MICHAEL FRIDJHON: Sobering viability issues fermenting in the Cape wine industry
Structural changes since democracy have demanded a higher level of competitiveness
For most of the 20th century, the Cape wine industry ticked along as a producer of largely generic bulk wine which found its way to market in many guises — of which premium wine was a tiny percentage. The industry was structured accordingly: 4,500 growers, but fewer than 300 wineries — many of which were cooperatives whose sole function was to transform grapes into liquid form. Some of this juice remained exactly that — grape juice or juice concentrate for sale to the non-alcoholic beverage industry. Some was fermented into wine and immediately distilled to make brandy, the most important spirit by volume in the domestic market. A portion went to make port, sherry and other fortified wines like muscadel and jerepigo, at the time a vastly more important segment of the trade than table wine. The rest became unfortified wine, from jug wine and bag-in-box to several well-known brands marketed by the wholesale merchants. As recently as 1993, of the 900-million litres of juice extracted f...