Coincidentally, the first meeting of the Association was organized on January 20, the day of the Presidential inauguration where Graham Beck's bubbly- a Methode Cap Classique (MCC) from the well known winery in their Robertson cellar was popped; the wine is a favourite of the First Lady and the couple has reportedly enjoyed drinking it on several occasions earlier.
Over 100 producers met in Stellenbosch at the first meeting of USAPA- USA Producer Association to discuss the working of the newly formed group to help promote existing exports to second biggest importer of the world. The association has full support of Wines of South Africa known as WOSA-the industry supported body that reinforces the export efforts globally.
"We are unreservedly in support of USAPA's efforts to build a South African presence in the US market, set to become the biggest wine importer by 2012. We believe our mutual co-operation will help considerably to augment the impact of the South African wine category in this exciting market," said Su Birch the CEO of WOSA.
Birch was critical about the policy of the Department of Trade and Industries (DTI) to shift its export focus away from developed countries because of the global credit crunch. The US remains the fastest-growing wine market by value. Therefore, it is a shame that it has not factored the special characteristics of world wine economics into its strategy, she said.
Without the backing of the government funds, South Africa's exports of bottled wines to the US has dropped from about 1 million cases two years ago, to about 760 000 cases in 2008.
USAPA hopes to raise US$500 000 in funds through membership fees based on the size and level of production and a percentage of FOB revenue generated by the producers in the US market. Working independently of WOSA, it plans to work closely with the organisation though to synergize the efforts.
Membership is limited to those producers and brand owners who are actively selling South African wine in the USA, or who are in the process of signing import agreements with distributors.
It is a Section 21 company which means it is similar to a normal profit company but is not allowed to operate to make a profit and it can't share the profits out amongst the company members.
The stated objective of the Association is to sell more, better quality, South African wine that is well suited to the USA consumers, at various price points. Quality has been defined as the wines having a rating of Wine Spectator: 86 + points, Wine Enthusiast: 87+ points, Robert Parker: 88+ points, Stephen Tanzer: 88+ points John Platter: 3 ½+ stars and South Africa wine shows: Silver medal or better.
If the name USA Producers Association seems a misnomer and confusing, it is not surprising. South Africa and its wine appellation system can be confusing and are designed to defeat the French monopoly in system complexity.
The pronunciation of many words is not much less complicated than French because of the Dutch origins. Groote is pronounced as khroot while Vrede is frede. The wine making regions are divided into districts and then there are terroir-driven wards some of which have been carved out without even a specific name, awaiting a commonly accepted name. All regions contain districts and wards but not all districts and wards fall within a region.
If that were not enough, new wards are being created all the times. This at a time when the French are struggling to come to a commonly agreed, simpler appellation system. At a tasting of boutique wineries at the Cape Wine Show last year, one of the producers justified the proliferation of wards on the basis of terroir and micro-climate. 'We are working so that generations 500 years later may be able to say proudly how hard their ancestors toiled to define the terroir and helped produce wines according to the soil quality,' he said. To the wine world including perhaps the French, their system is getting more confusing.
When one talks of wines of South Africa, one wonders if one is talking of the wines or the organisation, WOSA.
In case you are still confused, USAPA is a Producers Association formed by South Africans, in South Africa and for South African producers who wish to penetrate the USA wine markets harder.
Is there a lesson in it for the Indian producers? We think so.