Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up in the countryside. I was born in Laingsburg and completed primary school in the small town of Vredendal. We were only four children in my grade in Bakleiplaas Primary.
I matriculated from Boland Landbouskool in Paarl and then studied winemaking.
I love being active and was a keen rugby player. I played for Western Province in 1985 and 1986. Today I keep fit thanks to mountain-biking and really enjoy playing golf.
How did you become an entrepreneur?
I first got excited about the opportunities out there when I joined my late father-in-law, Dr Anton Rupert, in 1999 in developing a wine distribution company for the family farms.
We realised that, although the quality of our wine product was important, we had to get the wine into the market.
We then focused on establishing an international distribution network – the start of our involvement in Meridian Wine Merchants.
What made you decide to do that?
While it is great to be passionate about wine and wine-making, it is important to sell it too. Your brand is only as strong as your distribution.
What was the gap you saw in the market?
We didn’t have many dedicated wine distributors in South Africa.
Tell us more about the company?
Under the umbrella of the services company, Historic Wine of the Cape, we have three brands.
The Franschhoek-based wine estates, La Motte and Leopard’s Leap and then also L’Huguenot brand that is used in Asia.
La Motte was bought by Dr Rupert in 1970 and now belongs to his daughter - my wife - Hanneli Rupert-Koegelenberg. I am the CEO.
La Motte is well-known for its wines, passion for culture and heritage.
The Pierneef à La Motte restaurant on the estate was nominated as one of the top 10 restaurants in SA in the 2013 DStv Eat Out Awards.
Leopard’s Leap was established at the turn of the century by myself and my late father-in-law. Wines under this label are distributed in more than 40 countries.
The recent addition of a family-friendly offering at Leopard’s Leap Family Vineyards has developed into a relaxed food and wine experience.
L’Huguenot brand is the product of a joint venture between myself and Perfect China, called Perfect Wines of South Africa.
Not only are we the biggest exporter of South African wine to China, but we also initiated the first Chinese investment in the South African winelands when Perfect China bought the wine cellar and vineyards at Val de Vie in 2013.
How do you measure success?
I like to measure success in the growth of the brand. It is not only the sales figures of the product, but also the international brand perception.
Our wine tourism experiences are an integral part of our brands and I like to see the international acknowledgement we have received for the wine tourism offerings as an indication that we are on the right track.
La Motte was named as the South African winner of the Great Wine Capitals of the World’s Best of Wine Tourism competition for two consecutive years.
Both La Motte and Leopard’s Leap have been awarded as the Best Food and Wine Matching Experience in Drink’s International Wine Tourism Awards.
What are the challenges?
For me the challenges are on various levels. With regard to the product, the challenge is to offer quality that is internationally competitive and to have a consistent style – a style associated with your brand.
In the wine industry, you need infrastructure and facilities and that requires investment.
And then there is distribution. To have your product available internationally, you need to deal with diverse cultures, language challenges and more.
Working in an environment with fluctuating exchange rates can of course be to your advantage, but to manage it correctly is also a challenge.
In the changing communication landscape social media is instant and turns everyone into a journalist.
How do you handle challenges?
It is important to embrace change.
We took on the new media landscape and we are dedicated to communicating via the social media channels. I have a blog, HeinonWine and I am active on Twitter – and so are our brands.
When it comes to distribution, we have a unique approach for every country.
In some countries we work with joint ventures, in others we use the platform of agents.
It is really important not only to sell to an agent. Use their platform, but be involved in the process – until you get to the end consumer.
How do you fund the business?
You need to invest initially and then the goal is of course to make profit that can again be applied.
What lessons have you learnt?
For me, the most important lesson has been to be adaptable. Be adaptable with how you do things, not with what you do.
Principles, philosophy and quality standards are fixed. The practices do, however, need to adapt along with the environment.
As technology and communication are changing, we need to adapt and change with them.
Ten years ago the focus was on product and you promoted your product by using expert opinions.
These days you have to focus on the customer. With social media platforms and new media, customers are promoting your brand through theirs.
Customers do not only want product, but also the experience around the product.
What advice would you have for entrepreneurs?
Be adaptable, be open to the changing business landscape, keep an eye on trends and see yourself within a bigger picture.
Put South Africa and Africa in context as far as your business and opportunities for entrepreneurs are concerned.
In South Africa we have many opportunities for entrepreneurs, but we are not creating the environment for them to be successful.
There needs to be the perception of opportunity and there needs to be positive energy.
Then you can have a “can-do” attitude. A negative environment kills the opportunity and energy needed by entrepreneurs.
South Africa has exceptional universities and developed infrastructure, we can be the entrepreneurial platform for Africa.
What are your future plans?
Every day brings new opportunities and it is important to recognise them.
You will not recognise them if you are busy solving problems. Anything is possible.
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