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John Smit and international rugby stars launch new brandy

World cup winning captain, John Smit and celebrity photographer, Marc Gregory at work in the studio. Picture: Marc Gregory.

World cup winning captain, John Smit and celebrity photographer, Marc Gregory at work in the studio. Picture: Marc Gregory.

Published Oct 27, 2023


Johannesburg - Rugby World Cup winning Springbok captain John Smit will forever be seen as a true icon of rugby. And his new business venture is looking to leverage this in a very unique way. He recently launched Avante, a proudly Cape-made VSOP brandy. It certainly looks the part and is enjoying positive initial reviews as consumers get a first taste of it this month. But what was the inspiration behind creating such a product, and why is this something a rugby legend would get behind?

Celebrity investments in the alcohol space are on the rise and the big names aren’t just paying lip service to brands anymore. They are now physically building them.

Evergreen actor George Clooney is a great example of this when he went all in on his Casamigos Tequila brand. There’s always been great tequilas on the market, but Clooney’s influence on the brand made it more than just the liquid in the bottle. The brand mimicked his personality, the premium nature of his personal brand, and with that, made it a more interesting product for customers to get behind.

Ryan Reynolds buying Aviation Gin was another telling example of how the personality of a celebrity can give tangible personality to a product. Aviation is now seen as funny, edgy, classy without being pretentious, all things you associate with Ryan Reynolds himself.

John Smit and international rugby stars launch new brandy. Supplied image.

So this brings us to Avante. Both Casamigos and Aviation were high quality products before they became celebrity brands. The first order of business for Smit was to make sure the brandy was top notch. It’s a well made Cape potstill brandy distilled from the finest quality wine, and blended in cognac style to provide something unique as a product.

From here he handpicked 14 other initial investors who are past and present international rugby stars, something which got the ball rolling for this to become the “spirit of the game”.

Avante means to move forward with purpose, something all successful rugby players have had to do in their careers. It’s a sport where there is literally nowhere to hide, and Smit and his teammates in the business reflect on this often.

“Looking back on my career, the big games naturally make up most of the memories. But the shared adversity of facing challenges with fellow and opposing players, and moving forward with them was always what brought us together after the whistle,” Smit said.

The Avante brand is an encapsulation of this, with the likes of All Black Justin Marshall, Wallaby George Gregan and familiar South African faces Makazole Mapimpi, Jean de Villiers and Butch James to name just a few of this “starting XV”.

These players play a massive role as purchasing Avante makes you eligible for the “Avante Gaurd”. The brand’s member platform brings fans/customers closer to these players via virtual and in person events.

Weekly insights around major rugby talking points via their social media posts and weekly member newsletter. Plus there are ongoing match day experience giveaways and unique merch competitions.

Where the previously mentioned Casamigos and Aviation brands played to their strengths of major Hollywood celebrity personality, Smit and his team are then playing to their strengths of providing genuine fan engagement.

With the ever evolving sports and media landscape, fans/customers are seeking and expecting greater engagement with their favourite players, teams and of course brands. So in many ways acknowledging this and learning from the initial celebrity investors making waves in recent years, Avante really is moving forward with a whole lot of fire power in this space.

Another key aspect of the Avante brand is to support those who are fighting unique challenges off the field. Initial proceeds for example are being focused on young rugby player Caylen Venter, who is fighting a rare form of cancer which is threatening to end his rugby dreams. Further charitable aims are to support rugby development on a broader scale, along with assisting those transitioning away from a career on the field.

To purchase a bottle of Avante, join the Avante Guarde and be a part of this exciting brand, you can visit your nearest Norman Goodfellows outlet across South Africa. Or pick up a bottle from their online store.

Marc Gregory is a celebrity photographer and his work has appeared on the IOL NL (Mandela Day Art piece with Cotton-On) , Sunday Times, News24 and Huffington Post and have published 2 books, including The Dreamers and In Good Company which featured South African icons, winning numerous awards for its social impact.

“The experience of working with John in the studio felt like a one-on-one ruck at first as we both tried to control the outcome of the perfect shot - once a captain, always a captain. After an hour of shooting, we were both warmed up and felt relaxed and that’s when the magic happened. A close-up of John and an iconic photograph for the ages,” Gregory said.