Easy on the nose

After years of hard-earned failure in the business world, I formulated the following piece of advice to myself: ‘Don’t base your business plan on persuading your customers to want what you make, base it on making what they want.”

Brilliant as it is, though, I can’t take the credit for it. Successful entrepreneurs have known it since the beginning of time. It explains why the biggest share of the North American market for South African wines is not held by any of the established giants of the industry, but by a pair of brothers, one in Cape Town and one in New York, who started their company, Cape Classics (CC), in 1990 as a celebration of the imminent arrival of democracy in South Africa.

Gary Shearer, who is based in Cape Town, the local side of the enterprise, says CC is responsible for more than 15% by volume of all cases of South African wines shipped to the United States.
But because these are top-end value wines, the rand value percentage is considerably higher. His company exports wines from most of the local leading estates, as well as wines made under its own label, Indaba. But how do you explain its success?

‘The South African wine industry has always been, and to an extent still is, dominated by a production mentality. Traditionally, South Africans make the wines they want to make and then they go out and find markets they hope will share their tastes. This was definitely the case when we first started working in the US market. Allied to this was an unacceptable level of arrogance and poor levels of service. We listen to our market and we do as we are told. It’s not rocket science, it’s simply called market-orientation.

‘But buyers in the hard-to-please American market seem to find our approach a breath of fresh South African air. We also love our work. We love our products and we love to be helping to build a kind of South Africa we deeply believe in. Perhaps this all adds up to an unusual ethos in our company. That would be for others to decide. We are also very particular about quality in everything we do, from the quality of the wine in the bottle to our packaging and our levels of service.”

I put Shearer’s claims, in part at least, to the test. I tasted his company’s Indaba range independently in the shuttered cloister of the Tokai forest on a recent autumn afternoon. There are six varietals in the Indaba range: Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinotage, Merlot and Shiraz. Something of a best-kept secret, perhaps because most of the wine goes overseas, these are not only all high-quality wines in their own right, they are also sensational value for money.

Best on offer is the 2005 Pinotage, which is about to be released. It sells for less than R30 a bottle and, oddly, is far easier on the palette than the 2004 vintage. Both attack the nose agreeably, but the edge to the earlier wine is noticeably absent in the 2005, which is recognisably Pinotage, but plumy and smooth, and will do much to rehabilitate this somewhat out-of-fashion cultivar.

Also recommended is the 2005 Chenin Blanc, also to come on to the market in the next few weeks. It is robustly fruity with the character of honeydew melon, yet it has a pleasing astringency on the aftertaste so it is far from cloying.

The Indaba 2005 Sauvignon Blanc, unlike the Chenin, suggests Cape fruits—dried apricots and gooseberries—and is elegant and easy drinking.

The Shiraz 2004 is on the shelves, also for less than R30 a bottle. Not as forcibly ‘peppery” as Shiraz can typically be, this is freshly fruity with well integrated wood. It is a good wine to put down as well.

The Indaba range of wines is available nationally at Ultra Liquor Group outlets, and at selected Super Spar outlets in KwaZulu-Natal and the Cape

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