Siobhan Thompson was named Chief Executive Officer of Wines of South Africa last November. A long time marketer to consumers in the drinks and wine industry, it’s Thompson’s modus operandi to get in the field and visit the markets that WOSA producers export to, including Canada, which is why I had lunch with her in Toronto this week. (Full disclosure: WOSA is a long-standing Good Food Fighter, and she bought me lunch!) My first question for Thompson, who is friendly and open in the African no nonsense way, was why on earth she would leave a successful marketing career at drinks giant Distell to head up a consortium whose membership includes everything from bulk producers to biodynamic boutique wineries like Reyneke? She laughed and said, “I have always had a passion for wine and I thought I could make a difference for South African wines by applying my knowledge of international markets.”
Thompson began her career in consumer research and sees much of the challenge of her job is to get wine drinkers in countries like Canada to be aware of South African wines and the place where they come from. She explained, “South African wine is everything we encompass as a culture, if we welcome you into our world, which is warm and friendly, you’ll get hooked.” She added, “The first foundation is ‘what is South Africa?’, once we can say ‘this is where we are, we can explain why we’re unique, and why South African wines are as much part of the Old World as New World.” Thompson thinks the best way to convince people to drink more South African wine is to get them to come to South Africa, but short of that she’s working on ways to introduce consumers to her culture, like holding braai (aka South African BBQ) festivals in the United States.
Much of that job of welcoming and introducing, as Thompson sees it, is telling stories. “Brand building is story telling, ” she said, adding that she sees her job as trying to find a balance between the artistry and creativity of South Africa’s wine makers and the realities of global marketing on a tight budget. The best news, as Thompson sees it, is that while she’s working out the nuts and bolts of launching campaigns in markets around the world, her wine makers continue to focus on quality: “We’re showing the world we can produce top wines.”
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