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For those interested in trying Republic of South African (RSA) wine in the US, it is often a challenge to even find a few local bottles to buy and  try. Why is this, you may wonder, given the enormous array of wines available on the grocery store aisles or in major wine shops? Well, first, while the entire US wine market is about 370 million cases sold per year, bottled RSA wine is just under 1 million cases, so less than 1/3rd of 1%! (There is enough bulk RSA wine imported for another 2+ million cases yet it may well be blended to upgrade other wines. If so, in the process, its origin is lost and its heritage becomes invisible to the consumer.)

Next, the average retail price of a bottle of wine sold in the US is about $6.25 and perhaps 80% of all wine sold is $10/bottle or less. Since it costs about $1/bottle to bring wine from South Africa to the US, most importers have given up on selling any decent RSA wine for retail prices under $10. Since distributors and retailers receive at least 50% the retail cost of the wine, the transportation cost comes right out of the winery’s pocket. (More typically, an RSA winery will gross only $5/bottle that sells for $15 in the US, and their costs may easily be $3-$4/for the bottle.) Given all the other expenses, few foreign wineries can afford to compete in the US with Gallo and Bronco (“Two Buck Chuck”) unless they are working through great oversupplies of grapes. (And even that usually is a temporary condition, even for Australia’s [Yellow Tail].)

The other side of the coin is the simple fact few wine buyers “experiment” with wines costing more than $20 retail. (This applies equally to US domestic wines as well.) There are some wonderful RSA wines in the $20-$40 range but they will only be purchased by the very knowledgeable and loyal RSA wine consumers.

That then places most South African wine within the $10-$20 price range where most of the good yet affordable wines in the US are being sold today. The SILKBUSH wines we are importing (Pinotage and Viognier) are usually sold in the $14-$18 range, where there is lots of competition with many very good domestic wines. So clearly RSA wines cannot differentiate on price alone.

Very simply, a consumer must be interested in buying a South African wine before they enter a wine shop, a tall order. Further, there is so little experience with RSA wines in the US (essentially just the past 20 years) there is seldom a “South African section” in most wine departments, or if there is, it is just a few facings on a bottom shelf. With so little attention  paid by retailers and consumers alike, there has been little RSA sales growth in most regions.

Despite these inherent adversities, South Africa’s exotic image, wild animal TV series on Discovery Channel and National Geographic, and  increasing tourism (some of which is “wine tourism”), are all leading to increased awareness of the Beloved Country. The 2010 World Cup soccer championship, the recent passing of former President Nelson Mandela, and the attendance of most world leaders at his memorial services: all these exposures increase international awareness. If the Western Cape can become a sufficiently attractive international tourism destination, its beautiful Winelands are only 30 minutes from Cape Town and are usually visited. This is a long, slow way to promote RSA wine in the US but one that should work and develop permanent fans. Only time will tell.


Dave Jefferson

Lion's Drift Pinotage, Terroir Driven Wine


Silkbush Pinotage

 Wine enthusiast, educator and blogger Lisa Mays from Nashville, Tennessee encourages her fans to try something new.  “For those of you who don’t branch out and try wines that you might not be so familiar with, this is a great time to do so and experience South African Wines like you never have before.” Lisa Mays, Wine with Lisa. Read her review and get to know Lisa.



Silkbush Pinotage Changed Her Mind

(c) Julia Crowley, Courtesy http://winejulia.com


Pinotage is a mysterious grape in American wine culture, for now at least.  We are trying to change that by importing a bit of Pinotage from our mountain vineyards and taking the time to introduce it to wine enthusiasts. Julia Crowley, the Food and Wine Editor at Eugene (Oregon) Daily News, an award-winning blogger and a former wine shop owner has tasted a lot of wines but she admittedly did not understand Pinotage, until she tasted ours.  She tells the story in her review of Silkbush’s 2009 Pinotage.

My Thoughts on Pinotage are Forever Changed: Lion’s Drift Pinotage 2009

The first time I tried Pinotage (a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut), I was admittedly confused.  It wasn’t at all what I expected.  I was looking for specific characteristics; such as, cherries, red berries, smoke and earth.  Instead I experienced bananas, band-aids and paint – I was awfully disappointed.

Pinotage is South Africa’s signature varietal, so I had high hopes – especially since other South African wines I had tried left impressive lasting memories with their pleasant aromas, nice acidity, great balance and solid structure.  My thoughts on Pinotage went from hopeful to bleh.

My thoughts, however, were forever changed when I popped the cork on Silkbush Mountain Vineyards Lion’s Drift 2009 Pinotage.  Read More…



Lion’s Drift Pinotage Penetrates St. Pete

Florida Silkbush Team Bruce Alexander and Dave Jefferson with Wood Fired Pizza’s Peter Taylor

Because there are so many wines available, new wine farms such as Silkbush have to make special efforts to distinguish itself.  A nice package, competitive price, an unusual variety from an exotic location is appealing but it’s only when buyers in restaurants and wine shops actually taste the wine and carry it that consumers can buy it and drink it. Introducing retail establishments to Silkbush’s wine is a face-to-face-and-taste undertaking. Accordingly, I found myself in late January in St. Pete, peddling Pinotage, and having a delightful time.

For those who haven’t been there, St. Pete is St. Petersburg, Florida, co-founded in 1888 by Peter Demens, formerly Pyotr A. Dementyev, a Russian aristocrat who, orphaned at age 4, spent much of his youth in the original St. Petersburg. As a liberal minded, well educated and outspoken person during turbulent political times, he was exiled from Russia in 1880. Thirty years old, he came to the US, anglicized his name to Peter Demens, and headed for his cousin’s orange grove in Jacksonville, Florida.  Soon after, he bought land in Western Florida and began producing railroad ties for the Orange Belt Railroad. When Orange Belt could not pay him, he assumed ownership of the railroad. He then extended the railroad to undeveloped land on Tampa Bay, named the area St. Petersburg, and the rest is history.

Silkbush’s South African Pinotage is an ideal accompaniment to picnics and grilling and St. Pete, sporting 360 days of sunshine per year is a perfect match for outdoor fun.  Located on the west coast of FL, “Tampa Bay/St. Pete” is home to over 4.8 million people and has three major league sports franchises, the NFL Buccaneers, MLB Rays and the NHL Lightening.   With air conditioning taming summer heat, the area’s beauty and bay has made “Tampa/St. Pete” a major retirement area and tourist destination.

Silkbush’s local representative is Bruce Alexander.  Bruce retired from a career in public relations has decided he can’t play golf every day so he’s started a new career in imported wine.  Living in downtown St. Pete, Bruce enjoys patronizing area restaurants such as Wood Fired Pizza and local wineshops including American Spirits in the Publix Mall, both of which now carry Silkbush’s Lions Drift Pinotage.

Pinotage: South Africa's Very Own Grape

While most noble grapes evolved in Europe over hundreds, if not thousands of years, and now have been cultivated in numerous wine growing regions of the world, Pinotage is unique. In 2009 South Africa celebrated only the 50th anniversary of the world’s first Pinotage wine commercially available; and, were it not for a fortuitous chain of events the grape would not exist at all! Eighty-seven years ago, in 1925, Professor Abraham Perold planted in his garden in Stellenbosch the hybrid seeds resulting from a crossing of Pinot Noir and Hermitage grapes He could not have anticipated that this act would forever be part of South Africa’s wine history, eventually growing to become an unique selling point around the world. Continue reading “Pinotage: South Africa's Very Own Grape”