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Prowein 2015: Improved technology is helping South Africa make "best wines ever", says Accolade's Bruce Jack

Published:  17 March, 2015

Advances in technology, including the use of satellite and GPS tracking data, are helping winemakers in South Africa make the best wines of their generation, according to Bruce Jack, head winemaker for Accolade Wines.

Advances in technology, including the use of satellite and GPS tracking data, are allowing winemakers in South Africa make the best wines of their generation, according to Bruce Jack, head winemaker for Accolade Wines.

Speaking to at this week's ProWein exhibition in Dusseldorf Jack said the use of technology was now enabling wineries and producers to better understand the complexities of their soil and help make them wines that are completely true to the terrior they are grown from.

"South Africa is in a very exciting place. We have finally got to grips with our vineyards," he said.

"We are now not scared by the complexity of our soils, but we can now embrace them to make better wines."

Jack said the technology now being used in parts of South Africa allows winemakers to analyse their vineyards vine by vine using a combination of satellite and infra-red imagery.

"It is like winemaking with radar," explained Jack.

A winemaker, he added, can now look at each vineyard and see which vines are more stressed than another and make sure that individual vine is picked at the right time. "It means you might have to go out pick that vineyard three or four times but it is worth it," he added.

The knowledge and insights winemakers now have in to their vineyards can only improve vintage after vintage as they micro manage what they have, said Jack. "We will be able to build a bank of experience, vineyard by vineyard."

He admitted that winemakers often knew from their own experience which parts of a vineyard need to be picked first, but the technology was now "verifying" to an exact degree so that "you are not just relying on palate".

Jack said this better understanding of its vineyards meant it was able to pin point which estates and areas will be best for growing different and new varietals. He predicted, for example, a good future in South Africa for Albarino and particularly for Malbec.

The latter, he stressed, has been part of South Africa's winemaking since its inception and the first Malbec plantings and root stock date back some 250 years. But whilst over the last 20 years it has been used to help blend and is often added to give a little more body to a Pinotage the time had come for South Africa to make leading Malbecs of its own, like Accolade's Kumala Reserve Malbec.

Jack was speaking as part of Accolade Wine's impressive line-up of international winemakers at ProWein where its focus has been very much on promoting its growing portfolio of premium and super premium wines.

Jack, for  example, was introducing his own premium wine, the Drift, made from his family's estate as well as promote his range of premium wines from the Flagstone winery that has helped make its name.

Flagstone, he said, was , making great inroads in to the mainstream on-trade thanks to the sales and distribution network of Matthew Clark and listings in major groups like Mitchells & Butlers and Chef & Brewer.

With Flagstone wines selling from £15 up to £45 to £50 it shows the potential South African premium wine has in the on-trade and independents.

He is particularly excited by the potential of the Time Manner Place which is finding increased listings in premium retailers in the UK and in outlets like Heathrow Terminal 5 and offers a new route in to independent wine merchants.

Paul Schaafsma, head of Accolade Wines in the UK and Europe said a wine of the stature of Time Manner Place, which retails close to £50 a bottle, "helps put South Africa on to a different level".

He also welcomed the inroads that Matthew Clark has made across the on-trade which has seen it develop a 30,000 9 litre case market for Flagstone. "It is helping to promote premium South African with a great ambassador like Bruce out in the market helping to talk and train Matthew Clark customers."

The white table cloth market also remains a key target for Accolade and its premium wines, but as Jack conceded "it is a tough slog to get past the sommeliers" but it is confident in can make inroads if they get the opportunity to sit down and show the quality of their wines.

The recent dramatic fires that spread across South Africa and up in to some of the winelands had not caused any real vineyard damage,  confirmed Jack. But he said it had been a particularly "scary" time and that he had himself had to battle fires around his own family estate.

The only impact to date, he said, was a little bit of smoke taint on late growing Sauvignon Blanc, the rest of the harvest looks like it has escaped any real damage.