Ten Questions to SA Wine's Woman on the Ground in the UK
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Jo Mason joined Wines of South Africa's UK team as Market Manager in January this year. She has years of experience in communicating wine's generic message as it applies to regions and countries, which made Jeanine Wardman all the more adamant in posing ten questions amidst Mason's wall-to-wall itinerary whilst hosting British lifestyle journalists, winelands-style, out here in SA last week.

Who is Jo Mason, the professional?
I worked part-time at Victoria Wine whilst at University and joined Majestic as a graduate where I remained for a good few years before joining Westbury Communications, a wine specialists PR agency. I worked on several generic wine campaigns including Wines of Argentina, Wines from Spain, The Port Wine Institute and South of France Wines. My position with WOSA is a dream come true.

Did you ever empathise with South African wine – as a consumer and or communications practitioner – before joining WOSA?
Yes, and my coming of age coincided with South Africa’s democratisation so the vibes were all good. South Africa enjoys a very positive image in the UK. The country is thought of as modern and dynamic and has a lifestyle positioning that is as appealing to UK consumers as Australia’s. This equates to a head start generically to many if not most of our New World competitors.

WOSA issued a media release last week claiming to have partially recovered from 2006’s loss in market share in the UK. Exactly how upbeat are you?
The decline in the category’s growth has definitely slowed and I believe we will be back on track by the end of this year. 2008 will be about getting South Africa back to where it was at the end of 2005. Encouragingly, a raft of South African brands show exciting growth. This is a very different position to a year ago, where we only had one brand, FirstCape, showing significant growth. All our eggs aren’t in one basket anymore, so to speak.

What frustrates you about the South African wine industry?
When a generic image is at stake, an industry has to present a united front – and a positive one. If this methodology is applied consistently a positive perception in the trade and eventually among consumers becomes the norm. South Africans are honest and outspoken, which is wonderful, but we need to be careful about being seen as disparate and fragmented. There is never a situation where everyone agrees, in any country’s generic message, but it’s vital to be seen to be working together.

What is the single most current facet of the wine business of collective importance to the South African wine industry?
Green credentials. And what it means for wine packaging. The debate is heating up by the day here in the UK wine media. With the UK’s largest retailer, Tesco, putting carbon emissions top of its corporate agenda it is a subject that will be addressed by everyone.

Fair Trade or Biodiversity?
Biodiversity, without a doubt. Fair Trade is a global brand and resonates with many other wine settings. Biodiversity is 100% pure South African.

Pinotage Rosé or Cape Blend?
Pinotage Rosé from a trade perspective, but Cape Blends for Jo Mason the consumer. Seriously, Pinotage Rosé is an interesting expression of and niche in this category. South Africa should make the most of the phenomenal growth currently enjoyed.

Cape Town or London?
Now that I have this job? Cape Town, Cape Town, Cape Town. It’s a far more exciting place than London is!

Rooibos or Ceylon?
I’m old school – and properly British – when it comes to tea. So Ceylon.

South Africa is...
... well placed to make a good recovery in the UK market: investment in brands is evident (and extremely necessary); the Cape winelands have some of the best tourism infrastructure in the world and UK consumers are travelling to South Africa in droves; the industry’s conservation initiatives are timely, as consumers are increasingly interested in ethical purchasing; finally, we have great wines and an impending football event that will throw South Africa into the spotlight.


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