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Bottles of joy: Winemaker Bruce Jack’s perfect score

8 min read

As savvy and gifted as Bruce Jack is at turning humble grapes into delicious wines enjoyed right around the world, his business acumen and complete lack of pretence endear him and his stellar range of wines to everyone who’s sampled the fruits of his labour or had the privilege of spending time with him.

Besides his passion for fine winemaking, Bruce’s late mother instilled in him a love of music, and all things creative, something that plays out in every aspect of the wines that carry his name.

Bruce Jack Wines: Attention to detail inside and out

Bruce Jack Wines’ promise of making little bottles of joy begins in the cellar and carries through to when a wine is decanted.

One just needs to look at his beautiful, carefully considered wine labels and overall packaging that hold his ever-expanding range of enticing and equally palatable possibilities, to realise that attention to every detail, inside and out, is all meticulously measured and equally spirited.

Image: Supplied

Of wine and song

Regarding the connected worlds of music and wine, Bruce insists it’s not a new phenomenon.

“In some ways, the two were once even closer than they are now,” he points out. “There is talk about Sumerian winemaking, and its relationship with music, that goes back 8000 years.”

That said, Bruce has also always been most curious about a consumer’s relationship and connection with wine, so much of which continues to inform what he and Bruce Jack Wines do.

“I think that’s played a big part in our success because of that approach. Being customer-focused doesn’t mean you lack integrity, or that you’re less of an artist, that’s not what it’s about at all. If anything, it’s a less egotistical way of going about things.”

Going back to the not too distant past, Bruce reminisces about music emporiums of old, and the vast number of options intended to surprise and delight within the now rarely seen CD or humble analogue vinyl record.

“I remember thinking, when you walked into a CD shop there were just racks and racks of music on offer, all vying for your attention. What struck me was that everything, no matter how different, was all sold in the same shape and size package, just like wine.”

Bruce Jack

“So, you would walk in and there are all these ‘artists’, creating different ‘artworks’, just as you find in wine, where it almost all comes in the same sized and shaped bottle, I mean it’s just crazy! Why hasn’t someone gone out and pioneered a 13-pack wine case or made a 500-millilitre bottle a global success?”

Add to that the idea that simply because you have a wider variety and offering, that doesn’t necessarily mean producers are making money in the wine industry. 

ALSO READ: More Pink Floyd than Purcell: Klein Constantia’s Matt Day makes grapes sing

Spoilt for choice 

The same analogy applies to prolific musicians. Just because they are ever-present, chart-wise doesn’t make them financially successful. “There’s still a consolidation of consumers’ preferences and a lot of that happens through the portal they choose to make their purchase,” Bruce points out.

“If you’re buying your music through Apple; or buying your wine through a supermarket, that channel exists because, while there are musos, like there are petrolheads and wine-nerds, they make up a very small portion of what makes businesses tick.

“So, what you have are time-poor consumers, who need other people to make decisions for them; and that’s why you have algorithms with the likes of Spotify which curate your playlist on your behalf, or wine buyers for wine shops and supermarkets.”

To that end, there are a growing number of people who are happy to not have to search for new music themselves. Now, all the wine industry needs to figure out is how to resuscitate and re-imagine old-school wine clubs and tastings, considering the no less curious and willing wine consumers are out there and, arguably, willing to embrace a not too different, viticulturally informed, process.

“I remember thinking, how does one stand out, as a musician, when everything is sold through these megastores, all in the same container?” Bruce questions. “That question has informed how I tackle what we do in the wine world, if only because there are so many similarities between the two.”

Connecting with the consumer

Add to the power of live performance, community when musicians get to take their songs to a crowd. “Artists can get notoriety by communicating with the end consumer about their music,” he adds.

“That was a big lesson for me, early on, that you have to talk to the end consumer. I think another reason the new Bruce Jack brand has been successful, the fastest growing South African brand now, having sold more than three million bottles since our 2019 debut, is because we collaborate in joint ventures with the best grape growers.

“In South Africa it is with uniWines (based in Rawsonville) and we have similar setups in Chile and Spain. These collaborations give us access to their best grapes and we, in turn, make wine at a globally palatable price.”

Finding his groove

Bruce grew up in and around music. Both he and his sister were put through their different instruments to see which they’d respectively warm to. “I landed up playing eight – none particularly well,” Bruce recalls.

