Working my way through the latest issue of WineLand, I was brought up short by a remark of Hein Koegelenberg, big man of La Motte and Leopard’s Leap. The main story, about the latter’s remarkable joint venture with a Chinese company, was interesting; the bit that raised my eyebrows was in the “Q&A” section at the end.
One of Mr K’s points when asked about “the strengths of our wine industry” was this:
We are fortunate to have more than 600 wineries in SA. In a time when Australia and other wine countries are dominated by a few big wine brands and big wine companies, we still have smaller, family type establishments, where each brand can have its own fingerprint style and personality.
In the first place this might seem a trifle jarring for someone who’s just been boasting about the nearly three million bottles of his Leopard’s Leap L’Huguenot brand sailing off to China. Full of family fingerprints and personality, may we hope?
But it also argues great ignorance of some aspects of the world of wine – including our own industry, which is not exactly dominated by mom-‘n-pop family businesses. Distell owns about a third of it, for example, though it won’t allow us to know exactly how much. Namaqua Wines produces the equivalent of over nine million cases annually.
Nor is the rest of the world – even the so-called New World – without its “family-type” wineries. In fact many other countries have proportionately vastly more wineries than South Africa does. There are about 500 in tiny New Zealand. In the USA, Washington State, with a comparatively pathetic level of wine production, has well over 700. And the Australia that Hein sneers at has almost 2000 wineries, mostly very small ones!
South Africa, still dominated by co-op-type production, doesn’t look very full of “fingerprint styles” by comparison, does it? Better strike that off Hein’s list of our strengths, I think; if he’s correct, in fact, about how good it is to be dominated by small wineries, we’d better add this factor to the list of our weaknesses.
But at least Mr Koegelenberg’s “favourite wine with dish” should continue to be available to him. Showing the degree of his willingness to rise above his own immediate branding interests, and revealing the breadth of his sympathies, he mentions one of his own wines with dishes from the cookbook his winery published. He’d already instanced eating at his own restaurant as a “favourite thing to do”.
Spiritual bigness is clearly something very different from large volumes of wine sold or profits made.