Stocking the Cellars at Singita isn’t All That it Seems……
Can you imagine your personal wine preferences influencing Singita’s bidding at the Cape Winemakers Guild Auction? It’s true; if a regular guest of Singita Safari Lodges loves particular wines of a proven rarity and provenance, then Singita will buy it for you and have it transported across Africa to the lodge where you’ll be staying.
Now that’s what I call service!
It’s this guest-focused culture that differentiates Singita Safari Lodges from its competitors at the top end of the safari market. Another rather special feature is Singita Premier Wine Direct; a service allowing guests to purchase the wines they’ve enjoyed at Singita Safari Lodges and either take a couple of bottles with them or have them delivered to your home. Key to this service is developing personal guest wine profiles so that Singita can offer future wine selections geared to specific preferences and wines that have been enjoyed in camp. Surprisingly, this accounts for 30% of Singita’s total wine sales.
Many of the wines in Singita’s cellars are not available anywhere else and vintages of a minimum of 5 years old are the norm rather than the exception. Head of Singita Premier Wine since 2000, François Rautenbach, looks for longevity rather than trends and invests for the future with the same measured, long-term approach that is used in nature conservation and sustainability.
“Acquainting guests with the scope and depth of Singita’s wine offering and staying in tune with what they want to drink, is what inspires me,” he says.
Having established Singita Safari Lodges as important wine buyers in the hospitality industry, Rautenbach has formed close working relationships with specific winemakers who offer their sought-after allocations to Singita, thus making them unavailable to anyone else. When you are sipping that beautifully balanced red at dinner, recalling exciting moments from your evening game drive, you do so knowing that the wine is so exclusive it is only available to you and fellow Singita guests.
Big Boys of the Auction Room
In comparison to Tsogo Sun with 90 hotels across Africa or the Checkers supermarket chain, Singita is small fry. But when it comes to buying wine Singita Safari Lodges rock ‘n’ roll with the big boys. At number four out of the Top 10 Buyers at the famous Nederburg Auction 2015, Singita secured 5.6% of the auction wines (80 cases), with rare sweet wines as a priority. Prices went a bit crazy, with dry whites more than doubling in price per litre from R202.45 in 2013 to R424.81 in 2014. Reds, which make up over half the wine consumed in Singita Safari Lodges, increased in Rand/litre from R399 in 2013 to R641.60 in 2014. Fortunately, the sweeter fortified and noble late harvest wines were less dramatically affected.
Ultimately what matters is the preference of Singita’s visitors, so it’s interesting to discover that most of their guests favour barrel-fermented whites and Cabernet Sauvignon-led blends or straight Cabernet Sauvignon. With wine consumption doubling across Singita’s 12 lodges over the past two years, the biggest challenge right now is keeping up with demand, especially for vintage red wines. This isn’t because people are turning to binge drinking while on holiday; it’s because Singita has almost doubled its average occupancy. An astounding 50,000 bottles of wine are consumed at Singita Safari Lodges per year.
How Do they Move this Much Wine?
Rautenbach manages the selection, acquisition, maturation and distribution of the wines for each lodge. He ensures that wines are matured under carefully managed conditions, and it’s not unusual to have multiple vintages of a particular wine on offer, adding to the complexity of the task at hand.
His choices have turned guests from all corners of the globe into ambassadors for South African wine, but how on earth does he get the wine to all corners of southern and east Africa?
Three tonnes of wine is transported monthly in temperature-controlled containers to a bulk fridge at Singita Castleton. From here, it’s taken to neighbouring Ebony and Boulders Lodges in Sabi Sand and just a little further to Lebombo and Sweni lodges inside Kruger Park. But it’s another onward cross-border journey to Singita Pamushana in Zimbabwe.
It’s a whole different story for Tanzania, with a bulk monthly delivery moving the maximum amount of wine at a time. About 12,600 bottles depart the warehouse in Stellenbosch in a 20-foot container via the ports of Cape Town, Durban and on to Dar es Salaam, where it has to clear customs. Then it’s a four- or five-day drive in two refrigerated trucks to Singita Grumeti in the Serengeti, where it’s unloaded directly into the walk-in fridge. Needless to say, the wine needs a little time to settle after its cross-continent expedition.
Choosing Your Wine
The wine has finally reached its destination at Singita’s 12 properties in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Tanzania. Each lodge shares a primary wine list that is tweaked with additional choices or older vintages to suit the lodge’s clientele. On average, a wine list at Singita Safari Lodges has in excess of 180 different wines, which for accommodation that sleeps just 20 to 30 people, is a choice that could pose some selection conundrums.
This is where Singita’s sommeliers come in. They are on hand at all the lodges; handpicked not only for their wine knowledge, personality and exposure to travel, but for their love of the African bush. This is mandatory when the job doesn’t give the opportunity to pop out to the corner shop or drive home after a day’s work.
Many of Singita’s sommeliers have been qualified winemakers, mentored by Rautenbach to guide guests through vineyards, vintages and cultivars, enhancing guests’ knowledge and appreciation of South African wines.
When you next happen to be sipping a sundown glass of wine during your game drive in the middle of the Serengeti, or perching on a lookout rock scanning the Lowveld of Kruger National Park, give a thought to what went into painstakingly selecting, bidding for, maturing, bottling and delivering that splendid example of South African wine to your remote location.