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SA wine industry impresses US distributors, retailers

New York-based wine importer Cape Classics has just brought a touring group of influential US wine distributors and retailers to South Africa. The buyers and retailers included retailer Chelsea Wine Vault and distributor M.S. Walker.
They experienced wine tastings, lunches and braais at Kanonkop, Thelema, Buitenverwachting, De Morgenzon, De Toren, Raats Family Wines, Glenelly, Bartinney, Excelsior and Weltevrede. They rounded off the tour with a township tour followed by lunch at the iconic Mzoli's restaurant in Gugulethu, having visited Langa, Nyanga, Gugulethu and the Ekhaya Ekhasi Art and Education Centre in Khayelitsha. Winemaker Bruwer Raats hosted the lunch at Mzoli's with Cape Classics brands Indaba and Jam Jar.

"We bring all of our guests into the townships because the trip is so much bigger than wine," said Rob Bradshaw, the president and COO of Cape Classics.

"We could easily march them from spectacular property to spectacular property all day long but I would like our distribution and retail partners to leave understanding the heart and soul of South Africa. I want them to see and feel the entire story."

Bradshaw, who is based in New York, said eight years ago when he stood in those same townships he saw nothing but aluminium lean-tos and poverty. "I mean abject poverty and a lack of hope. Today, I stand on the balcony of a creative centre in the middle of that same neighbourhood and see dozens and dozens of permanent structures being built and mini-businesses being born. Change is happening and it is exciting to see."

They were hosted by producers and winemakers including Johann and Marie Krige and Abrie Beeslaar (Kanonkop), Carl van der Merwe (De Morgenzon), Emil den Dulk and Albie Koch (De Toren), Gyles Webb and Rudi Schultz (Thelema), Lars Maack and Brad Paton (Buitenverwachting), Bruwer Raats (Raats Family Wines), Luke O'Cuinneagain (Glenelly), Rose Jordaan and Ronell Wiid (Bartinney), Freddie and Peter de Wet (Excelsior) and Philip Jonker (Weltevrede).

The wine distributors and retailers also visited Table Mountain and experienced a sunset concert at Kirstenbosch, before flying back to the US.

Bradshaw flew back to the US impressed with the improved quality of red wine being produced in South Africa. "I'm finding the days of the 'smoky' and overstated oak are being replaced by an extraordinary purity of fruit and attention to detail."

He has also noticed a change in the local wine industry. "The thing that struck me most was how this industry is getting younger. There is a changing of the guard, to the next generation of deeply qualified and passionate winemakers in their late 30s and 40s.

"Scanning the landscape, I'm very impressed with the quality and vision. I'm specifically thinking of Luke at Glenelly, Abrie at Kanonkop, Carl at De Morgenzon, Peter at Excelsior, Brad at Buitenverwachting, Bruwer (Indaba and Raats Family), Albie at De Toren and Rudi Schultz at Thelema. There is a tangible drumbeat happening right now, as all of these guys hit their prime."
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