Orange River Cellars has bought the Farmers Pride Raisins facility – which produces 4,000 tonnes of premier quality raisins a year – outside Keimoes in the Northern Cape, a region internationally renowned for the dried fruit product. Entering the raisin business is in line with Orange River Cellars’ ethos of expanding its offering beyond wine production, according to CEO, Charl du Plessis.
“While we have become renowned as a volume wine producer, everyone knows that bigger is not necessarily better,” says Du Plessis, “especially in a wine market where too many large South African producers find themselves as price-takers instead of price-makers. Orange River Cellars is, therefore, undergoing a strategic turnaround with a greater focus on its own branded products that can add greater value to the chain, as well as look at other avenues to complement and grow the revenue stream.”
A natural fit
Farmers Pride Raisins is one of South Africa’s leading raisin companies in an industry that produces some 60,000 tonnes of raisins per year, 90% of which originate in the Northern Cape due to its proximity to the Orange River and the sunny climate’s ability to ensure grapes suitable for drying to top-quality raisins.
“As part of the Northern Cape’s grape industry, raisin production is a natural fit,” says Du Plessis. “Farmers Pride has a state-of-the-art production plant, knowledgeable and experienced staff and a good client base in the export markets, especially Europe, where the brand has gained a reputation for quality and service delivery. For Orange River Cellars this is an asset that complements our wine offering and cements our position as an inclusive player in the Northern Cape economy and grape-farming industry.”
Raisins drying under the Northern Cape sun. Image Supplied
Outside of wine, Orange River Cellars already produces grape concentrate, used as a sweetener in the wine and fruit-juice industries, as well as grape juice.
“An agriculture business of our size cannot be a one-trick pony,” says Du Plessis. “To turn a profit and to remain a major economic player in your community demands identifying new opportunities and grasping them. We are sure that the expansion into the specialist raisin era is the first of many steps towards greater profitability and a dynamic future for our grape farmer members, staff and the Northern Cape community.
The South African agriculture landscape is not new to Charl du Plessis, newly appointed CEO of Orange River Cellars, but he quickly admits that the country’s wine industry has more questions than answers. Charl, who has worked in – among others – the export fruit and ostrich meat industries before taking up the position with Orange River Cellars in December last year, appears to be as inspired by the current state of the South African wine industry as he is by the challenges and opportunities he faces in his new position in Upington.
“I struggle to comprehend why South African wine (both bulk and packaged) trades at a discount relative to other Southern Hemisphere origins” he says. My experience from the fruit export industry, is that our country’s fruit are sought-after, commanding premium prices due to the quality proposition it delivered ahead of other fruit-producing nations in the Southern Hemisphere. Then you can’t not ask: how can our table grapes, apples, pears, plums and citrus land in the international market-place with a top-end image of quality, but not our wines? This when we are arguably making the best wines in our history. The standard response I receive is that this “unfair” discount is due the level of fragmentation in the industry, which is leading to high degree rivalry in the market place. However, I am a firm believer in Adam Smith’s invisible hand, that will eventually balance supply and demand at a fair value.”
According to Charl, the answer might lie in the matter of association. “New World wine countries have been successful in aligning themselves with one variety of grape and one wine to stake their place and through which to build awareness,” he says. “Argentina has Malbec, Australia Shiraz and New Zealand became the most well-known producer of Sauvignon Blanc in the world by making it their go-to grape. Perhaps that is what South Africa needs, as once you have grabbed the imagination with one point of focus, recognition for our other wines and our industry in general will follow.”
Hailing from Kroonstad in the Free State, Charl initially did not have his sights set on a career in agriculture, choosing to follow the route of logistics. After completing a B.Comm degree in Transport Economics at Rand Afrikaans University he went to Stellenbosch to do a B.Comm Hons degree in Logistics.
“If I finished my studies in logistics in Gauteng, I probably would have ended up working in business there,” says Charl. “However, if one follows this academic discipline in Stellenbosch in the Western Cape, you are going to be led into agriculture. And so it has been for me.”
