Big is Beautiful

Our Big is Beautiful B2B festival on the second Saturday of August in the Cathedral Cellar of KWV in Paarl is an invitation to the Wine Collective Cellars of SA to save their co-operative souls. Bulk is booming, but please don’t throw the baby terroir out with the dirty bathwater.

bib Big is Beautiful

The future of SA wine is “a hangar in Avonmouth in southwest England that is the size of 12 football pitches” that bottles 720,000 bottles of bulk a day. Bulk is a runaway behemoth that is totally unstoppable, as the column of Jancis Robinson in the Weekend Financial Times today, confirms. Some points for collectives to consider:

• In 2008, less than 30% of Aussie exports to the UK were in bulk. By 2012 that figure was 80%. Last year 65% of SA exports were in bulk. Soon only very larney wines will be imported into the UK in glass and SA has precious few of those.

• Chile gets the highest price for bulk exports. Next year Chinese duties on Chilean wine imports drop from 43% to 0. So last year’s drop of SA export volumes to the Middle Kingdom was no statistical blip.

• Used flexi-tanks (the giant bladders used to ship wine) are shredded and turned into traffic cones. Europe has an insatiable demand for them.

• Bulk started out to save the world “but what started out as a commitment to sustainability – a reduction of 42 per cent in carbon footprint is claimed by some – quickly became a drive by the UK supermarket giants to maintain margins. This was accentuated in 2008 when Alistair Darling [no relation to the Darling wine appellation], the then chancellor of the exchequer, introduced the sneaky ‘alcohol duty escalator’ whereby wine duties are increased by 2 per cent above inflation each year without explicit notice in the annual Budget. Shipping their own-label branded wines in bulk shaved valuable pennies off the retailers’ costs and allowed them to stick to their price points, while driving ever harder bargains with their suppliers as duty rose.”

Bulk exports strips a wine of far more than its glass bottle. Terroir goes out the window along with jobs in the bottling, labelling, design, supply and allied industries. Who needs WOSA for bulk? A terrifying thought for bureaucrats and others in sheltered employment. Unless they’re not careful, producers soon loose control of the filtering, fining and sulphuring of their wines standing on foreign supermarket shelves. Competition is purely on the basis of price which is a hostage to currency fluctuations and economic calamities.

So before collectives put their souls into giant condoms, they should bring a tank sample or roll a barrel down to Paarl to see if there is an upcountry golf club, hotel, guest house, thirsty collector, university wine society, retirement home, church, wine club or restaurant looking for a house wine or a label of their very own. They’ll likely make more money than selling it all in bulk and as a bonus, they’ll get that warm terroir feeling without shelling out R16K for a Cape Vintner Classification they’re not eligible for, in any event.