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December 8, 2006

Jeez- People Are Going To Start To Think These Guys Are On The Payroll !?!

This article brought a tear to our collective eyes- we are humbled by the praise.

Thanks to Kim, Jeanine, Neil, Graham and everyone at www.wine.co.za., You've been so supportive of us over the last year and we hope to keep the mojo going in 2007, and give you lots of cool stuff to write about.


08 December 2006 by WineNews Editorial Team

After mulling over the year's major news stories we are convinced even those whose list-making was more frivolous and less methodical than ours would've arrived at the same conclusion. There is only but one true contender for the title.

The WINE.CO.ZA Newsmaker of the Year is Stormhoek, for quite simply being the biggest and most profound news story in South African wine in 2006.

Considering its tally of 18 entries in the WineNews database this year, its 191 000 Google hits, its doubling of sales volume and numerous accolades, it would be highly irresponsible not to name the brand Newsmaker of the Year 2006.

But there's a bit more to be said yet. To Stormhoek the title of WINE.CO.ZA Newsmaker of the Year for...

...being more than marketing speak. Stormhoek seized 3 of the 17 coveted positions awarded to South African wine in UK wine scribe Matthew Jukes’s cult-status guide, The Wine List. The Stormhoek Rosé, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio all feature and - wait for it - all three wines retail at £5.99/bottle. So then, for delivering the goods and not only creating the hype.

For lending impetus to SA wine’s generic efforts around the £5 mark (17% of all South African wine sold in the UK above £5/bottle is from the Stormhoek stable).

For blazing a trail for small guys everywhere, as in not featuring in the big brand realm. For beating colossal contenders the like of Campari and Chivas Regal at The Drinks Business Awards 2006, receiving Best Consumer Campaign of the Year. Thus, for inspiring us in a year that saw SA’s footprint in the UK decline by several percentage points. And for all the while keeping South Africa on the UK wine trade’s radar by the mere virtue of being talked about.

For 'disrupting' wine marketing and communication in every possible way.

For making sense. For living the virtual brand business model by being light on bricks and mortar and heavy on sourcing quality fruit from passionate growers across regions; but also for investing locally, in land, and for giving the brand a home here. For partnering marketing savvy - resident and experienced in the target market - with local viticultural and winemaking acumen; not necessarily a novel concept but a seriously sensible one.

For being awarded the Pinotage Trophy at the International Wine & Spirits Competition, outmanoeuvring more illustrious and far more expensive versions. For delivering the goods, again, but especially for doing it with a varietal South African winemakers aren’t always united in their esteem of.

Lastly, for subliminally putting South Africa in hundreds of thousands of people’s collective mind space.


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December 6, 2006

The great DNA mystery


Red wine grapes are green before they turn red. In South Africa, that’ll be next month for most vineyards.

All Pinotage grapes are rugby ball-shaped, while Pinot Noir berries (as we call them) are more spherical.

This is a bit of a puzzle as Pinot Noir is the understood to be the father (or the mother) of Pinotage and that’s a bit like a 1.6m dad having a 2.2m son.

Pinotage has thick-skinned grapes with masses of red colour just under the surface when they’re ripe. You can see the great dollops of colour in the wine. Pinot Noir, on the other hand, is thin-skinned and very shy on colour. Cinsaut, the other parent of Pinotage is also very thin-skinned.

Unfortunately none of us was around when the new variety was conceived in the 1920s.

So, is there a DNA lab somewhere that we can go unravel the bedroom secrets of grape varieties?

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Self Service

Marc Friederich, once Champion Sommelier of Switzerland, now has a smart eatery in Paarl, South Africa.

In most South African restaurants, you choose your own wine from a printed list or a chalk board. Some places have a wine waiter to help with pronunciation.

Yesterday, Marc told me about his transition from the tight world of European sommeliership to South Africa’s general incomprehension. Imagine telling one of our bankers about your profession (“People pay me to remember wine labels”).

Like all of the other highly trained European specialists hired to add value to South African 5-star restaurants, Marc soon branched out. He added cooking to the repertoire and put up his shingle. At Marc’s you can choose from the list or you can get the boss to tell you the story.

Is the number of sommeliers worldwide growing or falling?

Will the last sommelier in the cellar leave his notes?

Did you know that the original sommeliers were the ‘catering managers’ of the French army who transported food and bottles on packhorse to the scene of the battle?

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Withering Hills or Competition Cock Up?


We posted a couple of weeks back about our Best-Pinotage-In-The-World Trophy from the International Wine and Spirits Competition and we raised some issues about competitions generally. There is more competition related news and it deserves a bit of analysis.

BTW- The photo on top is what we are using the Trophy for right now. The Jelly Bellies have proved very popular. We tried the flowers and bath essence route, but we think that the fruitiness of the Jelly Bellies goes with the spirit of the Pinotage ;-)

There have been a number of stories over the last several days about NZ winery Wither Hills and their alleged submission of a gold medal winning wine to a local competition, that was different than the wine that they shipped to the market. Yesterday is was reported that they were stripped of their medal and they are facing significant embarrassment.

We are not entirely convinced that this was bait and switch, though it may well have been. Only they really know, but it raises a much more fundamental issue about wine judging and competitions.

Once upon a time, wine was made on a much different scale than it is made today. Wither Hills reportedly made 100,000 cases of the one wine in question. Making 100,000 cases (1.2 million bottles) is a much different exercise than making 1,000 cases. Everything from how the grapes are sourced and grown to how the wine is fermented, aged and most importantly, blended and finished must be done in a way that balances quality and volume.

