Taking South African wine to the world – in Germany

by | Apr 26, 2024 | Articles

In March every year, the world of wine descends on the German city of Düsseldorf, aptly named after the Düssel River, which divides the city into four branches.

The fair takes place throughout 13 huge halls that host wineries and distilleries and their representatives from around the globe. The fairground, known as The Messe, started as a wooden hut in 1947 to where it stands today. Over 70 years later, Messe Düsseldorf is one of the world’s ten most vital trade fair organisers regarding turnover and is represented as an internationally operating company in all growth regions.

For its 30th anniversary, ProWein 2024 welcomed roughly 47 000 registered trade visitors from 135 countries and 5 400 exhibitors from 65 countries. A definite downturn in numbers across the board from previous years could be directly linked to the downturn in global wine sales. However, a ‘new kid on the block’ is also capturing the attention of wine buyers and producers alike: Wine Paris and VinExpo Paris.

Not only is Wine Paris hosted in one of the most beautiful and exciting cities in the world, but the platform has seen exponential growth in the mere four years it has been running. It has also begun to catch the attention of South African producers looking for something new.

At ProWein, the Wines of South Africa (WoSA) pavilion, covering 700 square meters comprising 6 square meter booths and 1 square meter stands, welcomed 77 wine producers this year, down from over 100 in 2023. As always, the hugely popular Discover Tasting Pods, sponsored by DHL, showcased about 120 wines, following a regional theme and representing wines from the diverse terroirs of 9 different regions, according to specific themes, e.g. Cabernet Sauvignon from Stellenbosch, Sauvignon Blanc from Durbanville and Chardonnay from Robertson, to name a few.

This free-pour area tends to bring an exciting buzz to the pavilion, drawing those who want to get an idea of the wines produced in South Africa. It allows them to taste without interruption and has often led to solid sales, even if the producers weren’t exhibiting at the fair.

In a recent follow-up with producers who’d had their wines on the pods in the past, Graham Beck’s COO Pieter Ferreira commented, “I have always found the tasting pods to be very educational. They assist in communicating the positive message towards our category. It certainly helps to get the right message across, one of the diversity of the category, the amazing evolving styles, and the high consistency and quality of the products.”

The Fairtrade seminar area was a new addition to the pavilion, where Fairtrade producers hosted various seminars over the three days. Visitors and buyers were educated on the impact of the Fairtrade mark on the communities supported by Fairtrade projects alongside tastings of Fairtrade-produced wine. Because 77% of all Fairtrade wine produced comes from South Africa, it was a great story to tell.

Sixteen brands, some of which had never been to ProWein, also exhibited at the show. Denzel Swarts, who represents Zoetendal Vineyards, was one such person. According to Swarts, the priority was to find importers from selected countries. Still, he comments, “I, however, realised very quickly the other opportunities. ProWein gives you access to feedback on your wines from a knowledgeable wine consumer and buyer base and the ability to compare your wines with all the other countries, including price points. As a small boutique wine producer, it afforded me a brilliant opportunity to connect with the world of wine.”

Other producers, like De Wetshof, have been exhibiting at ProWein for many years. The 2024 show was the second time they returned to ProWein following the pandemic. Marketing Director Bennie Stipp has some sage advice on approaching this fair, “You must do the groundwork upfront before visiting ProWein. You have to set up meetings with your existing networks and any prospective buyers before even leaving South Africa. If you’re going to get there without any pre-booked appointments, you will be wasting your time and your money.”

As one of the big producers exhibiting at the fair, DGB had a presence both on and off the WoSA pavilion to keep the South African contingent in the same area, something which is done by other producers, agents and importers such as Van Loveren, Robinson & Sinclair and Klocke Weinimport. Greg Guy, International Director at DGB, said, “ProWein remains a key feature in our international business calendar, enabling us to connect and reaffirm our wine strategy with our global client base that has chosen to visit the show.”

He adds, “It is common for new opportunities to emerge from being present and accommodating to the vast array of visitors that take a keen interest in premium South African wine, especially those showcased within our portfolio. And it is here that we are pleased to continue doing our part for the broader industry. DGB, having been ongoing participants in the ProWein event for 16 years now, admires how the show is always so efficiently run and will continue to observe with interest the ongoing change in the regional profile of those in attendance”.

The South African pavilion and surrounding South African exhibitors attracted much attention and drew the necessary quality of visitors. Although the quantity of visitors was less than in previous years, the quality of the interactions and business concluded was still very good.

The takeout from this year’s show was that while WineParis presents a definite threat to ProWein overall, it is still a strongly French and European wine-focused fair and may not yet be the solution for South Africa. Only time will tell how it evolves. It seems that ProWein still draws more feet for the New World wine-producing countries. The question producers need to ask is, “Can I afford to attend both?” if not, which will likely give the best return on investment?

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