The last year has been a challenge for most wineries – not just in South Africa, where newly implemented prohibition laws have brought this 300-year-old industry to the brink of collapse – but across the globe. Unlike other ardent spirits, wineries depend greatly on a sense of gathering to nurture the culture around their wines. Very few other alcohol brands have an estate around which its identity is cultivated, meaning that when your tribe can no longer come to you, going to them implies a whole reinvention of wine culture. Nevertheless, there are some innovators who have sought to revolutionise the way wine (and wine culture) reaches its followers.

“The pandemic has complicated just about everything to do with the wine industry, from how we buy wine to how we taste it – and everything in between,” says Schalk Opperman, winemaker at Quoin Rock in Stellenbosch. Apart from the challenges faced in the present, gazing into one’s crystal decanter to venture a guess (no matter how educated) as to where the industry is going, poses an even greater challenge.

Schalk believes that many of the trends we saw emerge in 2020 will likely come to fruition in 2021, from the wellness boom, the sudden increase in online wine sales and considerations like environmentally friendly packaging to the rise of rosé prosecco. But let’s look at these trends in a bit more detail.

There’s no doubt about it, the winery of the future is built on sustainability. Consumer demand will not tolerate anything less. And this permeates every aspect of winemaking – including packaging, transportation and production – meaning the ever more switched-on consumer of today will only buy into a brand that is equally mindful of what our actions mean for our future.

At the same time, self-care has become one of the overarching themes of the last year, a trend that has expedited the growth of low alcohol and de-alcoholised wines, as well as natural, low-sulfite and vegan-friendly wines. As the consumer habits of the millennial generation – a demographic that, in the wine world at least, can be characterised by their preference for drinking less and drinking better – continues to play a major role in how brands “think”.

But Schalk is not so quick to jump on this trend. “I’m not convinced that low-Sulphur and de-alcoholised wines are worth the hype,” he says. “The methods used to make these wines are often more energy consuming than traditionally made wines. The focus at Quoin Rock has always been to produce quality wines sustainably, and we do everything in our power to lower our energy usage through eco-friendly, efficient methods.”

The online shopping boom came as no surprise. South Africans, who had been slow to embrace e-commerce in the past, were pleasantly surprised by the ease and convenience of it all when they were suddenly left with no choice. Wine estates in particular saw significant growth in this arena, especially after the first alcohol ban was lifted, and Schalk sees no sign of the success of this platform declining.

With the shift to this previously underexplored platform, virtual wine tasting has become the hot new ticket, and virtual events, webinars and tastings are set to continue their growth spurt in 2021 – and are likely to continue beyond our current state, as they’re unlimited by traditional constraints like geography and venue size. Indeed, in June 2021, Schalk Opperman and Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen will be hosting their first virtual masterclass together!

Many wineries have begun to replace the traditional, heavy glass bottle with lighter weight, more environmentally friendly options. Creative wine packaging is certainly a hot trend in 2021, as you’re very likely to have seen wine in recyclable plastic bottles, an influx of boxed wine, and even an upswing in canned wines on shelf.

“At the end of the day, people always go back to what they know and trust,” Schalk argues. “But I do think something like canned wine has a place when having an event outdoors, like a summer picnic experience by Quoin Rock’s Gåte Restaurant.”

The popularity of rosé has shown no sign of a downswing in the last six years. On the contrary, Schalk (and the majority of trend forecasters) predicts that 2021’s next big drink will be prosecco rosé. After launching this light pink bubbly in November 2020 (after seeing a steady increase in pink wine sales long before then), Italian wineries are very excited about the marriage of this new breed of pink bubbly. So excited was Schalk by the emergence of this new trend that he spearheaded the creation of the 2020 Namysto Rosé, a vibrant and well-balanced wine, available from Quoin Rock.

Although Schalk admits to the importance of having at least a working knowledge of the latest wine trends, he and his team don’t live by trends either. In the end, he says, “It’s the customer’s desire for quality that is most important. It is Quoin Rock’s unwavering commitment to quality and tradition that ensures that we produce excellence year after year.