- Chenin is the most widely planted grape in South Africa.
- And in 2021, we exported 53 million litres of them in the form of wine.
- But the Chenin Blanc Association says inexperienced South African wine drinkers, who buy primarily on varietal names and bottle labels, are missing out.
- To ensure you know what to expect - and buy more Chenin - they've introduced a universal style indicator.
- Here's how it works.
- For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.
Chenin Blanc is South Africa's most widely planted grape - and the resulting wine is in demand around the world. Last year, South Africa exported 53 million litres of white wine, mainly to Germany, the United Kingdom, and America.
But for various reasons, uncovered by two years of research at the Stellenbosch University, South Africans aren't all that into it - and as a result, Chenin is seen as a "high risk" varietal when it comes to shoppers spontaneously purchasing bottles from supermarket shelves.
Ironically, part of the problem is that Chenin is a diverse wine that comes in various styles and caters to everyone from the casual sipper to the knowledgeable drinker, says Ina Smith of the Chenin Blanc Association
But Smith says this is a problem given the relatively inexperienced nature of South African wine drinkers. Due to this inexperience, many South African winemakers market their products using the varietal name on the front label, leading consumers back to more familiar and predictable options.
With this in mind, Stellenbosch's South African Grape and Wine Research Institute (SAGWRI) conducted two years of research to understand why the varietal was at risk and what would get shoppers to reach for a bottle of Chenin Blanc over others like Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay.
The research showed that "a lack of experience, quality variations, and occasions" were key varietal risks impacting Chenin sales in supermarkets.
"Most South African wine drinkers buy their wine from a general supermarket and, being time-pressed, don't want to spend too much time in the wine aisle faced with uncertainty about styles' sensory profiles," says Smith.
Armed with this knowledge, the Chenin Blanc Association decided to make it easier for shoppers to know what to expect from a specific wine farm's Chenin.
Although in-store tastings, promotions, and food pairing events tested as the best ways to get people more into Chenin, the association realised none of these were scalable options. So together with SAGWRI, they came up with a style indicator that would be available to all association members.
The indicator identifies where on a scale a specific brand of Chenin sits in terms of freshness, fruitiness, or richness. And although some producers have included information like this on their back labels, the new system is more visible and consistent across brands.
Smith says it's up to Chenin producers to decide for themselves where on the scale their wine fits, and there's no cost to include the scale for members of the Chenin Blanc Association.
Here's what the Chenin Association says each style means:
Fresh wines are mostly made in stainless steel tanks which accentuates fruit flavours and acidity. Styles in this category vary but primarily have profiles of tropical fruits like guava, with a zesty citrus finish.
Fruity styles are more complex, fruit-driven, and generally "unwooded", although they are made in vessels that preserve these qualities. According to the Chenin Blanc Association, they have added benefits in the mouthfeel and texture departments.
Rich styles indicate a more dominant presence of oak in the flavour profile, "but still balanced with fresh acidity". The association says the fruit profile is more likely to be baked or dried fruit "with a buttery, vanilla undertone associated with maturation in oak".