumed rich and long.
- Cabernet Sauvignon – the wines have a wonderful balance, elegance and freshness about them. The fine dense tannins are supporting the fruit beautifully.
- Petit Verdot – I decided to pick to preserve some freshness and lower sugars. The wines are perfumed and elegant with a good balance and structure.)
What impact have you personally felt from the lockdown on the South African wine industry to tackle Covid-19?
Yes, very much impacted, but I would say like every winery in this country. Like everyone, we have had to shut down our tasting room and our restaurant, but more importantly, wine not being deemed an “essential product” we haven’t been able to sell a single bottle for over a month now. Exports were also ceased [they are now back running from May 1], which is difficult to understand, and what was already a fragile industry has become even more so in a very short period of time.
What steps have you taken to keep going, protect staff and keep working your vineyards?
We were able to recall our vineyard team as they fall under the “essential service” category being related to food production, so I don’t anticipate any disruption on the vineyard side. The winery team has been kept to its minimum to be able to function, as we have started racking the 2019 vintage.We are taking every step to protect our workers who have been back
I wish I had a crystal ball to be able to plan, but unfortunately, I don’t think anyone has any idea what the next few weeks have in store for us. The first important measure would be for us to be allowed to sell (both domestically and export). If not, we will certainly have to take other measures. Our fixed costs still have to be paid (the biggest one being the wages of our 30 strong permanent team).
Have you seen any changes in how your export partners want to work with you?
Our export partners are also suffering badly. We all know that the on-trade sector is completely dead globally, and that the partners of ours still operating well are those who are strong with the multiples and retailers. Online sales also seem to be doing very well, with some stories we are hearing of businesses selling more than during the famously busy Christmas period.
What help would you like to see from your customers and export partners at this time?
I unfortunately think our import partners need as much help as we do…so it would be unfair to ask them for some help. They are going through an equally tough situation, with a lot of their customers being unable to pay them. On our side, the only think we can ask for is to be still paid on time for the wine that has been shipped, and then whenever things kickstart again, that we support them so that we don’t miss the window of opportunity when (hopefully) their trade customers will be restocking.
Are you seeing collaboration and teamwork with other wineries at this time – any examples?
The Stellenbosch Wine Route, Wines of South Africa and Vinpro have been very good at keeping us posted on what was happening. They did their best to lobby the government to allow exports to happen again [with the ports working again from May 1].
I think collaboration and teamwork will be absolutely essential when the markets eventually reopen. We will have to double our efforts collectively to regain the ground that was lost. We are part of the PIWOSA (Premium Independent Wineries of South Africa) collective, and sadly had to cancel our June trip to Asia, and this will be rescheduled later this year or next year.
What impact do you think there might be on prices going forward for wines from South Africa?
We hardly buy or sell any grapes ourselves (we are mainly producing Estate Wine), so for me the impact will be more on the finished product. Will the global crisis drag all the prices of finished wines down? I obviously hope not, but there is a risk.
Were you seeing any increased demand from different countries prior to Covid-19?
Until the crisis, we were having a fantastic rolling 12 months period (our best ever). The US market was incredibly strong, as well as some pockets in Europe and Asia. Same for the domestic market. Since then, our export markets have gone quiet…and even if the demand was there, we wouldn’t be in a position to satisfy the demand because of the ban on selling alcohol products.
What lessons do you think you have learned already from how this crisis has evolved?
I sadly think that we are at the beginning of the crisis, and that all we can do is try and plan for the next few weeks and months with a blindfold on. There is a great deal of uncertainty currently and this is also coming from all of our partners globally who keep us updated on the situation in their markets. I think that lessons will be learned in a few weeks or months’ time.
Are you pessimistic or optimistic about what the future wine industry might look like?
I don’t want to be pessimistic as we can’t really afford to be pessimistic. A lot people’s livelihoods around us rely on small wineries like us being operational and ideally profitable. On the other hand, being optimistic would be a bit naïve I think as we are only at the beginning of the storm. Let’s just hope that the saying that every cloud has a silver lining is not just a proverb.
We talk to award winning producer, Abrie Beeslaar about how the 2020 vintage has been at Kanonkop, one of South Africa’s most iconic wineries, also now part of Seckford Agencies’ impressive South African portfolio.
How was 2020 for you before Covid-19?
Generally Kanonkop has seen an uptick in most countries. And more so in South Africa which was in a recession before the outbreak. In a down turn it is all about trustworthy brands. But liquor sales in South Africa are now forbidden as part of the lockdown. Now it is all about cash flow management.
What differences have you made in the winery since the lockdown?
All labourers are screened daily – and besides all the normal stuff, such as sanitising, hand washing, social distancing, all labourers were issued with plastic face shields.
How do you see the situation evolving?
The government will soon have to do a balancing act between containing corona and the economic well-being of its citizens. Our message to our customers and supplies is to just pay our bills please!
What practical changes have you made?
Everyone is zooming and changing ideas on going forward. Especially on the winemaking and viticultural sides.
How was your 2020 harvest?
The volume was average, but quality was excellent. The 2020 vintage could become a stunner. Watch this space…
What impact do you think there will be on prices?
Prices have already stabilised at consumer level and do I expect a definite down turn in grape prices next year – especially in South Africa.
What long term changes do you see for the wine industry?
The world is already a much different place and undoubtedly more technologically driven. And this is but the beginning, amongst other, much less travel and better productivity operating from home.
Kanonkop has and will always be bullish about the future. It is in out DNA. Our strategies going forward were always to ride out economic down turn. As we comfortably did in 2009. The future of the international wine industry – we regularly experience a similar example with some game species in various National Game Parks in Africa – if a specific game species become overcrowded, it starts a natural eliminating process. It is called: survival of the fittest.
- If you would like to share what you are doing as a producer, or if you are an importer and want to show how your winery partners are dealing with Covid-19 then please contact Richard Siddle at firstname.lastname@example.org.