The vinification of a winner – Stellenbosch, The Wine. The People. The Stories.

The story of the development of the remarkable publication that claimed the Best Publication 2023 and the Best One-off Publication trophies is a tale every publication practitioner would read with interest. We appreciate the challenges, the sweat and grind, the emotions and the passion that goes into the process. In the end – the late nights, the grinding of teeth when clients change direction, the attention given to every single letter and pixel – is all worth it when the first box, containing the finished product, is opened in the studio.

SAPF has requested Tip Africa, the agency responsible for this publication, to share the inside story of the birth of Stellenbosch. The Wine. The People. The Stories. – a publication to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stellenbosch Wine Routes (SWR).  

The publication had some inherent challenges right from the outset. The initial timeline only made provision for six months’ production time. The entire process from briefing of writers to printing, including content generation, was premised upon that – a demanding, but not impossible task.

In preliminary talks SWR had with member estates, it was determined that at least 50 of the 102 wine estates would have to commit to supporting dedicated pages to make publication possible.

The concept for the book’s content was straightforward: the background story to the development of the wine routes, a description of the routes and some personal profiles in addition to wine estates showcased.

When it didn’t prove feasible to raise sufficient financial support in this way, a new funding model and an entirely new content strategy had to be developed later in the process. This new editorial approach led to a richer, more textured depiction of Stellenbosch and surrounding winelands.

To ensure a seamless narrative, the book was to be divided into three sections, starting with a more touristy approach to the experience of the five sub-routes, followed by a lively section on the interaction between past and present, capturing the vibey life of town and country, people, stories and experiences, and leading up to in-depth reflections on the industry. A change of pace was to be achieved by a judicious mixture of copy and gripping visuals, with both longer and shorter articles, and breathing spaces in-between. Thank you to Tip Africa for sharing this informative and breath-taking case-study!

An abbreviated timeline of the process:

31 March 2021

SWR  approached Tip Africa Publishing (Tip Africa) to discuss a proposed coffee-table book commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Stellenbosch Wine Routes. Tip Africa was asked to submit a quote for the production (content development, text editing, design and layout, proofreading, and printing) of the book.

Mike Ratcliffe, chairman of the SWR, stressed that he had a clean, modern look with minimal copy in mind.

The book would be structured around the five wine sub-routes, with the contributing wine estates featured on each route. Emile Joubert was hand-picked to write the history of the Stellenbosch Wine Routes. Additional chapters by invited writers were to provide information on the various cultivars and on sustainability in the industry.

Based on the discussions up to that point, SWR submitted a summary of the target market, the purpose of the publication and a basic page plan.

Target Market

1. People (locally and internationally) who appreciate wine and wine tourism, history and geography;

2. People interested to learn more about the Stellenbosch Wine Routes and the people who built it;

3. Local visitors who are able to explore the Stellenbosch Wine Routes repeatedly;

4. Potential tourists from abroad;

5. Keen wine drinkers who want to experience the wines of different estates;

6. A younger demographic eager for a variety of experiences.

Purpose of the Book

1.  To capture the development of the Stellenbosch Wine Routes as an extension of winemaking in Stellenbosch;

2. To introduce the SWR to a younger demographic;

3. To market the SWR to as wide an audience as possible;

4. To highlight the current achievements of the SWR and the potential inherent in new initiatives.

Key considerations

  • The divergent target market needed careful reflection to ensure that the expectations of every group would be met.
  • The purpose of the book was later broadened considerably as new sponsors such as the Stellenbosch Municipality, Stellenbosch University and other cultural and commercial concerns came on board.

11 April 2021

A proposal for content, a mock-up and a budget (based on 40 000 words, a limited number of photographic shoots, and a fixed number of maps) were submitted to the client.

Extracts from the proposal:

 “A commemorative publication will serve as a fitting tribute to those who shaped the routes and stimulated local and international interest. The proposed book will double up as a guidebook to visitors and a souvenir of their visit. In the final instance this publication will capture a piece of the Stellenbosch winelands history for posterity.

“The envisaged hard-cover coffee-table quality book of at least 256 pages on 150gsm matt art paper will adhere to the highest standards of production.” (See images below)

The possible delivery date for the book was determined as September 2021.  

June 2021

The initial funding model was discarded, and corporate donors expressed interest in coming on board.

Back to the drawing board regarding the content!

