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Julius Malema: Juggernaut marketing the wine-industry should emulate

Michael Fridjhon is South Africa's most highly regarded international wine judge, the country's most widely consulted liquor industry authority, and one of South Africa's leading wine writers. Chairman of the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show since its inception, he has judged in countless wine competitions around the world. Visiting Professor of Wine Business at the University of Cape Town, he has been an advisor to the Minister of Agriculture and is a recipient of the French Chevalier de l'Ordre du Mérite Agricole. Worldwide winner of the Louis Roederer International Wine Columnist of the Year award in 2012, he is the author, co-author or contributor to over 30 books and is a regular contributor to wine publications in the UK, France, Germany and China. He is the founder of , a site which specialises in scoring South Affrican wine and guiding consumers to excellent value for money and quality.

There are many lessons we could learn from Julius Malema. One of the most important is the power of persistence. His relentless #PayBackTheMoney campaign produced much more than a blink from the Presidency. Once a year there's an outcry among wine producers over the listing fees demanded by restaurant chains for a slot on their corporate wine lists. We should take a leaf from Malema’s campaign and demand that these #ListingFeesMustFall.

It helps of course that Malema and his team of advisors have the marketing nous of a David Ogilvy – though David Ogilvy would no-doubt blanche to be compared to Malema’s thuggish operating procedure.

Team Malema understand how to make their message catchy enough to stick. Their one-liners lend themselves to jingles and ditties.

Prepare yourself for the next rap hit #GuptasMustGo.

Those with the wealth, power and motive to drive change are too busy making money (their core competence) to devise and maintain a strategic game-plan that would enable them to do a much better job of things. Fix the economy and you won’t have to spend your time battling the elements.

The old adage recognises the problem. “When you’re up to your ass in alligators, it’s difficult to remember that your initial objective was to drain the swamp.”

Malema knows that if you drain the swamp, you’ll be in a better position to take out the alligators. Accordingly his actions don’t waver.

If there’s a lesson to be learned by our captains of industry from all of this, it’s about a plan of action which gets to the heart of the matter (rather than cosmetic issues) and which is then worth pursuing with unrelenting vigour.

Roughly once a year there’s an outcry among wine producers over the listing fees demanded by restaurant chains for a slot on their corporate wine lists.

The media weighs in. After a little time it becomes a very temporary cause celebre. Licensees take the view that they are entitled to charge producers for a slot on their wine-lists. They argue this is no different from supermarkets charging for special positions.

When I wrote about this last year some of the tariffs were a matter of record: the Madame Zingara Group (Cafe Paradiso, Manhattan, Cafe Mozart etc) issued a document showing that a 12 month listing in all six of the group’s outlets would cost R8k per wine – unless the wine was sold by the glass or carafe, in which case the producer would have to pay R14k. The City Grill Group in Cape Town wanted producers to part with over R13k to retain their 2014 listings.

There were radio and TV interviews, articles and blogs, and a jigger or two of public outrage. Then BizCommunity reported that the Ocean Basket Group was doing away with its wine-listing fees. The news comes straight from Ocean Basket Head Office. ‘”Social media has been buzzing recently about the practice of restaurants charging fees to wineries and distributors to list wines, and when you come right down to it, that practice doesn’t benefit our partners in the wine industry, and it doesn’t benefit our customers. So the decision to scrap our listing fee was a no-brainer,” said Ocean Basket Company Leader Grace Harding.’

So far so good. But that was last year, and the assumption that when the outrage dies down you can go back to doing whatever you used to do before you got into trouble for doing it is a palpable sign of human frailty. So expect that with new wine lists being drafted as the year begins, listing fees will re-enter the picture. Here’s an announcement by an operation which calls itself “Divine Intervention” intervening (naturally) on behalf of a Cape Town restaurant called Sevruga, which has recently been taken over by “Circle Seven Trading.” Divine Intervention – no doubt in an endeavour to imbue with a whiff of class their appeal for what elsewhere would be called protection money – describes the Circle Seven partners as follows: “Erik Pike – the main Custodian, Peter Schaffer – Head of buying and Shaun King – Group GM.”

The same document mentions that they are the owners of four Ocean Basket stores (which makes one wonder how Ocean Basket’s “Company Leader” Grace Harding is going to reconcile her very public abolition of listing fees with the rest of the communication.) Sevruga, it appears, expects producers who want to see their wines on the restaurant’s wine list to fork out R2500 for the “by the glass” section and R1500 for the bottle sale listing. Now to be clear, Sevruga is not an Ocean Basket, and Ocean Basket cannot be expected to demand of their franchisees that they apply Ocean Basket principles to their other establishments. But it is equally clear that listing fees, like racism, human rights abuses and all the other things we excoriate but know lurk just below the surface, is still very much with us.

Here is where Julius Malema’s example is not simply something to admire, but also to emulate. There is no point in being polite, skirting the issue, choosing not to cause offence. It’s taken some time for me to understand what is meant by “the meek shall inherit the earth.” It doesn’t describe a success story, or even a survival strategy (the equivalent of our being told that cockroaches will be around after a nuclear holocaust, and in that sense will inherit the earth). It means if we are meek, we will get the earth we deserve, peopled by racists, by bullies like Putin, by glib and evasive leaders like Zuma. If we look at a restaurant wine list and suspect that producers have been “persuaded” to bribe their way on board, we should demand the truth and vote with our wallets. And we should not let up – ever. It’s not about one – or even a few establishments abandoning the policy, it’s about merit (within the context of price) percolating to the top, everywhere. For this to happen #ListingFeesMustFall. DM


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