Bringing Tough Love To Cape Town (Nederburg Wine Auction 2013)

Vinted on August 20, 2013 binned in going pro, on the road

I’m very excited to tell you that I’ll be delivering the keynote address at the 39th Nederburg Wine Auction in Cape Town, South Africa on September 7th.

Nederburg is often cited as one of the wine world’s most major auctions annually. So… no pressure… no pressure…! The 2013 auction collection includes 72 red wines, 36 white wines, one Méthod Cap Classique, eight dessert wines and 15 fortified wines, and I’m looking forward to trying them all. Anthony Barne, MW from Bonhams is taking up the slamming-down-the-hammer duties.

My keynote is tentatively titled “Hustling Wine in the land of Big Hat, No Cattle: How South Africa Can Win in the U.S. Wine Marketplace” – and I think we both know that the Cape Townians (sp?) have no idea what they’ve gotten themselves into.

I’m fortunate to be following up the previous keynote work of two friends of mine, Mike Veseth and David White, who delivered the keynote addresses at the Nederburg auction in 2012 and 2011, respectively. I’m pretty sure that both of them did so while wearing jackets and standing respectfully behind a podium, so the Nederburg attendees are in for something completely and totally different when I hit that stage. And no, I won’t be wearing platform shoes. Anyway, I’ll be touching on themes that both of those gentlemen used as cornerstones in their keynote speeches, namely the U.S. economy (mostly in how bad of a shape it really is, and what that means for future wine buying) and the changing of the guard when it comes to wine tastemaker and consumer opinion-forming (yes, Millennials, you will be get top billing in this, as a bit of a spin-off of ideas touched on during the speech about the U.S. wine market I gave while in Argentina earlier this year).

I hope that my South African cohorts are ready for a bit of well-meant tough love, because they’ve got their work cut out for them in terms of conquering the U.S. wine market, not in small part due to the fact that the only things that most American know about South Africa are District 9 and Lethal Weapon 2 (“Dip-lo-matic immunity!!!” BANG! “Just been revoked!”).

But despite that challenging starting point, the hill can, indeed, be taken. How? Well, that part gets revealed when I prance around on stage in Cape Town in September.

In the meantime… if you have thoughts on how South African wine can compete on the U.S. playing field (and that you’d like me to consider quoting in the keynote address), then, in the immortal words of KISS, shout it, shout it, shout it, shout it out loooooud!






  • Marian

    SA winemakers should use their wines that are less common in the US (Pinotage, Chenin Blanc etc.), to make a break in the market. Especially something like a Pinotage – given that it stems from the Pinot Noir (a better known wine in the US), it can surely be marketed as a similar such varietal, to be enjoyed as a Pinot Noir would, with a uniquely South African touch.
    They should ride on their uniqueness and authenticity – The Spice Routes of Africa / The meeting of two Oceans / The African landscape etc – they need to differentiate themselves from the rest of the market in order to stand out and be noticed.
    Once you have your foot in the door, then you work from there and build on the brand (SA wines as a whole & individual wineries).
    I don't work in the wine industry, but I am South African – so its just my 2 cents worth of how we can get our awesome wines across the pond!

    • 1WineDude

      Marian – OK, how did you get inside my head? :-) I agree with you almost entirely. There are some nuances in how to differentiate the approaches generationally, but these days uniqueness and story pays off, and SA ought to have quite a bit of both to exploit in their favor in the export marketplaces.

  • Cathy Grimes

    I wish I could be there for your keynote, but I believe they are going to share the video afterwards, which is great.

    PS. 'Capetonians'


    • 1WineDude

      Cathy – :)  Thanks.

  • gabe

    if you want to break into the US maket, follow the lead of shiraz, malbec, and gruner and price yourself competitively.
    In my years of wine sales, I've noticed that nobody wants to spend premium money on an unknown quantity. People will spend premium money on known quantities (Champagne, Bordeaux, Barolo, Napa) or try new things if the price is right (Gruner, Malbec). That might be the tough love you're talking about, because SA has a rich winemaking history. But as far as we 'mericans are concerned, they are an unknown quantity.

    • 1WineDude

      Gabe – yeah, totally. Ironic, considering their long history.

  • Alana Gentry

    Everyone at Silkbush Mountain Vineyards is hugely into your keynote. They were so smart to invite you. You are going to make my job easier! And thanks to everyone for the comments here, I'm launching a Pinotage, Viognier and Shiraz from SA into the US market and I totally agree that we will get attention by delivering excellent examples of uniquely South African wine. The wines are terroir-driven, made by talented and experienced vintners, and feature fabulous (and sometimes undiscovered) varietals. It's an exciting country to be working with…good on ya Joe!

    • 1WineDude

      Alana – thanks! Hopefully my back and sciatica can take the multiple overnight flights required for the trip… Interesting note on premium Shiraz, it's up somethinglike 20% in the U.S. market now…

  • Jess Peters

    Wine Dude "JR" If you really want to get a good assement and another direction of wines from South Africa. Please talk to Selena Cuffe,she is the only importer in the USA that exclusively represents the Black South African wines Seven Sisters, Mhudi and the House of Mandela and others. Selena, is owner,CEO of Heritage Link Brands and since 2005 she has singlehandily gotten Black South African wines onto shelves of major retailers…Whole Foods Markets, Walmart etc.Yes, they are entry level and mid range wines but the prices are right.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Jess. Will she be at the auction?

