Blog: Andy MortonCape Wine - Day Three - Is Swartland a victim of its own success?

Andy Morton | 17 September 2015

The stand for Swartland Independent Producers sits in the far back corner of the Cape Wine exhibition hall, but its influence can be felt across the show floor.

SIP - to use its pleasingly apt acronym - is a spearhead of the so-called “Swartland Revolution” that has been a shot in the arm for the South African wine industry. Made up of about 30 young and enthusiastic producers, the wines under SIP's umbrella have won plaudits across the world for their freshness and flavour using less famous (for South Africa) grape varietals such as Grenache and Mourvedre.

That in turn has seen other producers show an interest in the varietals. However, almost six years on from SIP's creation, that attention is beginning to cause some problems.

SIP member David Sadie started producing Swartland wines five years ago and, together with his wife Nadia, operates four labels. But, whereas before it was easy to negotiate contracts with farmers in the region for grapes, increased competition from a growing number of Swartland wineries is now pushing up prices.

Also, the buying power of bigger companies is, says Sadie, marginalising small producers such as himself. The only leverage he has, he claims, is through his strong relationships in the region and the contracts he can offer that are more beneficial to farmers.

There is, however, an understanding within Swartland's new generation of wine makers that increased grape prices are beneficial for the industry.

“It's become more difficult to buy grapes because of people coming in,” says Chris Mullineux, another SIP member and owner of Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines, which started in 2007. “But, that's good. Higher prices means more money for farmers and it keeps vineyards in business. It shows the success of what we are doing.”

Some at the other extreme of the South African wine industry agree.

“As a farmer myself, if grape prices go up, I think that's a great thing,” says Bruce Jack, chief wine maker for Accolade Wines. “It shows that the industry's healthy.”

Jack says that higher prices are a “natural evolution” that happens everywhere.

“People are drinking picpoul for the first time in 1,000 years,” he says. “Suddenly, the price of picpoul has trebled overnight. A great sign.”

He also pays no heed to fears that the creative spark underpinning the Swartland Revolution is at risk of being snuffed out.

“No one in the Swartland that I know, that has been part of the recent voice, will have any problems,” he says.

For a full round-up of just-drinks' coverage of Cape Wine 2015, click here.

Sectors: Wine

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