Sport and Wine

The world is in the grip of Olympic fever and in support of the three gold medals (so far!) for team SA we wanted to take a look a patriotic look at South African sports people who are linked to the country’s wine industry.

Wine, often perceived as a luxury with implied sophistication and enjoyment for the consumer, can make a great branding experience for celebrities.  Prices can be high for such ‘branded’ wines but fans are often willing to pay premium rates and wine writers are split on whether these are serious wines or clever marketing ploys.

With an Olympic gold medal for SA’s Chad le Clos outstanding performance in the pool still fresh in our minds thoughts turn to his fellow Olympian swimmer and gold medal winner, Ryk Neethling , twice voted South Africa’s most popular sportsperson. Ryk successfully launched a new wine blend with Val de Vie estate last year and is currently their Marketing Director.

“It’s a nice thing to do, and it certainly helps sales to have a name like Ryk Neethling on the label. It is no bad thing, especially since the sector is languishing in a worldwide sales slump. But the strict proviso is that due consideration is given to the quality and pricing of the wine. It would be a huge mistake for a celebrity to impose their brand on a cheap or overpriced wine,” says Woolworths wine selector and wine master Allan Mullins.

Perhaps the best known ‘celebrity brand’ is golfer Ernie Els’ wines produced from his estate in Stellenbosch. Fellow golfer David Frost has a farm near Paarl where he grows grapes to produce handcrafted, boutique wine. But it’s takes more than being a celebrity golfer to ensure a successful brand as the Gary Play Major Championship Series collection demonstrated when it was launched in 2008. “You heard of the launch and not again after that, which proves that from a wine drinker’s point of view,  it’s quality and quality alone that counts,” comments André Morgenthal of Wines of SA (Wosa).

There’s a long tradition of wine and rugby being linked. Former Springbok Schalk Burger owns Welbedacht estate which produces sportily named bottles like ‘Cricket Pitch’ and the ‘Hattrick’.  Jannie Engelbrecht, another Springbok rugby great, bought Rust en Vrede in the 1970s and wines from the estate were served at Nelson Mandela’s Nobel Peace Prize dinner. In fact rugby has often been linked to the success of the pinotage varietal – CT de Waal made the first pinotage wine and shared it with his teammates Springbok PK Morkel and Paul Sauer who liked it so much they were some of the very first farmers to plant pinotage in the Cape winelands.

The latest sportsmen to get involved in the wine world are cricketers Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher. They’re launching their own label ‘The Innings’ which is made by Robertson winery Rietvallei and is a celebration of the friendship of these iconic cricketers over many years on and off the pitch.

While there are some devoted fans of celebrity sports players who are willing to pay extra for a ‘name’, as the old proverb says the proof of the pudding is in the eating and the brands with longevity are putting  care and attention into producing quality wine.   Excelsior might not have a celebrity tag just yet but with our rugby club, The Evergreens, going from strength to strength, you never know!

Sources and further reading:

Pinotage, an African dream come true

Wikipedia – Jacques Kallis

New wine from Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher

Wikipedia – Mark Boucher

Ernie Els

Wikipedia – Ernie Els

The Guardian of Val de Vie

Athletes and wine

Celebrity labels, a wine-wine situation

Celebrity Wines

Rust en Vrede

Welbedacht Estate


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