Beginning his career as logistics manager at Anglo American Farms, Charl spent ten years with Capespan, including four years in Belgium where he was involved with the procurement of fruit for various markets from various Southern Hemisphere suppliers as well as managing relations with leading European retailers. In 2011 he joined Klein Karoo International, the world’s leading producer of ostrich products as head of the Ostrich Leather Division, becoming CEO of the company in 2015.
“Fruit is something of a commodity, while the ostrich business is very brand-focussed and much more of a niche product,” says Charl. “And this is what attracted me to the wine industry, the fact that it is a commodity on one hand, but on the other hand it is a business wherein brand development, management and growth are extremely important – as the fact that South Africa has over 8 000 wine brands can attest to.”
He admits to being “passionate” about the fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) arena, an area in which Orange River Cellars is making particular inroads with fresh brands and by seeking new opportunities.
“For a business such as Orange River Cellars, it boils down to how much value our farmers can extrapolate from one hectare of vineyard under irrigation,” says Charl. “Growing grapes for wine is currently not a favourable proposition, as farmers can realise far better prices with raisins. Orange River Cellars has to become a beverage company, not just a co-operative cellar that makes wine. We must be an organisation able to flexibly develop an array of wines and other products, build brands and sell them – all adding value for the grower.”
Despite not having yet completed two months in his new post, Charl sees many strong points at Orange River Cellars. “My colleagues offer a wealth of experience and have been a part of changing the way Orange River Cellars does business over the past few years,” he says. “They are open-minded, strategically strong and operationally excellent. I really get that ‘we can make it happen’ feeling when I arrive at work.”
With over 850 farmers supplying grapes to Orange River Cellars, healthy relations with the farmers play a major role. “They farm in a massive geographical area, so I still have to do some serious driving to get to know all the regions. I am really looking forward to working with a strong management team that is well equipped to meet the challenges with the support of ORC’s stakeholder leadership.
An immediate objective, and one where Charl has jumped in boots and all with his strong belief in brand-building, is to reach the critical mass targets set for the Delush brand. This new natural sweet range was launched last year to the fashion-conscious black female market and Orange River Cellars plans to make it a market-leader.
“We have invested a lot in marketing and distribution, so year two of Delush has to be aimed at getting the books into the black,” he says. “But if we can continue the positive trend, it will happen.”
From an agriculture point of view, Charl has identified the need for Orange River Cellars to plant a high-yielding red grape variety, as exposure on the red side is too low. “We are also seeing more wine cultivation west of Upington – to the east the farmers are being battered by hail and gripped by frost. Climate change is real, and I predict that we could see many Western Cape wine companies looking at perhaps investing in vineyards in our region.”
After a day’s work, Charl enjoys Orange River’s Colombard and Sauvignon Blanc. “To put it euphemistically, Upington has a great climate in which to enjoy cold white wine!” he says. And on the Orange River, Charl finds time to pursue his love of canoeing. “The other day I was on the water and out of nowhere a fish eagle dropped from the sky to grab a fish, right next to me. Then I knew, this is a special place.”
Charl is married to Magdalena, and they have two sons – Karel (10) and Frederick (8).
Accolades for Orange River Cellars Muscadel wines are hardly news for wine consumers these days, but this year the Northern Cape producer’s long-running success story has truly reached new heights. In the recent launch of the Platter’s Wine Guide 2018, South Africa’s pre-eminent ratings system, Orange River Cellars garnered its first-ever Five Star award, this for its White Muscadel 2016.
According to Koos Visser, marketing manager of Orange River Cellars, this is the most prestigious South African award to be bestowed on the winery in its 52 year-old history.
“The annual Platter’s Wine Guide is the country’s most comprehensive and inclusive wine-rating system where most of South Africa’s wines are scrutinised and rated by an esteemed panel of wine experts,” says Visser. “The guide is also one of the most printed and sold wine guides of any country and is essentially the Michelin Guide for South African wine. Everybody and anybody interested in the country’s wines buys a copy of Platter’s. So to be selected as one of only 111 wines to achieve five stars is certainly going to boost the presence and image of Orange River Cellars – not only for our Muscadel, but our other wines too.”
But what makes Orange River Cellars’ Muscadel wines rank among the best in the world?
“Our Muscadel is not made in the old traditional way anymore; we make use of modern technology to ensure that the balance and quality are perfect before we bottle,” says Chris Venter, manager of the wine portfolio at Orange River Cellars.