Anyone with even a slightly inquisitive mind will ask themselves: Is it possible for the first bottle of a 1.2 million bottle production to taste the same as the millionth?

(Ever had a bad cup of coffee at Starbucks, followed by good one?)

The worlds’ most popular premium Chardonnay is Kendall Jackson Proprietor's Reserve. We believe that they make about 24 million bottles. Are they ALL the same?

Of course, the answer is no. Part of having a meaningful brand is about establishing a ‘house style’. One of the skills that only certain winemakers have, is making large quantities of stylistically consistent wine.

What that means is: making wine so that even if there are variations between bottlings in alcohol, acid, pH, etc., the wines are blended and finished in a way so that they taste consistent, if not identical. It might sound a bit mass production-ish, but in our consumer-driven world, many brands that cultivate the impression of scarcity, are actually made in a large scale. For example, I suspect that there are many millions of bottles of Dom Perignon made in any given vintage they declare. Are THEY all the same?

Even in the good old days, many of the great Chateaux of Bordeaux bottled their wines barrel by barrel. For many reasons that I do not have the space to go into here, there are often large differences between barrels of what should be identical wines. In fact, this is one of the key reasons why spending vast sums on very old bottles of wine is a folly- you just do not know what you will be getting when the cork is pulled. [Which barrel did that bottle of '45 Latour come from?]

My point is that many of the competitions were created in a time when the wine business was very different than it is today. The scales were different. There were no 100 million-plus bottle brands like Yellow Tail. I think that we all need to rethink the metrics used for rating and judging wines. Perhaps some realignment of how Competitions are run, (or whether they are really a relic of the past ) is in order given the dynamics of the contemporary wine business.

If the New Zealand International Wine Show is stripping Wither Hills of their medal, then they need to deal with all of the issues of all producers they judge, and variation of bottlings in large scale production.

We mentioned in the previous post that we think the trend is for the consensus of consumer opinion to determine a wine's merits. In just the last week there have been two new websites unveiled that do just this: Bottle Talk and Wine Experience.

Good Luck to both of these sites!

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BBC Segment

Some folks were asking to see the whole BBC segment, so thanks to the wonders of YouTube and a friendly hack.

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December 5, 2006

hitwise stats


Heather Hopkins over at Hitwise has some great stats on the Thresher virus:

The weblog for South African wine-producer, Stormhoek, which posted the voucher on 24th November, saw its website visits surge ahead of those to Threshers, capturing a 110 times larger share of visits than Threshers. On 28th November, the voucher was also posted in the forum of MoneySavingExpert.com and 45% of visits to Threshers.co.uk came from forums.moneysavingexpert.com last week.

Wine retailers are trying to benefit from the frenzy. A search for "threshers" on Google yesterday returned a sponsored result for Sainsbury's promoting 25% off wine and today, Virgin Wines was the top sponsored result, offering 50% off wine.

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December 3, 2006

Pictures From The Front Line


Stormhoek Sales Star Garech, visited a few Thresher stores yesterday. The pics speak for themselves: Two days into the promo and the wine, beer and spirits look pretty well all picked over. Seems that the fastest moving stuff was the most expensive, which kind of makes sense.


Hugh had a few points to make about the whole thing.

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December 2, 2006

Thanks Beeb


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The Cat's out of The Bag

A very interesting week

Nick was down in South Africa as the guest our indusry trade group, Wines of South Africa, addressing their Annual General Meeting. He talked about how we’re building Stormhoek and the power of the web, etc. By all accounts, it was a successful presentation and there will be some video that we should be able to post next week. By the way, Nick invited all of our winemaking brethren to provide some blog posts. We hope to have some interesting ones up soon.


Meanwhile, in London we were trying to both help out a customer, The Thresher Group, and give our loyal readers a bit good cheer. For our non-UK readers, Threshers are the largest wine and spirits specialist chain in the UK.

Our ‘helping’ out I am afraid may fall into the basket of ‘careful what you wish for’ as we were hoping to help them sell a few more bottles of Stormhoek and the other great wines and champagnes they carry, but, it seems that maybe we were a bit over enthusiastic about how we promoted the ‘private sale’, or maybe the offer was just too good.

In either case, the 40% off voucher went viral and it seems that anyone in th UK who drinks has one.

BTW- The Threshers website is apparently down due to traffic, but you can just go into any store. They'll all honour the coupon.

For those of you who've been asking, Friday alone we had about 711,000 hits on this site.

Here are some links to the various news stories:

BBC Five Segment

BBC Online news article

Times Online

Many Blog Posts

Our Head Sales Honcho, Alistair was on BBC Radio 2 this evening and our Main Marketing Man, Andrew was on Radio 1 Thursday night.

Mostly though, are just happy that as a little winery in the middle of nowhere, we are help our mega corporate customers do more business.

We’re thinking that over a few bottles of wine, we might be able to talk some of our other customers into letting us post some other crazy offers. Let us know what you think about this.

Oh, and by the way, with the Threshers frenzy ongoing, we'd be grateful if you could pick up a bottle or two of Stormhoek or The Storm (exclusive at Threshers), we can use the business. Stormhoek is also available at Asda, Waitrose, Sainsburys and a bunch of independents -- and they all have some excellent holiday offers on.

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