Of them all, the small trumpet or cornet won the day.

“I loved it,” he adds, “if only because you can make a lot of noise with it.”

Just how Bruce found himself in Spain making wine was through his now late mother, Elspeth Jack, a musical prodigy, having matriculated at the age of 15 with Grade 8 Royal Schools of Music certification for four different instruments, as well as later becoming a celebrated and acclaimed author of African History and masters graduate, all by the age of 24! Her book was republished an incredible 17 times and used in English Catholic grammar schools for about 30 years.

After that, she morphed into the world of flamenco, and that was an interesting pairing because it was a beautiful collision of training and passion.

“That free-wheeling, fiercely independent spirit, anti-establishment side of her was freed within the genre,” Bruce deliberates.

“She emersed herself in Spain. She taught herself Spanish. She went and studied in Seville, for a year, with my sister in tow. When she came back, she was proficient, because she was such an amazing musician, and brought back the cooking style too, so I was emersed in everything España.”

Bruce got into flamenco and was also fascinated by its history.

“As a kid I was obsessed with pirates and privateers and loved what I thought of as the pirate-like element of flamenco philosophy. In a world of rules created to subjugate certain classes and protect the mainstream, flamenco is the passionate voice of a fiercely independent culture – almost an alternate reality. We need more of that philosophy these days,” he asserts.

In the early 1990s, the Jacks would invite the flamenco community of Cape Town to the family farm, where throughout any given weekend, music was played, wine was imbibed, in celebration of this expressive genre. “She put an old wooden barn door down on the floor for the dancers to dance on. It was incredible,” Bruce fondly recalls.

Bruce Jack’s fling with Spain

Bruce Jack. Image: Supplied

Fast-forward to 2005 – that was when Bruce received an offer to make wine in Spain.

“You can’t believe how exciting that invitation was for me,” he reminisces. “It was full-circle for me, if only because I knew so much about Spain by that point. So many interesting stories, things like Iberian Jewish vocal music, or Sephardic music, for example, was a passion of my mom’s. I did a project on it when I was at school.

“So, sitting around a table with our partner, in Catalonia, I guy called Pepe Fuster, was remarkable. Fuster is a Jewish name, although they are staunch Catholic since 1492, when the Jews were given the ultimatum, either convert or we kill you. Many surnames remained of course. So, there I was, sitting around talking to Pepe’s father about the ancient Sephardic music traditions of Iberia, and they couldn’t believe a farmer from the southern tip of Africa knew these things, or was even interested in them.

“I think when you make wine, anywhere in the world, outside of your home country, your points of reference, your anchors, are different. You can’t just talk about biltong and rugby. That only gets you so far. You need to immerse yourself in the history, the food and the culture of another country before you can interpret what the grapes want to be.”

When you get the opportunity to travel overseas and talk music, whether it’s what’s popular on the radio with the local cellar hands, to sitting around the table and knowing the music history, gives you an inside track with people. “People take you seriously, on a level that you wouldn’t otherwise enjoy,” Bruce concurs.

“So, if you have an appreciation for a culture, whose voice is always music, and a deep sense of what’s important to their culture, you have a chance of making some decent wine.”

That level of authenticity and passion is what shines through, on every level of what Bruce Jack and by direct association, Bruce Jack Wines do and live by.

Seeing that level of cultural investment, which commercially was never the intention, but no less real, yet it endeared him a country and one man’s mission to spread the gospel according to Mother Nature’s intoxication intent.

All access

The one thing that Bruce Jack Wines does, that other big brands don’t always get right, is they’ve communicated with the end consumer, from day one. “It’s an integral part of how we go about our business,” Bruce confirms.

“A lesson I learned from Raymond Ackerman, is that an upset customer is a perfect opportunity to make them a customer for life. [Raymond] spent huge amounts of time focusing on people’s complaints. If anyone invests the time to complain, whether they are right or wrong, they are invested, and that needs to be acknowledged and rewarded.”

Say what you will, at its core, Bruce Jack, and the Wines add-on, is anything but disingenuous, he, under his brand, will continue to be challenged but will always rise above it all because of integrity that circumvents gracious pop culture hugs, all while tipping his hat to the committed masters of which he is one.

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