One of South Africa’s largest wine producers, KWV, is preparing for a significant push forward in the UK after forming a recent distribution partnership with Myliko Wines.

The switch, which includes the producer’s brandy portfolio, took place in September 2012 after KWV’s former partner Thierry’s Wine Services went into administration.

Following a six month period of what Myliko sales manager Carl Koenen described as “consolidation” of existing KWV customers, as well as discussions with potential new ones, the brand will embark on a major push at the London International Wine Fair next month.

With an important part of KWV’s existing UK business based in the cash and carry sector, Koenen pointed to a growth opportunity in the independent retail sector, explaining: “We want to focus on the £7-10 bracket, establish that base and then push our other wines forward.”

To support this broadening focus, much of the KWV range has seen its packaging refreshed, with the producer keen to emphasis not only the recent quality improvements across its portfolio, but also a breadth of prices and styles that reaches right up to its £75 RRP Perold label.

Having joined KWV in 2006 as its first ever foreign chief winemaker, Australian Richard Rowe told the drinks business about the “massive” changes he has implemented since then, in particular by cultivating a more international outlook within what he described as previously rather a “conservative” company.

Aligning the evolution of the KWV wine style with a wider trend in South African winemaking, Rowe recalled: “Four or five years ago we produced big, alcoholic, very oaky, full malo[lactic] Chardonnay from warmer climate areas.”

By contrast, he remarked: “Now we have no malo usually, source from cooler areas of the Western Cape and maybe put the wines in oak for just six or seven months.”

Rowe is also working to ensure that alcohol levels, especially at the cheaper end of the portfolio, do not creep above 14% abv, and revealed that in the brand’s Classic range “our average pH is 0.3 lower than a few years ago, principally through tartaric acid additions in the tank.”

Describing the wines produced since 2011 as “more in keeping with where we want to be,” he summed up: “The wine has to be fresh or we’re not delivering for our customers.”

With his background as a winemaker in both Margaret River and Clare Valley, Rowe told db: “There’s a lot to be learnt from Australia’s success and fall from grace in the market.”

In addition to his native country’s well documented shift towards lighter, more elegant but complex styles, Rowe also picked out Australia’s Penfolds brand as a strong model for what KWV is looking to achieve in terms of positioning.

“They’re strong in all categories of the pyramid”, he observed, explaining: “The challenge for a lot of companies is that they become too successful in the entry level and then struggle to move up out of it. With many of the Cape’s producers seeing a controversial shift towards bulk wine shipments, Rowe remarked: “South Africa needs to be careful it doesn’t do the same thing.”

Acknowledging that previously at KWV “our business focus has been on high volume, lower margin products,” Rowe stressed: “There’s a far greater emphasis now on having a more balanced pyramid.”

He illustrating this point with KWV’s £19.99 Mentors range and also highlighted the recent success of its top end Perold “Cape blend” and Shiraz wines in blind tastings against the likes of Opus One, Kanonkop and Penfolds RWT. “I don’t think we’re naïve,” Rowe maintained. “These wines can all cut it with some of the best wines in the world.”

In terms of the main target export markets for this top end of the KWV portfolio, Rowe said: “I can see it appearing in the UK, Sweden, the US, Australia and Japan,” with the latter already selling “a lot” of the Mentor range. As for the potential in China, he predicted it would prove successful “possibly in the medium term, not the shorter term.”

Meanwhile in the mid-level price points that are particularly relevant for KWV’s UK target market of independent retailers, the producer plans to introduce a rosé extension to its Roodeberg brand, which retails for around £10.

In recognition of the growing trend for lower alcohol wines, in 2012 Rowe added a 9% abv “Lazy Days” expression to the producer’s Laborie Estate brand, which is positioned just below Roodeberg.

Although Laborie is not yet available in the UK, Koene confirmed that Myliko was currently “talking about it”, along with plans to ensure a more regular supply of the Mentors wines to support the fragmented remnants introduced by Thierry’s.

With the Mentors cellar, which was built in 2004, geared towards experimentation and smaller parcels of fruit, Rowe was also full of ideas for the future. “Varieties I’m passionate about are Malbec, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc,” he remarked.

Despite admitting “the challenge with Cabernet Franc is that it shows all the perfume on the nose but can be skinny, lean and hard on the palate,” Rowe found no such problem with this variety in the Mentor’s cellar in 2010 “so we bottled it as it was.”

Myliko Wines will be at stand L10 at the London International Wine Fair, which takes place from 20-22 May 2013 at ExCel.

Source: The Drinksbusiness: Gabriel Savage