Protégés share “sweet spot” to the heart of the young wine drinker

A relationship with quality wine is like a good friendship. There is never a dull moment and the more quality time invested in the relationship, the more you learn to understand and respect the delicate nuances. Plus, of course, your life is enriched because of it.

As challenging and stringent the parameters of lockdown were and still are, it also fast-tracked the way people interact with wine. Many consumers saw their new stay-at-home lifestyle as an opportunity to educate themselves through social media, online webinars, and virtual wine tastings.

Last year also saw the first online Nedbank Cape Winemakers Guild Auction that turned out to be a phenomenal success as it reached new markets and offered people the opportunity to participate in the Auction from the comfort of their own homes.

With the 2021 Nedbank CWG Auction only weeks away, it will remain online and again hosted by Bonhams, offering a more extensive selection than last year, now that online events have becomes the new norm. 

On Friday, 17 September, the excitement kicks off with a two-week online charity auction to raise funds for the Cape Winemakers Guild's Protégé Programme. This Protégé Programme Auction offers comprehensive collections of wines made up from previous CWG Auctions and other unique lots donated for this cause. It is also an opportunity for final year Protégés to showcase the wine they made as part of their three-year internship under the mentorship of the Guild. One 750ml bottle from each graduating Protégé will be offered in a 5-bottle lot packed in a beautiful wooden box.

Chardonnay was a clear-cut choice for Kelsey Shungking, whose wine is called 17 Diamonds 2020, representing all the facets of her journey. Roger Cloete is making his debut with a confident Bordeaux Blend he named The Famous Warrior 2020. Back to Chardonnay, Victorious 2020 was a fitting name for Victoria Davis's wine, concluding what she believes to be a victorious road of wine and self-exploration. Candice Nassen shares that she never doubted making an elegant Syrah, naming it Skatkis 2020 - "a treasure chest of everything I learned from my mentors". And then there is Ram 2020 from Michael Topkin who did not hold back with his expression of a bold Pinotage – intense yet delicious.

Not only is every graduating Protégé an ambassador for South African wine, they fulfil a role among their own friends and communities by helping them understand the value of quality wine and how to enjoy it responsibly.

With the significant generational shift of both winemakers and wine drinkers, current and graduated Protégés play an active role in influencing trends and promoting quality. At the start of their careers and as future decision-makers, we asked some Protégés what they believe young people want to drink and how they think the pandemic has spurred a valuable relationship with wine.

According to Thabile Cele, her 20+ age group loves exploring new styles, but juicy and delicious wines remain the sweet spot.

"Young people are looking for a wine with a presence, as long as there is plenty of fruit. There is certainly a perked interest in quality and trying different things. They want to know what is considered good and what is not."

For Kelsey Shungking there is a clear divided line.

"For my friends and I who know wine, weird and wonderful examples appeal to us when we want to explore more. However, there needs to be more accessible wines for people who aren't so familiar with wine but are eager to learn. I find that people new to white wine can struggle with the acidity, and those new to red wine can have a hard time with the tannin.

Therefore, young people are still leaning towards sweeter wine styles making the wine appear fuller and easier to understand. I believe these wines open a door from where their palates will progress, and I never judge anybody on what they enjoy and how they enjoy it. Eventually, their palates will grow."

Kelsey also believes white wines are a persistent trend.

"White wines are associated with laid back summers. But, if young people could move away from the notion that red wines are always these big, dry, and tannic products, they will discover exciting Pinot Noir, Cinsault, and Grenache. Many people aren’t aware of these styles. My generation wants to be social, sit around a fire and enjoy being out all day and these wines are utterly yummy and delicious! I am passionate about people discovering lighter style reds.”

Anique Ceronio also believes that no one should underestimate the power of sweeter wines and that sparkling wine is a trend to stay.

"Cap Classique is very much in fashion. It photographs well, and it is very instagrammable. Younger wine drinkers are sensitive to price. If they spend more than usual, it will be on a wine they know and feel comfortable commenting on, like Chenin Blanc and Merlot. If they can't pronounce it, they don't buy it."

Michael Topkin wholeheartedly agrees that Cap Classique has a bright future in South Africa and offers diverse styles at different price points. He also feels that he, as a young winemaker, can influence his generation and help his friends discover new styles.

"If I had to make wine aimed at a younger generation, it would be a red, sweeter sparkling wine low in alcohol - the doorway for most drinkers. However, both Rhone and Cape Blends can be made in lighter, aromatic styles that are, as people say, moreish!

Although 2021 was only her first year as a Protégé working under Johan Malan at Simonsig, Terry-Ann Klink is confident about introducing quality wines to her community.

"I would love to make it easy for people to experiment in a price bracket that they feel comfortable with. As they learn and become more confident, the price will play a less important role. It starts with education. Given the opportunity, I would make a slightly sweeter Chenin Blanc with gorgeous tropical aromas. For red, I would make a fruit-driven Shiraz with inviting vanilla and floral notes. I am still practising my own tasting abilities, but both styles offer a win-win choice in terms of quality and price.

Although it is a slow process, it is wonderful to see how people naturally progress to more serious wines and have these aha-moments when they learn something new, especially where I am from. It's like teaching a baby to walk, then crawl, and take small steps. Eventually, they will run with it!"

Kyle Davids would also opt to make a Shiraz with just enough mouthfeel and structure not to be intimidating.

"It doesn't matter where a person is on their wine journey. They will appreciate balance if they love food and wine – a wine with enough mouthfeel yet not big and intimidating with well-judged oak. My friends love an oaked Chardonnay. It's not too acidic and offers a rounder mouthfeel with buttery and vanilla notes.”

Also completing her first year under the mentorship of Frans Smit, Kaylin Willscott has observed a growing interest in wine among her friends.

"Wine tasting forms a regular part of our weekends, and both Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay are clear favourites. I love seeing how curious they become as they explore new wine styles."

Roger Cloete has just accepted a job opportunity with Distell and is a keen observer of trends among consumers of different ages.

"Sustainability is the buzzword - from packaging to production and transportation. As a result, consumers are increasingly switched on when it comes to a brand dedicated to reducing its carbon footprint. The pandemic has also highlighted us caring for our health, and I believe ongoing trends will include a market for lower alcohol wines, low sulphites, and vegan-friendly wines.

If I can speak for all millennials, we want to drink less, but better quality. Lockdown urged us to explore online shopping and embrace the convenience of e-commerce. Wine farms acted smartly and updated their websites to tap into new direct to consumer channels. A year later, virtual wine tastings have become a powerful marketing tool to expose consumers to new wine. If anything – consumers had time to grow."

If the first online Nedbank CWG Auction was anything to judge this new online shopping experience by, CWG wines reached record prices as buyers could bid from the comfort of their homes. This trend also allowed the world to reach a little deeper into the heart of both the best South African wines and the future winemaking generations.

Kelsey Shungking