US imports of South African wines have seen double digit volume growth, with WOSA predicting that growth will continue in the coming years.
Meanwhile, the South African wine industry can further boost the sector by rallying around Chenin Blanc as an entry point to other varieties.
Old World meets New World
The US is the South African wine industry’s fifth largest market: coming after the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden.
The biggest challenge for South African wines in the US has been the lack of historical connections between the two countries, meaning that many wine drinkers in the US are still unaware of South Africa’s 350+ years of winemaking, said Jim Clarke, US marketing director for WOSA.
However, US consumers are now showing increased interest in the country’s wines. The latest figures from a second quarter Gomberg-Fredriksen report show that US imports of packaged South African wines were up 13% for the period January-June 2017, compared to the same period in 2016.
So why are South African wines gaining popularity with US consumers? One reason is that they can appeal to a wide range of drinkers, said Clarke.
“South Africa offers familiar varietal wines - Cabernet, Sauvignon Blanc, etc. in styles that combine the generosity typical of New World wines with the restraint, structure, and food-friendliness of wines from the Old World.
“More and more wine drinkers are also catching on to Chenin Blanc; South African Chenin Blanc comes in a wide range of styles, but at its median point it can offer body to Chardonnay drinkers, aromatic generosity for Sauvignon Blanc fans, and freshness for people who might usually drink Pinot Grigio.
“The most widely cultivated variety in the Cape, growers are raising the standard to new levels. Characterized by its versatility, Chenin Blanc produces good natural wines covering the whole spectrum from sweet to dry, as well as sherry and sparkling wine. Its fruitiness finds favor with a wide range of palates. It is also used for distilling brandy and spirits” - WOSA
“So it can appeal to a wide range of white wine drinkers.”
In order to further promote South African wines, an on-the-ground presence from the industry is critical, added Clarke.
“More and more producers are taking the time to come over and visit the market, which is vital for strengthening connections with the US trade,” he said.
“We’re also seeing the industry rally around Chenin Blanc as a focal point, which gives wine drinkers a good entry point to learning South African wines, even if they later explore South Africa’s other diverse offerings: Bordeaux-style blends, Chardonnay, Pinotage, and so forth.”
WOSA represents all South African producers of wine who export their products. It has more than 500 exporters on its database.
The modernization of South Africa’s wine region and resulting influx of industry leaders championing the region has driven recognition to some of South Africa’s prominent tastemakers, says WOSA. South Africa’s first black female winemaker, Ntsiki Biyela, owner of Aslina Wines and former winemaker of Stellakaya was recently named one of the ‘Most Innovative Women in Food & Drink’ by Food & Wine Magazine and Fortune Magazine. Meanwhile, Sam Timberg, MD & VP of sales of Meridian Prime, a leading importer of South African wine in the US, was included on Wine Enthusiast’s 40 Under 40 Tastemakers list.