Are big brands serious about blacks?

A glorious double rainbow arched over the roof of the Tops at Spar Gugulethu Wine Festival as the sun set over the smoky township yesterday evening. A good omen for the future of SA wine and on Africa Day, nogal. Show co-owner Mzoli Ngcawuzele (below, with a fan) took time out from braaing sausages to thank each producer for fronting up.

gugs 300x250 Are big brands serious about blacks?

There was an explosion of small producers like hunky Johan Nesenberend from Porcupine Ridge, cool-hand Luke Krone from House of Krone and glamorous Rose Jordaan from Bartinney Cellars. “This is the only show we’ll do, plus Food|Wine|Design in Hyde Park. The others are too expensive.”

Big brands were all there, with sexy student promoters and banners of bling. But where were the winemakers, the people who actually make the stuff? It’s so much more convincing when you speak to the organ grinder rather than the monkey, no matter how jauntily the simian is dressed by its owner.  Have big brands moved beyond superficiality yet?  On the evidence of last night, probably not.

And where were my colleagues, that pampered tribe of wine journos? Heck, I had to cash-in serious frequent-flyer miles to BA down from Johannesburg while the pips from Grape and the rent-a-crowd-tweeters were conspicuous by their absence. Just as well, as the reserved VIP parking had been appropriated by consumers.

In spite of reduced ranks of the Spitterati and Snifferati, the VIP tent was heaving with platters of hamburgers and mushroom brioche and piles of Platter sighted guides ignored on rented tables. But how many VIPs does it take to change a light bulb? The VIP tent was so packed with minor celebrities, wannabes and never was’s that the main event was deserted in comparison.

Keps off to Tops for sponsoring Gugs, a progressive brand which is re-inventing the rule book of wine retail. Liquor executive Mark Robinson had deep, whisky-filled footsteps to fill when Ray Edwards took early retirement last year. But the new broom has started to sweep vigorously. Spar own brand Country Cellars has been discontinued and the focus changed to Olive Brook. Mark promises a major launch in October of prestige wines beneath the R100-a-bottle glass ceiling.  All good news for major supplier Kleine Zalze.

If SA retail follows the UK model, supermarket own brands have long legs. As the Guardian reported last week “according to market researchers Mintel, 2011 saw, for the first time, more own-label products launched in the UK than branded goods. It added that the market for own-label food and drink products reached £37bn in 2011, a 24% increase since 2006.”

To support this new wine focus, Mark reveals Whisky magazine will alternate with Cheers, brought to you by TOPS at SPAR in alternate months, thereby expanding coverage of the Scottish stuff to wine. With 100,000 copies a month the target circulation, it should seriously reshape the lifestyle arena.