THE BROTHERS KRIGE
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At Kanonkop, it is the spirit and presence of brothers Johann and Paul Krige that undoubtedly live through the wines.
As the custodians of Paul Sauer’s legacy, it is his grandsons who oversee the estate’s daily operations.
Despite a generous staff component in the vineyards and the winery, in the sales office and the busy wine-tasting venue, the buck stops with the Kriges.
For them, every bottle of wine bearing the Kanonkop label is more than a bottle of wine from the farm they own: it is a part of their being, something they, their grandfather and their parents have shaped into one of the world’s great wines.
Despite being 10 years younger, Paul was the first of the brothers to reside at Kanonkop.
In 1984, after studying at Elsenburg Agricultural Training Institute and after a promising rugby career was dashed by a brutal knee injury, Paul went to live and work on the farm.
Their father, Jannie, a former administrator of rugby at the University of Stellenbosch, had taken early retirement to manage Kanonkop with his wife, Mary, who had inherited the property from her father, Paul Sauer.
A career of courtrooms and corporate law offices did not appeal, and in 1981, Johann embarked on an MBA business degree, and after a stint as export marketing manager at the KWV, he joined the family business in 1990.
It was during the final stretch of Johann’s MBA degree, that the Krige family took the step that is today considered as arguably the single most important decision that led to Kanonkop’s current status: focus.
In the early 1980s, Kanonkop was, like most South African wine farms, trying to be everything to everybody, growing and making a real motley selection of wines: Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinotage; Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc; Pinot Noir and Rhine Riesling. 80% of the production was also still sold to SFW to be bottled under their own brands.
If Kanonkop was going to have a future as a premium wine estate, it would have to stick to what it was good at. The potential lay in red varieties: specifically Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinotage, as well as Merlot and Cabernet Franc. This was the turning point that changed the destiny of Kanonkop. The call was made simply as a result of the Kanonkop terroir.
The Krige family made a second major decision which would determine the destiny of Kanonkop and this concerned its relationship with SFW. And so, from the small 1986 harvest, Kanonkop stopped making wine for SFW and bottled every drop under its own label.
In 1986, Kanonkop became the first South African wine farm to sell wine futures, something which proved to be enormously successful in generating cash flow.
This was done by selling the wine to the customer while it was still in barrel, resulting in cash in hand to expand infrastructure, invest in new barrels and invigorate marketing and sales activities.
“We don’t have time for and are not inclined to airs and graces at Kanonkop. This is who we are: we are not just selling wine, we are selling a lifestyle. This is ours, and everybody is welcome.”
– Johann Krige