Jo Wehring is best known as the UK market manager for Wines of South Africa, where she has witnessed an incredible change in the South African wine scene as Amanda Barnes finds out in their interview.
How did you first get into wine?
While at university, I worked part-time in Victoria Wines and I began to get interested in the world of wine. Once I graduated, with a degree in Art History & Philosophy and no obvious career path, I joined Majestic Wines. Five years later I was selling wine direct to the emerging restaurant and bar scene in East London.
How has your experience working with Wines of South Africa been, and what most excites you about working with South African producers and regions?
South African wine has been on the most incredible journey in the time I have been working for Wines of South Africa. I think it’s fair to say that in the early 2000s, South Africa was looking to the rest of the world, France especially, and saying ‘we can make wines like that’. Now South African producers own their distinctly South African wine styles, confidently and proudly. The huge variety of regions, micro-climates, terroir and grape varieties has been embraced, understood and explored. South African winemakers have a natural inclination to experiment and that inquisitive nature has really driven the wine scene to new heights. We are also lucky that many of our winemakers, while working for larger, established, wineries have been allowed the freedom to also produce their own wines, this has driven the emergence of the ‘new wave’ of wine. Quality has soared in the last decade and South Africa is now recognised as one of the most exciting and dynamic wine-producing countries in the world.
What is also impressive is that in 2020 the South African wine industry is celebrating 10 years since the Sustainability Seal was launched, an industry-wide initiative to guarantee that the wine was produced according to a set of strict guidelines to protect the environment. South Africa has been a world-leader in sustainable wine production.
South Africa is now exporting wines again following two bans during the pandemic. How damaging has that been to the industry? And what can we do to help support producers get back on their feet?
It was estimated that the five-week loss of exports cost the industry around R1billion (£47 million) but we are yet to see what the long-term impact will be and that’s coupled with the fact that domestic sales of wine have continued to be banned and will only be lifted on 1st June with restrictions on times and days that sales can be made.
Any support is welcome but keep encouraging sales of South African wines, talking about our wines, recommending them when you can, the more we can sell in the export markets the more we can get orders moving.
Are there any initiatives that Wines of South Africa has planned in the coming months that might interest members?
Last month we launched the #SpectacularSouthAfrica campaign on social media, which was a lot of fun, simply encouraging people to open a bottle of South African wine and join us online for a virtual tasting. We had a brilliant response and a huge amount of support for South Africa across the world. Our next #SpectacularSouthAfrica campaign will be around Drink Chenin Day on 20th June and we’ll be tasting and sharing Chenin Blanc. We plan to run the campaign monthly with different themes. Other plans are currently on hold until we have a better idea of what we are able to do towards the autumn.
As we move into barbecue, or braai, season, what are your favourite South African wines to pair with something from the grill?
I’m mildly obsessed with South African Cinsault right now, especially some of the wines from old vines. It’s perfect for a sunny BBQ, as it works lightly chilled but is robust enough to pair well with grilled meat.
And finally, what will you be looking forward to doing after lockdown is over?
I’m desperate for school to reopen so I can stop googling Year 4 maths and grammar, see friends and family, go to the gym, go out to eat, just go out – whenever I want. I can’t wait to take my son to the John Lewis café, which was always our ‘thing’ to do together. We laugh that all the pretty normal things that we used to like to do before lockdown will feel like the most enormous treats when we can do them again.