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Wine industry set to take off again this summer

By Sue Segar

THE wine tourism industry contributed R7,2 billion to South Africa’s GDP, employed between 8 400 and 10 200 people directly on farms, depending on the season, and supported 36 000 job opportunities throughout the economy, a report conducted pre-Covid found. Now, following a few tough years, the industry is poised to return to those figures as the tourism season kicks off.

This according to Wine Tourism Manager for South Africa Wine, Marisah Niewoudt, who said wine tourism – which offers wide-ranging experiences to business visitors, international tourists and local families – is currently “performing beyond expectation” and set for a bumper season from now and beyond March.

There are 23 wine routes and 523 wineries in SA. Of these, 20 wine routes are in the Western Cape. In true innovative SA style, said Niewoudt, many wineries used the Covid crisis as a time to innovate and build new tourism opportunities. “At some risk, our wineries were building new and revamping tasting rooms and new restaurants, as well as offering new experiences. There’s been this incredible confidence among our wineries.”

New developments in wine tourism abound: Hazendal recently launched a hotel; Weltevrede in Bonnievale completely redeveloped their tasting room, creating an underground tour through their old fermentation tanks, where visitors learn about Chardonnay and Cap Classique, their two main cultivars. They’ve built a restaurant called Kapokbos.

Stettyn Wines in Worcester refashioned their tasting room, and shifted their focus as a business. Vergenoegd Löw in Stellenbosch has also completely redeveloped making enormous investments into wine tourism. “There are new restaurants: Bertus Basson has two restaurants on the premises now and the winery sports accommodation and a spa. Babylonstoren opened their Museum of Wine, along with a range of artisanal experiences, as well, as SA edged out of Covid. 

Klein Goederust, in Franschoek, owned by Paul Siguqa, offers a popular spitbraai feast on weekends. Greater diversity in ownership and at management levels is proving very successful for the South African wine industry. Creation Wines, recently named the fourth best vineyard in the world, has a sous chef who is Xhosa. They offer a food and wine pairing menu, which includes serving pap in their fine dining restaurant. It’s been a hit! 

“There’s so much going on all the time – new menus, chefs, and restaurants, new food and wine pairings and novel tastings, including fun pairings for children.

“The UN World Tourist Organisation (UNWTO) issued a report on wine tourism and said two regions that really excel at wine tourism are South Africa and Napa Valley, in California.

“What SA excels at is the accessibility and sustainability of the offering. In SA, we work really hard to cater for our locals first. The cherry on top is the international visitors.”

Niewoudt added the strong push in tourism means more jobs in rural areas.

Preliminary data analysis suggests that, by the end of 2023, wine tourism will have exceeded its pre-Covid numbers. “We expect to see a bumper summer season the likes of what we saw from October 2019 to January 2020 with more international visitors than we had in 2019” she enthused.

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