As KWV prepares to celebrate one century of being in business, Geoffrey Dean profiles this South African company that has always prided itself on being a grape grower, grape buyer and wine blender.
The Mentors range of wines are picked out from the hundred products made by KWV as being of particularly good value for the UK on-trade.
Now in its 100th year, KWV – Ko-operatiewe Wijnbouwers Vereniging van Zuid-Afrika (Winegrowers Cooperative Association of South Africa) – has embarked on yet another chapter in its long history.
KWV ceased functioning as a cooperative 20 years ago when it became a private company. That same year it was presented with the President’s Award for export achievement by Nelson Mandela just seven years after sanctions against South Africa were lifted and international markets reopened.
Under the new ownership of Vivian Imerman’s Vasari Group, which acquired it last October for 1.15 billion Rand (around £700m), it is aiming to increase exports of its wide-ranging array of wines whose premium label, The Mentors, offers exceptional value at a uniform RRP of £14.99. More on that later.
While no longer a cooperative, the company still plays an important part in buying fruit from scores of growers in the western Cape. The number varies, but as The Buyer learnt on a recent visit to KWV headquarters in Paarl, grapes from the latest harvest were supplied by as many as 44 growers.
This is KWV’s great strength: it is able to acquire fruit from multiple districts and wards in the western Cape, allowing it to make wine from many different terroirs and micro-climates.
Established in 1918 as a regulatory body for the South African wine industry, KWV now makes over 100 products, including brandies and both still and fortified wines, that are sold in more than 100 countries. When it comes to establishing successful brands, KWV has proved to be highly proficient.
A good example is the mid-market Cathedral Cellar label that is selling well in the Co-op in the UK at an £11.99 price point. KWV have long specialised in skilful blending, and their 2015 Chardonnay is an amalgam of fruit from five districts: Elgin, Swartland, Stellenbosch, Walker Bay and Wellington.
Premium representation can be found in The Mentors range, which includes five single varietals – Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Chenin Blanc – as well as a Bordeaux blend called The Orchestra.
These are all impressive wines, with the reds possessing both intensity of flavour and well-integrated tannins. The complex and long Orchestra 2013 won an IWSC Gold.
North South Wines in West Drayton are the UK distributors, and have increased British sales since KWV appointed them just over a year ago. Good representation in restaurants is evident, with High Timber, Savanna, Cheshire Smokehouse, The Bingham, The Cavendish, The Laughing Gravy, The Ralston and The Yellowhouse all socking these wines.
If the reputation of KWV’s wines has been enhanced lately, its stature as a great brandy producer has never been in doubt.
KWV made its first brandy in Paarl in 1926, and its distillery in Worcester is unique in that it has as many as 120 pot stills under one roof. Ilse du Toit, the company’s master blender, presides over a big range of outstanding brandies, including the excellent ten-year old which North South stock. The rare 30-year retails in South Africa at R20,000 per bottle (around £1200).
When KWV celebrates its 100th anniversary next year, it can, in cricketing parlance, take guard again and look forward with real optimism to the start of its second century.
UK consumers, in particular, should have increasing opportunities to buy more of its labels, and enjoy wines that are superbly priced.