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SA Winemakers grand tour of the USA

By May 15, 2015February 21st, 2017Raats

A high flying team of South African winemakers has just concluded on an unprecedented grand tour of the USA, covering more than 3 000 miles from New York City all the way to California in just over 3 weeks.


The epic road trip featured a sparkling array of winemakers and owners including Abrie Beeslaar and Deidre Taylor (Kanonkop), Judi Dyer (Morgenster), Lars Maack (Buitenverwachting), Bruwer Raats (Raats Family Wines and Indaba), Nicolas Bureau (Glenelly), Peter de Wet (Excelsior), Rose Jordaan (Bartinney) and Carl van der Merwe (De Morgenzon), and was arranged by New York wine importer and marketer Cape Classics.

So why a road trip format? The “Megatour” was a unique concept, and fantastic opportunity to make some noise in the burgeoning but hugely competitive US market. Cape Classics’ EVP of Sales and Marketing, Molly Choi, explains that Cape Classics, like all suppliers, faces a huge amount of competing trade events and distributor lockdowns. The traveling army of South African wine makers and owners was a great chance to secure buyer attention and selling opportunities with customers. “We considered the pros and cons of having an every-other-year market scenario, where we’d cover some states one year and different ones the next. But rejected the idea of leaving any major distributor, city or one of our RSMs without the opportunity to have our winemakers in their backyards for that long, as direct face time with customers is just too important,” said Choi. “So this year to ensure (US-Marine Corps style) that no wine was left behind, we launched an aggressive, but incredibly exciting, grand tour concept, and put together a cross country road trip of epic proportions where we hit all major markets with a combination of trade and consumer events.”

The tour included stops in New York, Massachusetts, Florida, Texas, Illinois, Washington DC, Maryland, Virginia, and California, taking in major cities including New York, Boston, Orlando, Washington DC, Dallas, Houston, Austin, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco. These stops were selected because they are Cape Classics’ top markets and where the company has dedicated regional sales managers. Each stop had a different combination of trade and consumer events based on what would have the biggest impact and give all channels a chance to interact with the prestigious group of winemakers and owners.

One of the highlights of the tour was the Cape Classics second annual New York City Braai at the Saxon Woods Park Pavilion on 13 April. The good old South African braai is a key part of the mega tour, with all of the winemakers and owners overseeing their own fires. “Whenever we take clients back home with us to South Africa, they always remember the braais,” said Cape Classics President Robert Bradshaw. “Braai is a noun, a verb, a spirit and a way of life in South Africa. It is how people come together, share their time and enjoy amazing food, all cooked over an open fire. We wanted to bring that feeling of togetherness to the US and let everyone experience how special and unique it is.”

Key figures who attended specific stops on the tour included David Hunter from Chelsea Wine Vault, Brian Mullaney and Andrew McMurray of Zachy’s and Steve Kaiden from Winfield Flynn at the NY braai. Roger Berkowitz from Legal Seafoods, Laura Dadonna of L’espalier and George Shubie of Shubie’s attended the Boston event, while Debbie Allison from Red Lobster and Jason Cha Kim from Disney were at the event in Orlando. Alan Wollenschlaeger from Nando N Restaurant Group, David Schwartz from Southwest Liquors attended the Washington DC event, while Paul Ozbirn from Parkside Projects attended in Dallas. Morgenster’s wine consultant Pierre Lurton, managing director of France’s Château Cheval Blanc, joined the tour for a day in Washington DC to visit key accounts.

Peter de Wet of Excelsior shared his thoughts on the mega tour: “Overall the trip was busy and I believe we made a good impact especially where we spent time with the distributor sales reps. Places that are especially receptive to SA wine seem to be Massachusetts, New York and Austin, Texas, with the Austin Wine Merchant doing a great job.” Nicolas Bureau of Glenelly said the braai in New York was the ideal way to kick off the tour: “It was a nice, relaxed way to showcase our wines in typical South African style.

Overall, the response from the trade to our wines was extremely positive.” The learnings are a two-way street with South African winemakers gaining a better understanding of American tastes during the mega tour. “Local producers should take cognizance of the US palate which prefers soft juicy and seamless wines. I am not saying that wines need to be sweetened or produced in a simpler style, but I am seeing more and more the need for very careful tannin management in reds; brightness and purity of fruit in both whites and reds. A trend towards wines that display a generosity of flavour on the palate that is not necessarily based on over ripeness or high alcohols,” said Carl van der Merwe of De Morgenzon. Lars Maack of Buitenverwachting said this had been his first full “blitz” of the US market and it was very insightful speaking to the various industry sectors. “Price points appear to be a major obstacle and anything over US $15 for whites seems to be a hand sell.

It was great to see how quickly the wines get listed after tasting them on premises, but it also shows how quickly you can get replaced. Price points and value for money are the trick.” Raats Family Wines cellamaster and proprietor and Indaba winemaker Bruwer Raats summed the experience by sharing, “I was initially skeptical about the tour as it is a long way to travel and a long time to be away from the farm. But as we’re already seeing orders from the markets we visited, one can’t help but be pleased with how positively the wines were received and know all the hard work was well worth it.”

Cape Classics was co-founded by Andre Shearer in 1992 to bring the crème de la crème of South Africa’s then-fledgling boutique wine industry to the American market. In 2013, Cape Classics expanded its portfolio to include wines from France, and now proudly represents 22 of the finest estates and labels from the regions.

Cape Classics’ mission is to provide a unique range of selections that are exciting and delicious and that offer outstanding value.