Following on various zoom meetings with the client, a one-page discussion paper was drawn up for extensive discussions. Extract from the working document:

“In line with Stellenbosch Wine Routes’ communications pillars of Leadership and Learning, Stellenbosch Wine Routes acknowledges that we are standing on the shoulders of giants and pioneers, but simultaneously celebrates the potential and opportunities of the next 50 years.

Communication pillars:

  • Heritage
    • Stellenbosch legends
    • Old vines
    • History – both wine and town
  • Leadership
    • Premiumisation
    • Sustainability (Porto protocol)
    • Trend-setting in terms of cuisine, hospitality and wine.
  • Learning
    • Stellenbosch University – global relevance and technical expertise.
    • Innovation
    • Worker training and development.

The various voices of Stellenbosch

“By incorporating a wide array of Stellenbosch voices, the book will be more inclusive, dynamic and exciting. Voices that can be considered vary from critics and influencers, as well as locals from vineyard workers, cellar door staff, waiters, students, academics, and sport stars.”

The draft editorial rationale document was fleshed out in further zoom meetings with the client who had the final say about topics and proposed writers. SWR felt strongly about the writers being acknowledged commentators on the various topics and representing different demographic groups. The tone of voice was discussed and on the advice of Tip Africa it was decided that the distinctive voices of the writers would be retained.

The preamble to the new editorial rationale read:

“This publication should be an irresistible invitation to the varied experiences and superb wines offered by the Stellenbosch Wine Routes.

“Instead of simply detailing events in chronological order, we propose that the book starts with a virtual experience of the five sub-routes. This is to be followed by a lively excursion into the evolution of winemaking in Stellenbosch, tracing the development of the Stellenbosch Wine Routes, and ending in an inspiring vision of the future.

The important dates in the development of the SWR (1971 and 2001/2) will be highlighted in various ways, including interviews with the principal movers and shakers. The book will shine a spotlight on all facets of the SWR – from the excellent wines to the gastronomic delights, natural beauty, cultural heritage and recreational activities offered by the estates. Powerful vignettes in sidebars will bring additional colour to the telling of the story and cross-reference important developments.”

July 2021

A page plan and a working document with topics, possible writers, number of words and deadlines were drawn up. The introduction to the working document read: 

A complete wine experience is essentially a combination of history, culture, nature and cuisine.

Briefing commenced and as the editorial submissions came in, they were sent to the SWR for consideration and then either sent for copy editing or referred back to the author for amending or expanding. The client also suggested additional stories and new writers had to be briefed.

More sponsors came on board, leading to an increased number of pages (280) and a revised budget for production costs (content creation, photographs, copy editing, proofreading). By mutual agreement the publication date was moved to 2022. As more contributions were requested in early 2022, the publication date became a moving target. In the interim, the designer started sourcing pictures – many of them from Tip Africa’s own photographic library. The photo/illustration folder contained 5 068 items, of which 495 made it into the book. A total of 88.9GB of pictures were considered (see attached image below).

During this time, contributions to the book were submitted to independent fact-checkers with a thorough knowledge of the town, the wine estates, and the winemaking industry.

This process took many months as the contributions had to be vetted by various individuals attached to the SWR. Once the stories had been approved and copy-edited, layout could commence. The finished layouts also had to be approved by the SWR before being proofread. In addition to the contracted proofreader, three senior Tip Africa editorial staff members undertook independent proofreading – a rigorous process to try and ensure faultless copy. A pageflipper enabled SWR to keep track digitally of all changes and the flow of the book as it started coming together.  (See image below.)

From April 2022 cover options were submitted to the client and the wording, images, colours, and logos went through various iterations.  On 22 August 2022 SWR signed off on a cover that went to print immediately. (See image below)

The initial idea was to use black Wibalin, a natural high-quality paper with a fabric-like texture. Cost considerations led to the designer creating a CMYK texture resembling Wibalin. For even more ‘touchable’ texture, two Pantone colours (white and gray) were used for the logo, plus a Spot UV + Soft Touch lamination. It wasn’t easy to explain the final look to the client as it could only be created by the actual printing process.

The text and endpapers went to print on 2September. Print management of the book was handled by the designer himself to ensure the highest quality of printing.

Insights gained:

  • In custom publishing you have to give careful consideration to all the needs of your client throughout the process. Your part is to understand deeply, be willing to change tack and to rise to the occasion with creative interpretations and solutions.
  • Never compromise on the following: dedication to quality, adaptability, commitment, and enjoyment of every step of the way, whether that be the creative phase or the less glamorous production aspects.