Not willing to rest on its laurels for helping to forge South Africa’s international reputation for some of the most original, exciting, and critically acclaimed wines, the Chenin Blanc Association (CBA) has a new ace up its sleeve.

The organisation has a plan to grow Chenin’s popularity and accessibility with a simple new style indicator that will appear on wine bottles as an icon, either on the back label or as a sticker. The intention is to give Chenin shoppers a straightforward “what you see, is what you get” signal.

“Part of Chenin’s charm is its versatility,” explains Ken Forrester, a prime mover in establishing the CBA and the world-class reputation of local Chenins. “You can make absolutely delicious Chenins across the spectrum from bone-dry to lusciously sweet, from bright and breezy to layered and complex.

“That’s the good news. The not so good news is that Chenin can therefore sometimes be confusing to shoppers. How do they know what taste characteristics to expect from the bottle they pick off the shelf?

“To simplify selection, we’ve created a linear scale icon. It starts with Fresh at one end and Rich at the other, with Fruity positioned right in the middle. An arrow indicates where along the line the wine fits from a taste point of view.  It is not a reflection of the chemical composition of the wine. The location of the arrow serves as a quick and readily understandable predictor of what you can expect stylistically.”

The style indicator, that has been developed in collaboration with the South African Wine & Grape Research Institute at Stellenbosch University has been approved by the South African Wine Industry and Systems (SAWIS), the body that collates and interprets wine industry information and administers the industry’s Wine of Origin system.

The new icon is being trialled by several large-scale, as well as smaller boutique producers. Some are linking it to a QR code to provide consumers with the option of additional aroma and flavour information.

“Those producers who are part of the pilot will incorporate the ‘show and tell’ style icon on their labels from the 2022 vintage,” Forrester says. “We hope that ultimately all CBA members will adopt it in our bid to make Chenin shopping that much easier. Not all labels will feature QR codes.  But those producers who go this route will be able to take consumers to more in-depth descriptors that align with the Chenin Blanc Aroma Wheel.”

The linear scale sensory descriptors, from Fresh to Fresh/Fruity, Fruity, Fruity/Rich and Rich are drawn from the Chenin Blanc Aroma Wheel. The wheel was devised in 2007 by the CBA, together with Stellenbosch University and several industry players.

Forrester says wines falling on the Fresh side of the scale icon will be refreshingly crisp and zesty.  Those at or near the Fruity point will show fruit and spice characters, while those at the Rich end of the spectrum will likely show some evidence of oaking, and notes of baked or dried fruit with buttery and vanilla tastes.

He says efforts to build Chenin’s prestige profile domestically are already bearing fruit with wines priced between R100 and R120 a bottle growing 96% in volume between 2020 and 2021. Chenins retailing between R90 and R100 increased by 87%, and those in the R70 to R80 band, by 49% over the same period.

“Overall, there has been good growth across the pricing continuum, but we are particularly pleased by the rising interest in wines priced above the R70 mark.”

About the Chenin Blanc Association (CBA)

The CBA, established in 2000, seeks to promote the reputation of Chenin Blanc as a source of outstanding quality wines across the stylistic spectrum. In addition to showcasing local expressions of the grape in single-variety and blended wines at South African and international events and bringing Chenin Blanc wines to the attention of international gatekeepers and tastemakers, the CBA also runs the annual Chenin Blanc Top Ten Challenge. It is also involved in academic, technical and market research on the grape, its viticulture, viniculture, climate resilience and consumer appeal.