“We take part in Platter’s and other competitions annually because the feedback we receive from the judges help us better our product. In addition, the sticker on the bottle draws the attention of the consumer which leads to better sales,” says Venter.
Venter explained that the 2016 harvest was a good one for ORC because it was a hot, dry season which led to a more concentrated flavour profile – perfect conditions for Muscadel wine.
According to Henning Burger, manager of viticultural services at Orange River Cellars, the geographic conditions of the vineyards are perfectly suited to yield grapes of outstanding quality.
“The Muscat de Frontignan vineyards that our white and red Muscadels originate from, enjoy the best living conditions imaginable,” says Burger. “They are planted in deep alluvial soils that are rich in clay. Combined with the long ripening period filled with lots of sunny days, this ensures grapes with deep and intense muscat flavours. We harvest the grapes between 26º and 30º Balling when they are full of flavour concentration, which gives our winemakers the perfect fruit to work with.”
“I often joke with the winemakers by telling them that they have no excuse not to make winning wines from this calibre of grapes!”
According to Visser, Orange River Cellars is in the favourable position of making Muscadel wines that also have a loyal following among consumers.
“The Muscadel market has declined in the past few decades, but our brand is standing firm among Muscadel lovers,” says Visser. “It is good for us and for our region, but more importantly, good for South Africa and for Muscadel wines that are such a wonderful part of our industry.”
The Platter’s Five Stars caps an illustrious year for Orange River Cellars, one in which it also won two Platinum Awards at the Muscadel SA Competition, one of South Africa’s most influential fortified wine competitions. Here both the Red Muscadel 2016 and White Muscadel 2016 were awarded Platinum.
Visser is upbeat about the effect the Platter’s Five Stars could have on wine tourists who will now include the Northern Cape on their must-see list. “And now we have a fantastic tasting venue to show our wines,” he says. “If tasting rooms were part of the judging criteria, we would have received six stars!”
Winemag.co.za is pleased to present the second annual Signature Red Blend Report.
Why should South Africa be bound by the Bordeaux model when it comes to creating great blended red wine? Perhaps the Rhône is a better reference point given local growing conditions, while the so-called “Cape Blend” incorporating Pinotage potentially provides a unique selling proposition. Then, of course, there are the red blends of yesteryear – Alto Rouge, Chateau Libertas and Rustenberg Dry Red, to name just three – which conformed to no particular model but are revered for their complexity and longevity.
Winemag.co.za has come up with the collective name of “Signature Red Blend” for those wines which are distinctive of their makers and draw particular attention in the market.
What is the state of the category? The Signature Red Blend Report was designed to answer precisely this question with 82 entries from 62 producers received this year. These were tasted blind (labels out of sight) by the three-person panel and scored according to the 100-point quality scale.
Results were announced on 1 August at Villa 47 in Cape Town. The following wines rated 90 or higher on the 100-point quality scale:
Joostenberg Bakermat 2015, Newton Johnson Granum 2015, Olifantsberg Silhouette 2013, Vrede en Lust Artisan Range Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
Creation Syrah Grenache 2015, DeMorgenzon Maestro Blue 2015, Eikendal Charisma 2015, Guardian Peak Summit 2014, Luddite Saboteur Red 2015, Opstal Carl Everson Cape Blend 2015, Rust en Vrede 1694 2014, Vondeling Erica 2014
Fairview Extraño 2013, Haskell II 2013, Haut Espoir Gentle Giant 2012, Le Riche Richesse 2015, Orange River Cellars Lyra Vega 2015, Spier Creative Block 8 2014, Stellenbosch Vineyards Credo Shiraz Merlot Viognier 2014, Warwick Three Cape Ladies 2013
To read the report in full, visit www.winemag.co.za.
Orange River Cellars Continues Domination of SA Muscadel Competition
Muskadel SA Awards 2017 – Third win for Orange River Cellars
26 May 2017
Orange River Cellars White Muskadel 2016, as well as their Red Muscadel 2016 both, received platinum awards – Muskadel SA Awards’ highest accolade adding to ORC’s already stocked Muskadel SA Awards cabinet having previously won five platinum and two gold awards since 2013.
