If only it was all about the drinking. This blog is predominantly about South African wine, and so to give a little breadth to the conversation I am trying to find other things to write about than simply what different wines taste like.
Most producers (of fine wine particularly) wish they could just let ‘the wine sell itself’, or if they are truly far up their own arse, that the “terroir will sell itself”. There are a handful of very good wines, made in limited numbers, with a very high reputation that will sell out year in and year out, but these are the exceptions. It’s a tough market. So when there is a little bit of thought put into the process, when someone is trying to corner a section of the market in a cunning manner, this interests me.
Enter Ernst Gouws (junior), who is trying to crack the “thirsty after a round of 18” market with his The 19th brand of wines. It’s a simple enough plan: make wines to be sold in golf clubs across South Africa, and become a wine that is synonymous with golf, and ubiquitous at club house bars.
Ernst’s family has been around the wine industry for a while, and is currently known for their eponymous wine brand, Ernst and Co. When Ersnt Junior decided to go out on his own with a new brand, he was stuck for the right niche that would provide a relatively high-chance of success. Ernst was chatting with a friend (and now business partner) who asked him why golf clubs have such shitty wine lists? The idea struck Ernst as like Newton’s apple, and even if the results were not quite as profound, Ernst got to work.
So many wine producers do as much consumer research as I do Morris dancing. Or at least that’s how it feels. It stems from an ingrained (I don’t think anyone really believes they are doing this) idea that the consumer is always right, until it comes to wine. Ha. What do they know about wine. Sweet bugger all. They will drink what we tell them. And if that fails, we’ll make it taste like coffee.
Ernst researched the numbers in the SA golf game. How many registered players, how many men and women, the ages, and how many rounds they play. He found that there are around 160 000 golfers in South Africa, around 80% of those are over 30 years old, and 87 % male. He set out to create two wines for this smalle niche. He got the guys at Fanakalo – who have gone from indie designers to an almost omnipresent force in the SA wine label word – to draw up a bunch of labels before visiting a couple golf clubs to see what his target market thought of his wines. The one interesting point that came out of these visits was that the golfers were very wary of being off-loaded excess wine by big producers. To ease this concern, Ernst has added “Made by Ernst and Co” onto the label. While this goes a long way, this is a hurdle the fledgling business must over come. While marketing wine to a small niche of people can be clever, you have to be careful for t not to look like a gimmick.
This background research has produced two wines, a Sauvignon Blanc (obviously) and a Merlot/Shiraz/Pinotage blends under The 19th brand. Ernst has had some pretty good success so far listing the wine at the majority of clubs he has visited in Cape Town and Joburg. The project is still under a year old, and the progress is pretty impressive. His aim is to increase sales in clubs and then branch out into sponsoring golf days, and branding particular rooms at golf clubs. What also impressed me is that Ernst has been negotiating markups with all the clubs, so that his wine is not selling at a 3x its trade price with the result of it not offering any value at all. It is apparently being kept down to only 100%.
I think his efforts, idea and execution so far have been commendable. The branding is great, especially all the little detail on the label – including the Seve Ballesteros watermark, Dom Perignon shape, and fairway styled barcode – and Ernst’s dedication to finding out what his customers want. But what of the wines?
They’re OK. Today it is very hard to find truly bad wines. These for me are entirely unoffensive. I had hoped for something a little better for the golfers. Wines that I would definitely order after my one round of golf a year. I think the brand is a good idea, and there’s been some proper work done on it so far, and I hope it succeeds. However, I also hope that more work is put into the future vintages of the wines, because while these wines may improve many club’s wine list, they still have a way to go before they make them amazing.
The 19th Shiraz Merlot 2012 – Cellar Door Price R70
This is as typical and as easy a red wine as you are likely to find. Some soft plummy fruit, the slightest herbal note, with some Shiraz spiciness, distant tannins. It’s been made to appeal to as many people as possible, and this, for me, is its downfall. Drinkable enough, but no real interest. 14.5
The 19th Sauvignon Blanc 2012 – Cellar Door Price R70
I guess the white in this range had to be a Sauvignon Blanc. I can’t help but thinking that a Chenin would have been better suited. But this is a brand where the market is deciding, and the South African wine drinkers still want a Sauvignon Blanc more than anything else. I didn’t like this wine I’m afraid. The green streak was a little too harsh, and the tropical fruit seemed at odds with it. The acidity was a little too raspy. It’s a wine that is totally lost in the crowd I’m afraid. 14