Page last updated at 17:40 GMT, Friday, 23 October 2009 18:40 UK

South Africa's liquid gold rush

By Louise Greenwood
Africa Business Report

Vineyard owners the Rangakas
Wine sales in South Africa are booming

For the 5,000-strong crowd converging on September's Soweto Wine Fair, this year's event was a roaring success.

The so-called "black diamonds", the country's prosperous new middle class, jostled shoulders in the festival's giant marquee as they tested the latest star attractions - new blends of Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah.

The wines on offer are a source of great national pride.

One woman told Africa Business Report: "I've just tasted the most amazing wine and it's South African. Our country is really getting it."

Her friend added: "Look how big this hall is and it's filled with South African wines. It's amazing".

'Untapped market'

In Western markets, the wine industry is in difficulty.

As a discretionary purchase, a decent bottle of plonk is one of the first things that consumers cut back on when budgets are tight.

Festival organiser Mnikelo Mangicipho
Mnikelo Mangicipho says winemakers are moving into new markets

But South African vintners have increasingly focused on new markets, and the plan has paid off.

By the end of August, sales of Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay to China had risen nearly three times on the same period last year, and the growing domestic market is strong.

Festival organiser Mnikelo Mangicipho told the BBC: "[The winemakers] had to go and tap into the untapped market, which is the black market.

"And fortunately we have the numbers. The more people you are exposing to these wines, the more the sales and the turnover of the winemakers [increase]."

South Africa's trade with the rest of the world is powering ahead, almost oblivious to the events in the rest of the world economy.

Exports increased to $4.4bn (£2.7bn) in the first seven months of the year, according to government figures, a rise of almost a half on the same period in 2008.

'More education'

Wine is seen as a key part of that success. The hope now is that 2010 will prove another record breaker.

Ntsiki Biyela
Ntsiki Biyela says education is key to get more people into the wine industry

Ntsiki Biyela, a science graduate of Stellenbosch University and resident vintner at the Stellekaya boutique, has just won the title of South Africa's "Woman wine maker of the year".

For her, it's a double honour in an industry dominated both by men and, until the end of apartheid, white farmers.

She has no doubt where the future lies.

"The wine industry is still running short of black people... still running short of black-owned wineries and black-owned brands. We have them but it's just a few.

"We need more education for people who want to invest… because the wine industry is not like any other".

Africa Business Report, BBC World News - Saturday 24 October 0130 GMT, 2230 GMT; Sunday 25 October 1330 GMT, 2030 GMT

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