The Breederivier Valley was well represented by Du Toitskloof Cellar with their Du Toitskloof Cellar Red Muscadel 2014 being awarded platinum a second year running. This 100% Muscat de Frontignan with a plain, yet striking label and excellent aging potential is a definite must for the cold winter nights ahead.
Alvi’s Drift Wines from Worcester was the fourth wine to be awarded platinum at this year’s awards for their Alvi’s Drift Premium 2014.
Two cellars situated on the R60 between Worcester and Robertson was awarded gold; Nuy Winery for their Nuy Rooi Muskadel 2012 and Rooiberg Cellar for their Rooiberg Rooi Muskadel 2014.
Another winner from the Northern Cape is Landzicht GWK Wines who took home gold for their Landzicht Red Muscadel 2016.
Boplaas from Calitzdorp in the Klein Karoo rounds up the top performers with gold for the third consecutive year, this time for their Boplaas Heritage Collection 2014.
Tasted blind, the wines are judged and scored according to a tried and tested points system. The uniqueness of the packaging also contributes to the final points tally and often means the difference between a gold or platinum award. Consumers can identify winning Muscats by the Gold or Platinum Muskadel SA stickers on the bottle.
The five judges for this year were Dave Biggs (wine writer and founder member of the Wine-of-the-month Club), Hans Lösch (previously Monis, now Columbit South Africa), Cerina van Niekerk (winemaker), Raymond Noppé (Cape Wine Master) and Nina Mari Bruwer (Cape Wine Master).
From the Muskadel SA office
Henri Swiegers, the chairperson of Muskadel SA, says the quality of entries was exceptionally high this year, seeing that four platinum and four gold awards were awarded.
“During my ten years as chairperson of Muskadel SA we have recently started seeing a lot more delicate and lighter styled wines opposed to the traditional raison-heavy muscats. Packaging has evolved from the traditional sweet wine bottle to more elegant packaging. There are cellars that put a lot of effort into their labels which adds to the face of muscadel wine in South Africa,” says Swiegers.
Orange River Cellars from the Northern Cape put in another sterling performance at a leading South African wine competition, taking two Top 100 spots as well as One Double Gold medal in the Top 100 SA Wines/National Wine Challenge held in Cape Town recently.
The coveted two Top 100 slots went to Orange River Cellars’ White and Red Muscadel, both from the 2016 vintage, while the acclaimed Straw Wine 2016 was awarded a Double Gold medal.
According to Koos Visser, having two wines recognised among the Top 100 in South Africa is a tremendous honour for any winery.
“Our country has never produced as many wines of such exceptional quality as is currently the case,” says Koos Visser, marketing manager at Orange River Cellars.
“With some 8 000 various brands in South Africa alone, to see your wine adjudged among the top 100 is a tremendous achievement for our wineries, our team of viticulturists and the winemakers.”
Orange River Cellars has always enjoyed acclaim for its Muscadel wines due to the perfect vineyard conditions for growing Muscat de Frontignan. “And for a long time Muscadel was deemed as one of the few wines that Orange River Cellars could really excel at,” says Visser. “But the Double Gold for the Straw Wine, a natural-sweet made from air-dried Chenin Blanc grapes, shows we are no one-trick pony and that the Orange River Cellars reputation for diversity is increasing annually.”
Orange River Cellars also won two Double Silver medals for its Lyra red wines, both the Lyra Vega and Lyra Shiraz Reserve taking one of these awards and reaffirming Orange River Cellars growing ability to make quality red wines, too.
Despite the geographical challenges attached to making premium wine in the Northern Cape, the producers, viticulturists and winemakers have shown in the past few years that they are up to the task.
“The fact that we are located 800 km from the traditional winelands of the Cape means that Orange River Cellars has to work hard to confirm our image as a quality region in the eyes of the consumer,” he says. “Besides awarding our products, awards such as the Top 100 SA Wines/National Wine Challenge are important in acting as an indication of where we are in terms of quality as measure alongside our peers. The latest results have once again shown that the time for Orange River Cellars and the Northern Cape wine region have arrived.”
Visser says the Top 100 results are an important vehicle for the consumer to use as a guide when making his or her purchasing decision.
