A two-year sabbatical stay [from 2011] in a small but lively and arty town called Riebeek-Kasteel, situated 45 minutes off Western Cape, inspired one Moira Alberts to venture into the wine market.
The little town, which is a popular holiday retreat for Capetonians, is nestled on the slopes of its own mountain, surrounded by wheat fields, vineyards and olive groves.
Spending time in that valley opened Alberts’ eyes to the abundance and diversity of olives and fine wines of the Riebeek Valley and the entire Swartland region. This, in turn, enthused her to bring back a bit of that special taste home.
While staying in the Riebeek Valley during her sabbatical years, Alberts wrote a business proposal to several wineries, which resulted in a phase of collaboration, planning and market research. The initial business idea quickly started to become a concrete concept and soon, Barrel & Grove – Wine and Olive Merchants was born.
Before embarking on the wine business route, however, she had to find the perfect venue to replicate the shabby-chic, laid-back ambience of the Riebeek Valley. She was lucky to find the perfect spot at the legendary Gruener Kranz Complex, Ausspanplatz, Windhoek.
Alberts, holder of an MBA in tourism development from the Management College of Southern Africa (Mancosa) in Durban, South Africa, had been, for a decade, a tourism business investment analyst and consultant for various projects for touristic organisations, as well as for the Ministry of Environment and Tourism.
She has worked with organisations, such as the Gondwana Lodge Collection and Namibia Coastal Conservation Management (Nacoma), just to name but a few.
In preparation of her business venture, she topped her academic qualifications with an advanced programme in organisational development from the University of South Africa (Unisa). This programme, she believes, is a great tool for crafting strategies and managing change in a fast-paced world of globalisation.
Realising she still needed to add more product knowledge onto her already acquired skills and experience to successfully run her business, she attended a part-time wine appreciator course at the University of Stellenbosch last year. Through the course, she covered a range of topics, such as the wine making process, the history of the South African wine industry, cultivars, wine storage and the sensory evaluation of wines.
Having studied and worked in various countries from the 70s to the 90s, she notes, the vast international exposure she acquired over the years serves as a learning path in her business decisions today.
She currently maintains close ties with four Riebeek Valley wine estates, including Kloovenburg Vineyards, Riebeek Cellars, Mullineux Family Wines and Pulpit Rock Winery.
Aside from her winery entreprise, she imports a variety of olive products, such as extra virgin olive oil and relishes. She also imports an exclusive olive body range of exceptional high standard products, with the intention of collaborating with at least a local olive farm to cultivate olives in future. As such, she has already identified such a farmer and discussions to proceed with a fruitful partnership in this regard are underway, she submits.
Although she works closely with South African wine makers, Alberts wishes to empower the Namibian wine making sector, which, as she notes, still has a long, long way to go.
At this point, only a small amount of wine is made in Namibia while the majority of the country’s vineyards are used for table grape production rather than oenological purposes.
Since Namibia is a semi-arid country, most of her grapes can only be used as table grapes, which are exported to Europe.
As things stand, the wine business is locally dominated by male figures and as a female trying to impose her mark, Alberts says she has so far felt supported by her male counterparts.
In a bid to promote her business, she has since implemented regular wine tasting sessions through which she extends an educational edge to wine making. She also offers regular professional mailing campaigns and/or newsletters, which are sent to pre-identified wine and food lovers who may be consistent participants in the relevant trade shows.
Alberts describes May as a successful marketing month for her business because she managed to set up a Swartland Regional Wine Tasting and Showcasing event at her wine shop in collaboration with five different winemakers and their representatives. This saw the attendance of about 50 people.
She also [successfully] exhibited both at this year’s annual tourism expo and the Wine & Décor Extravagansa that took place within a period of one week at the beginning of June this year.
“Both trade fairs were very successful from a marketing perspective; more people now know more about the business. Our wines were favourably rated by the expo attendees, especially the Montino Petillant. Low alcohol wines, however, got a lot of attention, with the Pieter Cruythoff Brut sparkling wine turning out to be an overall favourite,” she beams.
This energetic soul plans to expand her business mainly through three distribution channels. Firstly, she will launch an online shop soon while keeping her eye on the wholesale and retail markets as well.
According to her, online shopping is currently unpopular in the country, so she intends to introduce the idea to her customers.
While keeping both the wine and olive businesses alive, Alberts plans to add a wine school onto the Barrel & Grove brand in collaboration with industry professionals in neighbouring South Africa and abroad. The objective of this school will be to improve the skills of the wine and hospitality industries’ aspirants.
Bemoaning the lack of human resources in the local wine making sector, Alberts is of the opinion this shortcoming constitutes a hold up in the expansion of the industry.
However, every dream on paper needs a practical budget to be formalised. To this end, Alberts does not just plan empty-headedly but always checks that she sticks to her goals via a realistic financial target.
“I’m here to stay and will ensure my business ventures push through by exploring various innovative strategies,” she concludes. PF