It was two years ago in February 2018 when we first met Rascallion. The brand that demanded to be taken differently, for, as it said at its launch: “This Is Not Wine”. Instead it was about creating a personality, a character, Rascallion, that was interested in you as a consumer and the wines you like to drink, when and with whom. It was most certainly not about terroir, history and pH levels. It’s now launching a new varietal range – ‘With Love From The Cape – that hopes to capture new drinkers by promoting the wonders of South Africa in every bottle.
The Rascallion bear is back, this time putting its name to the ‘With Love From The Cape’ range that hopes to bring bigger operators to a brand that to date has been aimed at the independent on and off-trade.
The Rascallion is not actually Ross Sleet, the much respected South African wine consultant, but he is the face behind the brand and the brains and brawn driving it around the world.
Yes, the Rascallion brand might be based in South Africa, with the majority of its wines made from South African fruit, but the concept behind it is more about how the wines relate to the consumers who end up buying and drinking them.
From a winemaking point of view Rascallion is built on a négociant strategy where the skill is as much about where and who you source your fruit from as the wines you make.
It’s new approach to brand building seems to be working. Rascallion in now in eight countries around the world – including 11 states in the US, Germany, Japan, Sweden, Aruba, Canada, Finland and Kenya as well a stronghold in its home country of South Africa. It’s now sold over 55,000 bottles internationally with a price point that has up to now been firmly focused on driving distribution through the independent and on-trade and restaurant channels.
Sleet says he is delighted with the how the brand and the Rascallion concept has been accepted by consumers in so many countries, but crucially it has been younger drinkers, the infamous millennial that he says Rascallion is helping to bring them into South African wine for the first time.
Countries like Japan, that are not swung by old school traditions of winemaking, but brands that stand out online, on social media and appeal to an inquisitive new consumer.
“We hear all the time about people coming into stores, in the US, and asking for Rascallion by name as they have heard about it or seen it on social media,” says Sleet.
To date the Rascallion brand has been built on the back of its two core ranges – the ‘Word’ and the ‘Vinyl’ collections. Both with their visually distinct labels, be it unusual tems – like Susurrous – that create the design for the ‘Word’ labels, or the record sleeve style for the Vinyl wines. It’s the designs that carry the wine, not the terroir or history, as Rascallion was launched on the back of carefully created blends.
With Love From…
Now Sleet is introducing a new third range to Rascallion that he hopes can take the brand into bigger volume outlets, national pub operators and restaurant groups.
The ‘With Love From the Cape’ does exactly what it says on the tin. The wines are all unashamedly a love affair with South Africa and all the things that make it such a special place to visit and make wine in.
“We want to create a lifestyle brand from South Africa,” says Sleet. “Most of the wines coming out of the country are terroir based, which is great, but we want to build a brand around the South African lifestyle and our personality.”
The varietal driven range will also sit nicely within national retailers and regional wholesalers where there is the demand for wines priced at around £9.99 or £10.99. It is starting with classic varieties including Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Pinotgae, Pinotage Rosé and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Sleet hopes the new range is a complement to its existing wines that bravely launched in the traditionally more difficult mid-tier, with the Rascallion Word collection retailing at around £14.99 and the Vinyl Collection going from £12.99 to £14.99.
“It’s the hardest part of the wine market to start in,” says Sleet, “but we wanted to break convention and it has worked.”
“We have built our reputation for good quality wines at those price points and we can now hopefully top and tail that with these new wines. If you can trust me at the mid teens range
we can now do some volume for you as well.”
He is then hoping to fill the top portion of the pricing pyramid with a ‘Winemakers’ collection that will sit nearer £40 that will come into the market in the summer. These will be specialist, small production South African wines. “They will be about reputation-building,” he says, “with a particular focus in the US and Japan.”
Showcasing South Africa
“The ‘With Love From The Cape’ range hopefully showcases why we think the Cape is one of the most amazing places in the earth,” adds Sleet. “We want to celebrate the diversity of the people, the food, the sights and sounds, the flora and fauna. Everything that is great about this amazing area.”
On a more serious note Sleet also hopes the range can help send “strong positive messages from South Africa”. “There is too much doom and gloom in the world.”
Part of the promotion for the ‘With Love from The Cape’ range will be a link up on social media that encourages people to send in pictures of themselves either living, or in holiday in the Cape to show what a beautiful place it is and how much fun they are having being there. The initial launch in March will give people a chance of winning free wine for a month for the best posts.
“Tell us what you love about the Cape and South Africa. That way we can promote positive messages out of South Africa and not in a preachy way,” he explains.
It’s also very much part of the Rascallion ethos. To put “you” the consumer in same place as the brand.
“We want to be a highly visual brand on social media and for people to share what we are doing. We hope we can be seen as a highly consumer friendly brand as that is all about what the friendly image of Rascallion is all about.”
“Our target audience is millennial and Generation X,” he explains, “and they are the consumers who are driving new brand engagement across all markets.”
“We hope by sharing these positive messages we can give people a lift. There are lots of positive things going on in South Africa and we should be celebrating them more. Yes, we have our issues, but our spirit is warm and welcoming. But at the end of day it’s only a wine brand – we’re not changing the world here.”
Sleet says it is hard to really capture what it means to be a South African, but having lived in a number of countries, particularly the UK, he sees it even more now he is settled back home.
“I think it’s in our nature in South Africa to be friendly, to be hospitable, to be approachable. But we are also hard workers. It’s in our culture. When you meet someone you always ask how they are. But we really mean it. It is seen as rude not to ask how you are in South Africa.”
Ready for ProWein
The new ‘With Love From’ range is being formerly launched at ProWein, which gives Sleet a few weeks to build awareness and some noise about the brand beforehand.
He says when he was creating the concept for ‘With Love From’ he envisaged a consumer going into a liquor store in Milwauwkee in the US when it is minus 22. How do you make a South African wine that is going to appeal to them in a quick, simple visual way?
“So with this band we are literally sending you love from the Cape. It’s hopefully an inspirational message that anyone can buy into whether you are in Aberdeen or Miami. They don’t want to be confronted with a whole lot of opinions about the wines they are going to buy. Similarly the store owner has to have confidence in your brand that when a customer comes into the store they can see a wine they can relate to and buy it within a couple of minutes.
“You are buying a bottle of sunshine for the evening,” says Sleet.
Which is a particularly strong message to sell in the US and countries around the world who are not as familiar with South Africa as say UK consumers would be.
“The opportunity is enormous for South Africa and it is important we don’t forget that.”
Its also very much part of the Rascallion ethos that the wines “strip back all the wine vernacular and all are all about the designed and the look of the label”. “It’s about grabbing the consumer’s attention. It’s the total opposite to how ‘wine people’ talk about a wine which is all about the terroir.”
Instead Rascallion and Sleet wants to appeal directly to the emotions of the person who is potentially going to buy it in a store or a bar. “We want to put ourselves in their position. Millennials get it immediately.”
The next stage of the ‘With Love From” concept is to roll it out into different countries and plans are already in place to have a ‘With Love From France’ and ‘With Love From Spain’ ranges out in due course. Again the imagery will be very clear and focused on the key characteristics that consumers both recognise, relate and love about those countries. “It has to be immediate, simple and effective,” he says.
“We could go to Australia or California in the future, but we need to get the core brand right first,” says Sleet.
- You can go and see for yourself at ProWein and visit Ross Sleet on the Rascallion stand at Hall 9B, Wines of South Africa stand 38 Booth 57. If you want to make an appointment you can contact him on email@example.com.