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Q&A: Bruce Jack, The Drift Estate, Bruce Jack Wines, La Bascula

Published:  12 May, 2020

Andrew Catchpole catches up with the irrepressible Bruce Jack for the lowdown on life during the Covid crisis and publishing his own magazine.

Let’s talk pre-pandemic for a moment, what have you been up to?

My estate in the Overberg Highlands requires a very different mindset from the Bruce Jack brand or La Báscula [Spanish wines]. On the Drift Estate we have experienced four years of drought. We have had to cut back yield, but the silver lining is that the wines are better than ever. Unfortunately, sales of expensive South African wines, which were just starting to benefit from the hard-won reputation in the UK on-trade (through Alliance), have somewhat fallen off the edge of the world.

The Bruce Jack brand was due to make a bit of noise this Prowein. We would have launched our first wines from Chile and introduced the first Spanish productions. Our Bruce Jack Heritage Napa Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec/Cabernet Franc 2019 creation is hibernating safely in barrel and we hope to launch next year. [And] our wine-in-a-can will launch in the UK in August through a new online DTC business called Mind Map Wines.

What’s with the newly launched Jack Journal, mixing up surfing, lifestyle and wine?

I have always believed that you should only make wine that you would love to drink. That means the experience must be uplifting. Authenticity is everything. The Bruce Jack brand stands for what I believe in and it is only fair that I let consumers know what I believe in. Jack Journal is the same story, really, part of getting that message out there.

Why the big connection between surfing and wine in SA?

I wrote this for a surfing magazine late last year: “For many winemakers in South Africa they are inextricably connected. Both are strongly identified with their own unwritten rules and culture; environments that suit those totally immersed in them, happy in their individualism, magnificent pursuits ruled by nature, defined by liquid.”

How important is your support of Headstart Trust and Rural Food Relief?

Among the chaos and angst there have been amazing stories of selflessness and heroism. The Headstart Trust is far from unique in this regard. We’ve been active for about 15 years in poor, rural areas, mostly creating educational opportunities in pre-school environments. With schools closing we refocused the Trust on being a bridge between the haves and have-nots.

We raise donations in South African cities, or overseas, and buy food with that which we distribute using our vehicles and drivers, providing ingredients to eight soup kitchens. We know we are in for a terrible ride. As a result of Covid it will be a humanitarian disaster unfolding before our eyes.

How has the SA industry has been impacted by the crisis?

The U-turn [ban] on wine exports was ridiculous and hugely damaging, but I also understand that the Command Council is overwhelmed by the [pandemic] challenges and not helped by factionalism within the ANC ruling party. The fact that businesses have been destroyed is plain for all to see and the knock-on effect of that for the economic recovery of this already economically damaged country will be so painful. I have used what voice I have to try to bring attention to those pulling the strings of where the low-hanging fruit is. One of those was wine exports and I lobbied hard for that.

What are the major challenges you now anticipate?

I am expecting another hard lockdown as deaths spike and resources are stretched beyond capacity – a likelihood we have had to plan for. This means producing more stock to ensure we keep supply integrity to our retail partners overseas. It also means keeping some buffer stock in-bond, in market.

Both these planning necessities cost us dearly. Cashflow has already been strangled and without the financial support for medium-sized businesses materialising,

we have had to risk everything to keep supply alive

and so keep our listings. It is a very uncomfortable predicament and we are now at the mercy of exchange rate fluctuations, consumer behaviour and myriad other elements out of our control.

What do you think we as a trade can learn from this global crisis?

This crisis is inextricably linked to an unchecked level of greed that is destroying us. The pre-Covid world was unbalanced and wobbling out of control anyway, we had destroyed our buffers against existentialist threats. At an overarching level we need to restore balance. The difficult part is where do we begin?

The wine industry is already quite resilient because it is infused with passion, as much as it is driven by ambition. In very few cases is money accumulation the sole purpose for participation. This means we are already more balanced than most and we have an opportunity and probably a responsibility to lead by example.