There are about 550 wine producers in SA
There are about 550 wine producers in SA

There are about 550 wine producers in SA: not grape growers (there are about 2,500 of those) but entities and individuals transforming fruit into wine.

About half of them crush 100 tonnes or less, which means that — at most — they might have 7,000 dozen (about 84,000 bottles) to sell. Many are, of course, much smaller. It’s safe to assume that at least 150 of them make no more than 5,000 cases. 

Just the fruit, processing, excise and dry goods costs (so excluding winery labour, new barrels and transport) come to R70-R80 a bottle — given that there are no economies of scale. So — at R1,000 (rounded up) a case, each vintage requires R5m in working capital. Cost of capital must add about R500,000 a year. Since most wines don’t sell out in the vintage of production, additional financing is necessary.

These figures exclude any distribution costs, any margin for funding, any income for the winemaker. So when one of the specialist boutique wine distributors hosted a tasting in Johannesburg to showcase entry-level wines of some of the best known “new wave” producers, with nothing destined to retail for more than R250, I paid attention.

It’s hard to imagine how this is even being achieved. The distributor margin is typically at least 20%. In addition, the pricing included Johannesburg delivery, another R15 or so between cellar door and licensee. Since these are producers who are sufficiently well established that they have been able to find a middleman willing to take them on, they’re not amateurs. The line-up offered some of the best value and most interesting wines coming out of the Cape.

I was mightily impressed with all of Julien and Sophie Schaal’s wines: I simply could not believe that their finely oaked, still luminously fresh Elgin-origin chardonnay could retail for under R200. I was equally astonished at the layered complexity of their Born of Fire chenin blanc, nuanced, detailed, textured and very complete. Their pinot noir, which lands up on shelf for about R200, shames most of the wines selling for twice that price from better-known cellars.

For about R150, you can lay your hands on Callender Peak Winterhoek sauvignon blanc. It’s on the greener side of the spectrum, but the blackcurrant bud intensity running in a straight line from the aroma to the finish more than compensates. If you’re a sauvignon fan, you should also seek out Trizanne Barnard’s 2022 TSW sauvignon blanc — made from cool climate fruit, fresh, zesty, flinty and fine. This may not the cheapest at which decent bottles of Cape sauvignon land up on shelf, but there’s more craft and care here for the extra R40 than you are likely to get from any other sub-R150 bottle of wine. The same is equally true of her 2022 Cinsault and her 2022 Syrah (except in this case, there’s nothing out there to match them at this price).

JH Meyer’s Palmiet chardonnay
JH Meyer’s Palmiet chardonnay
Image: Platteklip Vineyards

JH Meyer’s Palmiet chardonnay 2022, also made from Elgin fruit, was another great find — and well worth its R225 price point. It shows great concentration, plush mid-palate generosity, yet maintains a limey freshness all the way to the finish. John Seccombe’s Thorne & Daughters’ Copper Pot 2023 pinot noir made the under-R200 price cut. This is consistently one of the Cape’s most accessible and authentic pinots. It proves that not all cool climate pinot noir has to land up on shelf at more than R500.

Chris Williams has been making wines under The Foundry label for many years — even when he was cellarmaster at Meerlust. His 2021 Grenache Blanc has deservedly bagged many accolades and is certainly worth the R245 current offer, as is his 2021 Roussanne — consistently one of the Cape’s best examples.

Finally, it’s worth seeking out the Roussouw, Gouws and Clarke 2022 pinotage — made from a vineyard planted in 1968: if you have your doubts about pinotage but like red Burgundy, you’ll also like the sub-R200 selling price.

This story was originally published in the Business Day.

© Wanted 2024 - If you would like to reproduce this article please email us.