How Van Loveren became wine industry’s big hitter

IN THE FAMILY: The Four Cousins of Van Loveren – farmer Neil Retief, CEO Phillip Retief, winemaker Bussell Retief and farmer Hennie Retief
IN THE FAMILY: The Four Cousins of Van Loveren – farmer Neil Retief, CEO Phillip Retief, winemaker Bussell Retief and farmer Hennie Retief

From 500 cases of wine a year to 1.4-million — it’s taken the Retief family of Robertson three generations and 40 years, along with an innovative spirit and instinctive gut feel for the market, to build Van Loveren into a wine industry powerhouse.

They’re responsible for the formidable Four Cousins brand, the country’s top-selling bottled wine that’s sold in 60 countries; and, not content with that success, they spun the brand off into sparkling wine, fruity wine coolers, liqueurs, whisky, beer and even a restaurant.

At about 20 years old, Four Cousins is the youthful component of Van Loveren, the brainchild of the four cousins who make up the third generation and current custodians, while the main brand of Van Loveren celebrates four decades of winemaking in 2021 with a new look, a stylish contemporary take on the family roots of the brand.

The story starts in 1937, when Hennie Retief snr bought a farm in the Robertson valley and changed its rather undistinguished name of Goudmyn F to Van Loveren, naming it after his wife Jean van Zyl’s ancestor Christina van Loveren.

Hennie, and later his sons Wynand and Nico, made wine at Van Loveren from the start for the wholesale trade, taking the plunge to launch their own Van Loveren brand in 1980 with 500 cases of Premier Grand Cru — 100 of which were lost to the Laingsburg flood of 1981 when the Kogmanskloof river burst through the winery.

Wynand and Nico’s sons — Bussell, Neil, Phillip and Hennie — make up the third generation and they’ve brought an entrepreneurial, innovative spirit to the business, creating a wide-ranging product portfolio aimed at satisfying a diversity of consumer tastes.

Four Cousins in its big bottle made for sharing came about when they identified a consumer segment keen to try wine, but with a sweeter palate, and set about getting a new audience involved in wine and growing the consumer base.

They’ve met increasingly eco-conscious consumers with the Tangled Tree range and tapped into health consciousness with Van Loveren’s Almost Zero de-alcoholised wines (top seller in their category) and the Four Cousins Skinny low-alcohol, low-kilojoule wines.

The slowdown of lockdown created time to reconsider the Van Loveren brand and a realisation that the “main” Heritage range needed some fresh thinking, that the design didn’t properly reflect the quality of the contents.

“We want to position Van Loveren as a premium winery offering various tiers of wine suited to a range of different consumers.

The new look on the Heritage range brings in the ethos of family and our stories, and it better depicts the premium quality of the wines,” third-generation Phillip Retief said.

He’s the CEO of Van Loveren, while cousins Hennie and Neil are the farmers, and Bussell the winemaker.

The legacy of family, and the family spirit of the winery’s employees and work environment, an ethos of a shared vision and working for the collective good, provided the rationale for the new label design, based on the intertwined initials on the 1939 invitation to the wedding of Hennie Retief and Jean van Zyl.

The distinctive, elegant and contemporary look can be found across the main Van Loveren wine range, featuring most of the well-known cultivars and priced for good value at about R60-R80.

Meanwhile, the four cousins are focused on their role as “custodians of an opportunity”, building Van Loveren for the next generation of 10 cousins.

“We each have our moment in time to be custodians, and hopefully to improve and make it better for those who will come after us.

“It’s about everybody having a stake and thinking long-term.

“It’s about family — all those who live and work here with a shared, like-minded culture of working together for the good of all,” Phillip said.

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