Iconic Africa had a chat with old friend and legendary wine guru, Allister Kreft, to get the inside scoop on the South African wine industry, the best wines to try and wine farms to visit. Allister is MD of Under The Influence a successful beverage distribution company that is helping take South African wines from the tip of the continent to the rest of Africa. He’s a wine merchant, a very part time wine maker and almost full time traveller!
Here’s what he had to say:
What is your involvement in the wine industry?
Allister: “I founded a company called Under the Influence which has an amazing team. We distribute wine in 14 countries in Africa. Our mission is to bring better beverages into the continent and we work with South Africa’s best producers, as well as an international range. We have a big focus on wine education and edutainment and love demystifying the subject.”
When did you develop your love for wine?
Allister: “It really started when my folks bought a small farm in Elgin and we planted three vineyards, spraying each vine with a rose bush hand spray machine, and started making wine. We were all learning and exploring the process. It totally captivated me! I started spending every cent on wine and even managed to get to Italy and Bordeaux and that was it!”
What makes South African wine so great?
Allister: “South Africa is the oldest wine making region in the world, outside of Europe at 300 years old! This means we have centuries of understanding the land, the grapes and how to coax the best possible wines out of them. Because we aren’t in Europe, where wine production is often restricted by rules of what to plant where, we have a pioneering spirit and approach to wine production. From vineyards close to the salty air of the Atlantic to high up in the Cederberg mountains, our winemakers really push the boundaries of innovation with a healthy respect for old world wine making techniques and traditions. It really is the best of both the new and old worlds meeting at the southern tip of Africa.”
What challenges does the South African wine industry face at the moment?
Allister: “It is an extremely tough business to flourish in, with large capital costs of establishing vineyards, cellars and the barrels and bottles needed for production. Luckily the South African brand from a wine perspective is becoming more recognised internationally, and not just for its bulk supermarket wines, but small family driven brands too. There are a lot of challenges ahead but we have come a long way from one or two major companies producing and marketing all of our wine. The weak rand is definitely in our favour. I truly believe we make the best value wine in the world at all quality levels.”
What is your favourite wine region in South Africa?
Allister: “I am totally biased here, but I love Elgin because of its range of slopes and soils, and its overall cooler climate. This makes it a wine makers paradise, especially in the crafting of more elegant wines. It’s also a valley that has farming at its core as a lot of the estates also produce apples, so the families put huge focus on quality production in the vineyard.”
What is your favourite cultivar?
Allister: “I have favourites for different times, foods and places. A slightly chilled Pinot noir at home during the week, a powerful yet elegant Cabernet Sauvignon shared at a Sunday family dinner on the farm, a rich but fresh Chenin Blanc with a summer luncheon. Wine is so relevant to time and place and the people around you!”
What are the top 3 wines that you think travellers should try when coming to South Africa?
Allister: “I think foreigners are often benchmarking wines to regions they identify with in Europe or around the world. So, for two common benchmarks, Bordeaux and Sauvignon Blanc, they should try De Toren Fusion V and Paul Cluver Sauvignon Blanc. Both demonstrate old world restraint with new world fruit, and there are scores of examples from many of the family estates we work with. They should also try something different, something fairly unique to us, and that would be a wine made from old bush vine Chenin Blanc in the Swartland, maybe something from the enigmatic Adi Badenhorst. There are literally hundreds of examples of world class wines and producers to explore.”
What are the top 3 wine farms they should visit while in SA?
Allister: “This is so difficult to recommend and I get asked it all the time! I would recommend a wine journey to explore the range of styles and terroir we have in the Western Cape. Start in Stellenbosch, maybe with a tasting at the tiny winery of De Trafford, tucked into the Helderberg mountain range. Then head via Elgin to Iona and explore this cooler climate producer with dramatic views across the valley, and then onwards to a pioneering and iconic producer in the Hemel en Aarde valley, near Hermanus, Hamilton Russell. I once did this journey and it was sunny and hot in Stellenbosch and cool and rainy at Hamilton Russell, and they are geographically very close!”
What is the easiest way for tourists to buy wine here and ship it back home?
Allister: “Often the wine estates will be able to ship the wine, but there is a great company called Aspiring Logistics, which does shipping of wine all over the world.”