Diners’ Head on a Platter

The ubiquitous Platter Wine Guide has been thrust into the spotlight since last week’s announcement that Diners Club had taken over publication of the South African winelands most colourful telephone directory and winery GPS co-ordinate provider. Subsequently a few old Platter issues have surfaced, fuelled by reactionary commentary from its associate editor Tim James who is in dire need of a PR 101 Course. But more on that later.

Aforementioned issues have obviously centred around the Platter Guide’s misguided and dogged determination to stick to the procedure of sighted-tastings, an Orwellian concept perpetuating the maxim that before they are tasted, all wines are equal but some more equal than others. Despite having found themselves with egg on the faces when differently packaged wines of exactly the same source received vastly different ratings, the Platter work-ethic has remained sluggish, unable to put in the extra graft required to institute fair and objective blind-tastings.

Of course we all know the real reason for sticking to sighted-tastings – fear of failure. What will happen to Platter’s buddy-buddy system, for example, when a lowly co-op red blend out-stars an iconic wine from a blue-chip Stellenbosch property? Instead of foreseeing the opportunity of such exciting developments in rocking the status quo and their possible pioneering contribution to the South African vinous narrative, the Platter team just goes through their paces sighted, but with blinkers on.

How unfair is this? A senior judge admitted to me recently that two-and-half stars is a good score for a large co-op and if they get three they have made an extraordinary wine. Now I am sure Meerlust, Kanonkop and Rustenberg are judged to a different set of standards than those.

But, we are told by the Platter PR team, this is just a Guide for the consumer. Fine. But it is also a Guide which owes the South African wine industry something due to the extraordinary lengths producers go to support the publication logistically. And in this instance Platter has not been very supportive, in fact it has hamstrung many producers in causing them to lose contracts and orders to wines from other countries by sticking to the jaundiced view?+¦-+?+¡of penalising bigger producers from different regions with the pegging of lowly stars.

A corporate such as Diners Club will hopefully look at these and other issues, as this international organisation practises something the body behind Platter does not do, namely reputation management.

If you are serious about reputation management you don’t have your employees shooting their mouths off in public whenever they feel their toetsies have been stomped on. This has been the case to date whenever winemakers or commentators have dared question the Platter Guide. James and other tasters have, without the sanction of their superiors, wet their girdles at these critics by responding with their own individual opinions and passing them off as those of the Platter institution as a whole. From a PR point of view, this has been a disaster, not only presenting the brand as disorganised and confusingly cluttered but irking the wrath of producers on whose support the Platter Guide is dependent.

Having the associate editor of a wine industry publication supporting the recent violent?+¦-+?+¡ farmworkers strikes, for example, is totally?+¦-+?+¡ludicrous and the resulting damage done to the brand will be seen when the next round of Platter submissions are called for.

Although Diners Club has – as these corporates tend to do when taking over a new business – stated that it does not tend to rock the boat yet, I doubt an international organisation is going to allow the status quo whereby Platter brand communication is committed in such an un-orchestrated, reckless and unprofessional manner.

The country’s most popular wine Guide deserves better, and has deserved better for a long time.

Time to get out of Dodge folks?+¦-+?+¡ there’s a new sheriff in town.

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