  • Alana Gentry

    Joe, I have lots of opinions about SA, millenials, GenX and Boomers, it would be great to share notes via email, Skype or phone. Selena Cuffe works with Silkbush, I can get you in touch. Let me know. Very smart woman.

  • Lenny Pepperidge

    I've had a great deal of experience working with the SA wine industry. Pinotage is frankly a non-starter. Americans are never going to accept the medicinal-band aid-burnt rubber component that still afflicts an overwhelming majority of the wines. This isn't terroir; this is a flaw (as best I was able to discern possibly some form of VA that's coming in from the vineyard rather than developing in tank/barrel). Pinotage is NEVER going to be the next Aussie Shiraz or Argentinian Malbec. To spend resources promoting it as such will only waste money while negatively impacting the overall perception of SA wines.

    If SA wants to hang their hats on a traditional grape, then Steen (Chenin Blanc) is the natural choice. The wines are infinitely better than Pinotage and will benefit from the increasing sophistication of and market movement towards European wine in the US, with the Loire being a particularly "hot" region right now. Outside of that, focus on cool-climate (and French Style!) Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah (stop labeling it Shiraz!).

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Lenny.Personally, I dig a good Pinotage, but recognize that Steen is a ***much*** easier sell right now.

  • Alana Gentry

    I'm with Joe re:Pinotage. Thankfully restaurant Somms and retailers are appreciating all kinds of well made SA wines. Our reorders show that their customers love them!

    • 1WineDude

      Alana – I think it's still a hand-sell, but the best of them are definitely worth it!

  • Marian

    Another random angle:
    How about a wine show… "Wines of Africa" or something – on the food network – a fun/dynamic show of tasting, touring, pairing, educating about South African wine routes, varietals and wineries?! Giving SA wines exposure in the US market.
    That way, at least people will be more aware of the region and their wines when SA tries to tap into the market.
    Look at what an impact the movie Sideways had on the American wine industry – with one line and one character, Merlot sales dropped and Pinot Noir became a favourite… interesting, no?!

    • 1WineDude

      Marian – thanks. Interesting thought, but I see Sideways as a bit of an outlier. And no one had ever really been able to make a show about wine and only wine work in terms popularity. As Jancis Robinson mentioned in our TPD interview, on a wine TV show you're lucky to get some wind rustling the leaves in a vineyard :-)

  • Solomon Mengeu

    Hi Joe Roberts,

    So sorry about your back man, it sounds like a real pain both physically & psychologically; hope you get better.

    I am not officially in the wine business or a South African but I do have a few thoughts on this matter, firstly I agree Pinotage is not the sort of grape your average wine consumer/drinker will get into. You have to be adventurous, a wine geek or open minded or all three to even try it and then get past the lousy bottles you are bound to come across before you get to the good stuff which is very good.

    Now what does have South Africa have to offer, well this may sound tacky or corny, but I think it's the best of both worlds, in this case the Old World and the New World. As in both of these 'worlds' they have their unique pros & cons in their approaches to wine making.

    As South Africa has the finesse and elegance of European wine makers combined with the innovation and devil-may-care attitude you find in the New World. As to cultivars its hard to point to just one or two that stand head & shoulders above the rest; but if I had to choose two they would be Shiraz/Syrah & Chenin Blanc.

    That's not to say that Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon or Franc, Riesling and so on are poor, but if you want to grab a uninterested party's attention that would be the way I would do it.

    I would also make a differentiation between mainstream wines from Stellenbosch & Paarl and the wine geek ones from places like Swartland, Elgin, Hemel-en-Aarde as the former would appeal to the average, supermarket consumer & the latter to the self educated wine freak/geek.

    Hope your back gets better a.s.a.p. and that you help South African wine make a big splash in the U.S. and you could remind your fellow Americans about Nelson Mandela and Charlize Theron. Those are two people that are pretty difficult to forget too easily, I believe.

    Solomon Mengeu

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Solomon! You are touching on one of the themes that will be prevalent in my keynote, which is that SA has some incredible stories, and they need to be linking their wines to those stories and telling those stories in the U.S. market… otherwise, their stories will be told *for* them (and they will be Apartheid, Mandela, District 9…). Cheers!

  • Sarah

    Wow, congratulations! I wish I had more to contribute as suggestions or words of advice, but I won't pretend like I know enough about South African wine to do so. For me personally, I'd love to see something unique come out of the region. I often feel that for newer wine regions, especially new world wines, they try very hard to emulate the same styles of the old world wines and it's frustrating sometimes. I'd like for South Africa not to take the same route of the new world wines to break into the market and produce wines that have the same amount of soul as the region itself does.
    Are there any great S. African wines that you have tasted that you would recommend to experience what the wines are like? I think I've only had a few in my life and they were most likely cabs.

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