Wake Up! WOSA

Judging by the tone of the flurry of e-mails and personal conversations with wine producers on the cost and itinerary of WOSA’s Santa Christmas Special Golf and Wine Tour for a pair of UK wine writers, outrage is simmering like a kuip of Swartland Sémillon. A couple of points made by a producer not on the WOSA golf circuit:

jg Wake Up! WOSA

Wines of SA, the exporters’ association, is stricken with a case of terminal poor management. Any board with 22 members is going to be dysfunctional. With seats assigned according to export volumes, big producers like Distell, KWV plus a couple of the larger Co-ops, effectively control the organization. Such directors have an incipient conflict of interest in seeing an effective body market SA exports which will ultimately compete with their own offerings, so perhaps it is in their interests to see WOSA struggle?

Once again politics is interfering with the structure and functioning of a national body and we’ve seen the ugly dead end this leads to on the sports field. While losing a cricket match is one thing (even if UK playwright Harold Pinter who died on Christmas Eve did hold that cricket is more important than sex) losing against aggressive competitors (who appoint the right middle aged white oke to the job when necessary) costs jobs back in SA and the ability of the industry to uplift workers and transform itself.

Does it make sense for WOSA to hire an American representative who also represents New Zealand in the Land of the Free? WOSA seem to have given up on the USA and export volumes are expected to tank from around 1 million cases in 2006 to around 750 000 this year, in a market which is expanding and to which Australia sells around 24 million cases, with Argentinean and Chilean sales increasing strongly and the Rand melting down against the dollar. Last week, the Australian government supported Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation announced the appointment of experienced winemaker James Gosper as head of their North American operations, based in New York.

As the press release noted “James joins Wine Australia having spent more than ten years with luxury brand Moët Hennessy, most recently employed in the US as Senior Brand Manager. He has held positions in retail, cellar door, winemaking, education and management throughout his career giving him a comprehensive knowledge of all facets of the industry. An extensive period as chief winemaker and winery manager with Domaine Chandon in Australia’s Yarra Valley, as well as previous vintage experience in the Hunter Valley and Tasmania, ensure James’ understanding of the country’s exports is second to none.”

With an African-American president elect, the auguries have never been as fair set for Africa as they are at the minute, yet WOSA seems to have turned its back on the most exciting wine destination on the planet. The recent board meeting at which a modest American initiative was to have been discussed, collapsed into a spirited toyi-toyi led by Nosey Pieterse of BAWSI (Black Association of the Wine & Spirit Industry) and now dancing director of WOSA, too.

SA Government support for wine is nonexistent. Agricultural imports now exceed exports by value. While the former are of the added value kind, the latter fall typically into the raw commodity, low profit, category. Wine is the largest agricultural export and is mostly a value added product (if you don’t count those bulk tankers full of cheap wine destined for Luanda and St. Petersburg) for which a little government largesse would go a long way.

What government support there is, is misdirected. At Cape Wine 2008 the DTI picked up the tab for trade visitors from India and China – two small, emerging wine markets with many problems such as high taxes and complex distribution systems whilst virtually ignoring the key North American markets.

Another winemaker reports that the recent DTI-funded trip to a New Delhi wine show was a fiasco: winemakers returned with stowaways: five star hotel lice, although business class on Emirates was tit. Their main audiences were the enthusiastic students of divers New Delhi hotel schools who acted as sommeliers at the show. WOSA’s media liaison sahib dropped out at the last minute but was fondly sent regards by the maîtres d’ of Delhi’s most expensive restaurants.

Perhaps the time has come for WOSA directors to get off the golf links, down their Johnnie Walker Blue Labels (doubles all round) at the 19th hole and apply their undeniable talents to beating Mr. Gosper and his team. And for once, we’re not talking golf.