Distell was created in 2000 by the merger of Stellenbosch Farmers’ Winery (SFW) and Distillers Corporation.
SFW has long been a major force in the wine industry in South Africa. This company was the brainchild of William Charles Winshaw, an American medical doctor who came to South Africa in 1900 at the time of the Anglo Boer War. In 1925, SFW was created with Winshaw remaining as the MD of the organisation until 1962 when, at the age of 92, he retired. SFW, as the name implies, excelled at producing quality wines for the full spectrum of consumer needs. This company was also instrumental in the creation of a major new segment in our alcoholic beverage industry – ciders or alcoholic fruit beverages as we know them. One of the company’s key strengths has always been innovation.
Distillers Corporation, the brainchild of South African business giant, Dr Anton Rupert, was registered as a corporation in 1945. Distillers expanded energetically and very quickly set up marketing relationships and partnerships in the wine and spirits industry. Soon this company also became a major producer, focusing on distillates and in particular on the brandy market that it developed from relative obscurity to its current level of prominence. It is renowned for its Bergkelder concept, a marketing innovation that invited wine estates to make use of Distillers’ bottling, sales and marketing expertise. In addition, it created a new African icon, Amarula Cream, which today is one of the top-selling cream liqueurs in the world.
In the ensuing years, both SFW and Distillers effectively managed wine and spirits growth in South Africa, despite a restrictive business climate. The successes of both companies contributed largely towards the development of the liquor industry into a major force in the South African economy. In so doing, the companies became major creators of employment opportunities and wealth in South Africa.
These two companies joined forces to form the Distell Group, a move that would benefit the industry as a whole through its rationalisation, refocusing and effective pooling of resources.
The Cultural Roots of our Brands:
A few of the well-known brands developed by these two companies illustrate their distinctive cultural roots.
From our Dutch roots we have Drostdy-hof wines, named for the magisterial seat at Tulbagh, as well as Klipdrift brandy, a South African icon. In 1845, the Van Ryn brothers arrived in South Africa from Holland. In 1995, Van Ryn’s brandy celebrated 150 years of continuous operations in Stellenbosch.
One of the estates in the Bergkelder portfolio is Allesverloren, which gets its name from a former owner who arrived home to find his farm house burnt down. He expressed his dismay with the Dutch words, “all is lost”.
The French influence has been particularly strong in brands such as Fleur du Cap (so evocative of the Cape floral kingdom), Chateau Libertas (the only use of the word “chateau” allowed on a South African wine because it had been on the market since 1932 and thus escaped the prohibition in the “Crayfish Agreement” of 1935), Richelieu, a brandy with a strong French heritage but developed with a uniquely South African identity and Plaisir de Merle wines (with the collaboration of Paul Pontallier of Chateau Margaux, showing the potential to become a South African icon).
Our sparkling wine house JC le Roux, reflects a well-known South African surname with French Huguenot roots.
Portugal’s warm-heartedness and charm led to the development of the most successful wine brand in the country – Graça.
The German heritage is apparent from brands such as Grunberger and Kupferberger Auslese, two leading wines in South Africa.
Nederburg has a strong historical association with Germany through its two main architects, Johann Graue, the man who developed Nederburg into the pre-eminent South African wine trademark, and Gunter Brozel, the doyen of Cape winemakers. The current winemaker, Razvan Macici, is a recently naturalised South African, born and educated in Rumania, a heritage he shares with Julius Lazlo, who was born in Hungary, but educated in Rumania and went on to become Director of the Rumanian Wine Institute. Lazlo emigrated to South Africa and together with another Hungarian nobleman, Desidirius Pongracz established innovative oenological and viticultural practices in South Africa. Pongracz came to South Africa as a political refugee and his contribution is acknowledged in the name of our best selling Cap Classique sparkling wine, Pongracz.
One of the biggest success stories in the South African wine industry was a wine that was launched in 1959 and by 1964 was selling 31 million litres to become the best selling bottled wine in the world. Lieberstein was created by putting together the two German words liebe (love) and stein (the style of wine).
From Italy came treasures such as Roberto Moni, founder of Monis of Paarl, who in the nineteen thirties was selling red and white Monis Chianti in such quantities that these were South African favourites. The group no longer sells Chianti.
Even the English have given us a wine brand. Launched in 1886 by James Sedgwick, a retired English sea captain, Sedgwick’s Old Brown is today a South African icon.
Only recently has an African provenance emerged. It finds expression in brands such as our international flagship Amarula Cream, currently the second best-selling cream liqueur in the world. Two Oceans wines depicts the confluence of two great oceans, the Atlantic and the Indian at the foot of Africa. Savanna premium cider, a uniquely South African concept that has elevated cider to an aspirational product amongst younger consumers, shows immense promise in international markets.
Our trademark registration for a depiction of Table Mountain, that great symbol of Africa, predates legislation prohibiting the use or registration of national monuments.
A development only made possible since 1994 has been the introduction of previously disadvantaged people to the ownership of land and the development of new vineyards in high potential viticultural areas. Some of Distell’s projects have already produced wines of premium quality with the first vintage of Tukulu Pinotage winning several awards in South Africa. A project in the high potential area near Hermanus is in the initial phase of development. Another flagship project, Durbanville Hills Cellar, on the outskirts of Cape Town, makes provision for shareholding by employees on the participating farms. In the Mpumalanga Province, north-east of South Africa, Distell has set up a development company for the benefit of the rural communities who harvest marula fruit for Amarula Cream.
The experience Distell has accumulated over decades of building its business in Africa and the structures created in Southern Africa as well as the rest of Africa, provide the Group with a unique competitive advantage.