Hidden away in a rural, picturesque wine valley; Sarah’s Creek has been providing the authentic South African wine experience for decades. From the moment your lips meet the glass, you’ll be met with the result of years of vigorous perfection.
WHO IS SARAH?
THE LEGEND OF SARAH
Sarah’s Creek is inspired by the exhilarating tale of a woman who strived to be different. Growing up, a great aunt in the Malherbe family opted in to walk to school via her favourite Creek each day. This scenic route was filled to the brim with adventure and spectacles.
Sarah loved absorbing the sounds and sights of nature, frequently stopping to admire the mesmerizing dragonflies and butterflies hovering above the water (even though she wouldn’t always be on time for school!)
Today, our wines also walk the scenic route, maturing in an identical timelessly-carefree sense, absorbing nature to develop our decadent flavours.
IN 2010 A SOUTH AFRICAN EXPORT COMPANY LED THE WAY
BY EXPORTING ITS OWN STYLISH WINE BRAND TO BEIJING AMONG OTHER DESTINATIONS. LOCALLY SARAH’S CREEK HAS BEEN FLYING UNDER THE RADAR, BUT THE SECRET IS BOUND TO GET OUT SOONER OR LATER.
AS I SIT DOWN TO TALK TO Chin-Africa Impex business manager Gideon Malherbe at the company’s scenic Tygerberg Waterfront head office, I’m struck by the array of bottles shapes and label designs on his desk. For a small export operation of 11 people, Chin-Africa Impex seems to have conquered the world of premium export wines and FMCG products. But the true star of the show is the young girl depicted on the Sarah’s Creek label.
“Sarah’s Creek is our focus now,” Gideon says. “We want to build it into the brand it wants to be.” The girl on the label honours Gideon’s great aunt Sarah who as a youngster had to cross a small stream on her way to school. The stream dried up long ago, but several generations later the land in the Robertson Valley is still in the family.
“Ownership is crucially important for an intellectual property.”
They first hit on the idea of introducing their own label in 2006, but it took a few years and some early misses to get the focus just right. Different label designs were considered – from a traditional French look with a mountain in the background to more modern, abstract styles. Nothing really grabbed them until they found this stock photo of a girl jumping over a creek. It was an obvious choice for the label design. “Designing the label still represents most of the work,” Gideon says. “We’re always modernising and updating its look and feel.” Which explains all the bottles on the table.
“Sarah’s Creek is a lifestyle brand,” he says. “That means consistency, affordability, style and, of course, quality.” As the winemaker, his sister-in-law, Marga Malherbe, is in charge of the quality aspect but also oversees the production and logistics side of the business.
“We mostly focus on the international market – the Far East, Belgium, Denmark, some islands off the African coast, Zambia and Botswana,” Gideon says. So not the usual suspects. The Chinese market is fairly traditional when it comes to buying wine and requires patience to develop, but there’s also potential. “If China really starts drinking wine, there won’t be enough wine in the whole world to supply them.”
The strategy for Sarah’s Creek’s is to target emerging markets where the demand is growing and curiosity favours New World brands. Social media and digital marketing are key to this approach, and that’s where Gideon’s wife, Yuliia Vilkova, comes in. Like him, she believes wine shouldn’t be stuffy and boring. “People should enjoy wine and be able to drink it whichever way they choose,” she says. It helps to enjoy the process and Yuliia often ropes in friends for photoshoots. It’s clear they’re having fun while wining and dining, but there’s also a strong aesthetic focus. “Wine should be fashion,” Yuliia says. “I’m always conscious of bringing our slogan, Playful by nature, elegant in taste, to life.”
Gideon is inspired by the runaway success of Chilean brand Casillero del Diablo. “They did it their way and it’s a different way. If you can make good-quality wine and pitch it right, you don’t need a winery,” he says. But unlike Casillero, Sarah’s Creek isn’t in the game of going big and dominating shelf space. “You need to put your feelers out and see where the volume goes so you don’t end up hitting a roof and jeopardising quality.”
The lockdown underlined the importance of the local market, provided you can get the value chain right, Gideon says. There’s still work to be done to make wine more palatable for casual and uninitiated consumers. Why can’t wine be enjoyed the same way as gin, brandy or whisky? The gap between wine and other categories is most noticeable in the various sections of a bottle store.
What makes a good brand? “Adaptability and the ability to innovate,” Gideon says. “Your fear should be not doing it, rather than worrying about what might happen if you do.” Fortune favours the brave.
Sarah’s Creek may be a small brand, but there’s a big sense of responsibility and some serious thought behind it. Once Sarah’s playful nature has captured your heart, it’s just a short leap for her elegant taste to capture your imagination.
Visit the Sarah’s Creek website and discover more about their wines.
Written by: Johannes Richter – Wynland.
Sarah’s Creek Wines