Fully ripe and generous red wines are the key to unlocking the burgeoning US market where South African sales are failing to match those of their rivals, says Rob Bradshaw, President of New York wine importer and marketer Cape Classics.

Bradshaw, addressing winemaking students during his annual lecture at Stellenbosch University, said typical US wine drinkers in the “sweet spot” – the 370 million case market for wines priced from $12.99 to $24.99 – are slow to accept South African reds which they often perceive as “green” and lacking phenolic ripeness, with the exception of the top-end South African reds which sell for upwards of $25 and have been dubbed “world class” for years.

“South African Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc can compete with the best and most successful in the ‘sweet spot’. But as the people who have to sell it, South African reds (in general) are not there yet,” he said. “At this price the US wants lush decadence from a red wine, so we need to get that ‘unripeness’ out of the red wines. Then, given our value proposition and story, the world is our oyster.”

Quoting a Bloomberg report, Bradshaw stressed the importance of the US market which is going to drive the global wine industry from 2018 when China, Europe and other markets are expected to slow. “There has been 11% growth over the past 4 years to 378 million cases. Wildly exciting news if you sell wine to the US,” he said. “The downside is that SA bottled wine to the USA has dropped by about 7% (with bulk wine excluded) in that period. Many top producing countries are thriving in the US, but SA is not achieving that same growth; Portugal, once roughly equal with SA for exports to the US, has recently blown by us.”

Cape Classics, co-founded by South African Andre Shearer, has been importing and marketing wines for over 20 years and has about a 30% share of the South African market in the US. Drawing on this experience, Bradshaw encouraged the aspirant winemakers to “know your customer” and “tailor your wines to the specific audience you want to reach”.

Bradshaw introduced the students to a selection of wines, including one which sells millions of bottles a year – more than the entire SA market in the US. “I have brought you these wines to taste not because they are awesome, but because they sell. These producers know their customers, give them what they want, package their product well and sell volumes,” he said.

The wines included the Meiomi 2013 Pinot Noir. “It is not very Pinot Noiry is it? This is generous, a case of ‘More is More’ and this is what is working. Meiomi is breaking the mold to make a bolder version of this popular varietal,” said Bradshaw.

The students also got to experience the Apothetic Red, a sweet Californian blend of Zinfandel, Merlot, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. “This is a successful beast. A sweet beast. A multi million case brand. I am not advocating you make this style of wine, but this is a clear lesson – know your market,” he said.

The good news is the new generation of South African winemakers is showing an eagerness to listen to the needs of the American market. “We are seeing rapid and exciting changes and the wines are so much more US ready,” said Bradshaw.

Cape Classics was co-founded by Andre Shearer in 1992 to bring the crème de la crème of South Africa’s then-fledgling boutique wine industry to the American market. In 2013, Cape Classics expanded its portfolio to include wines from France, and now proudly represents 22 of the finest estates and labels from the regions. Cape Classics mission is to provide a unique range of selections that are exciting and delicious and that offer outstanding value.

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