Carbon sequestration is a future challenge for SA wine. Greenhouse gas CO2 is a byproduct of fermenting grapes and transport of product, often between continents, has an associated carbon cost. Backsberg in Paarl was one of the first producers to realize the economic and ethical necessity of producing carbon neutral wine and is doing so by planting trees in the dusty village of Klapmuts.
When the bureaucrats of Brussels get round to legislating carbon sequestration for exports to the EU, SA’s largest wine producer, Distell, will have a simple solution from an unlikely source. To make up for the greenhouse gases produced by all those gassy tanks of Fleur du Cap Sauvignon Blanc and burping barrels of bubbling Nederburg Pinotage and the carbon cost of transport, Distell can simply plant a few more marula trees in the Northern Province, along with some fokolblaare and knobthorns for biodiversity. In addition to being attractive and shade-giving carbon sinks, marulas are part of the quintessential African landscape and all those yellow marula berries will find a lucrative home in Amarula, a liqueur made from marula mampoer and cream.
With volumes now exceeding 8 million litres and exported to over 100 countries and with an annual growth rate of 17%, Amarula is an international success story. Still barely 10% of the volumes of category leader Bailey’s Irish Cream, there is plenty of blue sky for a product brand guru Jeremy Sampson estimates is more valuable than parent Distell. As Sampson noted some years ago “Distell has a current market capitalization of just over R10 billion and could probably sell Amarula for more than everything else put together. After all, Malibu (the old Coco Rico) was sold for R6.5 billion back in 2002.”
While Amarula is an undoubted moneyspinner for Distell as the company’s annual report confirms, it also provides employment to 60 000 subsistence farmers in one of the poorest regions of the country. With booming sales, there is clearly scope to expand the present 200 ton annual harvest from the trees growing within 200 Km of Hoedspruit where the factory for producing maroela pulp is located.
Amarula is the leading cream liqueur in Canada, Brazil (where it has 90% of the market) and Germany and as Amarula global business development manager Siobhan Thompson pointed out “we haven’t yet scratched the surface in India and China” although with the well-known Chinese antipathy to dairy thanks to a genetic predisposition to lactose intolerance, the latter may be quite a challenge indeed – perhaps a soya milk version could do the trick?
In addition to being a handy carbon sink and source of berries that elephants, baboons and humans find simply irresistible, marula trees have other uses stretching from marriage counseling (squabbling couples are tied to the tree of an evening and endure as much bushveld wildlife as it takes to resolve the dispute before they are released) to a source of nourishing skin cream, plus an aphrodisiac more powerful than powdered rhino horn with tea made from the bark of a male and female tree influencing the sex of a baby.
But perhaps the tree’s most golden egg is the allure of Africa. Continent of origin for homo sapiens, Amarula is mother’s milk for the world – a marketing position that is hard to beat.