“At the end of the day, the customer is king,” says Visser. “By being able to endorse your Top 100 achievement with a prominent bottle-sticker, the customer can be assured of the quality in the bottle. And keeping the customer happy should be the number one aim of any wine producer.”
Die jaar 2017 het op ’n ietwat hartseer noot begin met die nuus dat Herman Cruywagen einde Januarie uittree as besturende direkteur van Orange River Cellars. Ja, die vriendelike man met die rustige geaardheid wat 15 jaar aan die stuur van die kelder was, het besluit om terug te keer na die ander Kaap, die Westelike een, waar hy persoonlike sake-belange gaan volg.
Herman was besturende direkteur tydens ván die uitdagendste en opwindendste tye in die geskiedenis van Orange River Cellars, en hy laat ’n diep nalatenskap. Onder sy toesig het die Suid-Afrikaanse en internasionale wynbedryf werklik kennis begin neem van die Noord-Kaapse kelder as ’n vername speler, een wat die uitdagings van die wynmark tromp-op geloop het en ’n nuwe beeld vir hierdie wynbesigheid geskep. Meer aandag aan wingerdbou om te verseker dat gehalte wyndruiwe ons produkte met die bestes in die land kan laat saampraat.
Die koop van die konsentraat-aanleg by die KWV, wat ’n klomp nuwe waarde ontsluit het. Aandag aan bemarking om nuwe etikette te skep, nuwe markte te ontgin en ’n groot volume produk – DeLush – bekend te stel wat gemik is op die opkomende en mode-bewuste wyndrinker.
Só kan mens aangaan oor Herman se besigheidsprestasies wat toonaangewend in die Noord-Kaapse en ganse Suid-Afrikaanse wynbedryf is.
Sy leiersvermoë is gegrond op luister en deelnemende besluitneming, en sy skerp besigheids-sin en deurdagte onderhandelingsvermoë is legendaries. Watter sakebelange Herman ook al volg, daarvan sal hy ’n sukses maak.
Ons gaan sy onderbeklemde humorsin mis, iets wat daar was in die moeilikste tye. Ook die feit dat Herman altyd ’n tyd gemaak het om na die mees junior of mees senior personeellid te luister.
Hierdie voorbeeldige gesinsman het vir ons almal soos familie laat voel. En hoewel hy nou ’n nuwe hoofstuk begin sowat 800km van Upington, moet hy maar weet sy spore lê nog diep en dit gaan baie Kalahari sand en ’n sterk wind vat om hulle toe te waai.
Tot siens, Herman, maar nie vaarwel. Jy sal altyd deel van die Orange River Cellars-familie wees en ons sien uit vir jou kuiers. Ons wens jou alle sterkte toe.
For the Lower Orange River wine region, 2017 started with a deluge of rainfall with some areas to the east of Upington experiencing extraordinary overnight showers of up to 150mm. While much of the drought-stricken Northern Cape rejoiced at the rain, these levels of precipitation are not what grape farmers want at the critical fruit-ripening stage.
According to Henning Burger, manager of viticulture services at Orange River Cellars which produces the majority of the Northern Cape’s wine, the rain began shortly after new year. It was heavy, intense and sporadic, mostly concentrated in the easterly regions.
“The Grootdrink wine region, about 75km east of Upington, experienced particularly heavy showers,” he says. “While Upington and the western areas of Keimoes and Kakamas have had some rain, it was the eastern front from Kanoneiland through Grootdrink to Groblershoop that was particularly hard hit, with 24hr figures of up to 160mm in places.”
Despite the intensity of the rainfall, the effect on Orange River Cellars 2017 harvest has been minimal. “Our harvest began this week in Kakamas where the vineyards stayed dry due to slight rain,” he said. “Concerning the waterlogged easterly regions, the wine varieties are still sitting at low sugar levels. If they had been ripe it would have been a major problem for the harvest, but now our farmers just have to manage the threat of downy mildew while the wine grapes ripen in hopefully drier conditions over the next few weeks.”
The major rain damage was in vineyards planted to varieties used for drying to sultanas and raisins which were in the final stage of ripeness or ripe when the rains hit. “From our side in the wine industry we hope not to be in the same boat as these farmers when harvest comes around in a few weeks’ time.”