An Open Letter to the Organisers of the SA Wine Writers Award
There are countless reasons why people write, and have been writing for centuries. Simply too many reasons to mention and a figure only surpassed by the different types of written communication taking place every second of each minute and every hour of each day.
Wine writing probably falls under the broad banner of topical journalism. Here a number of people practise a form of writing I can only describe as driven by unique reasons for putting finger to keyboard.
For wine is no easy topic to write on. Yes, wine is a fantastically intriguing subject due to the diversity of product source, global cultural influences and colourful history. But to craft an aspect that might be of fascination and wonderment to the writer into a few hundred words digestible to a reader who more than likely only has a cursory interest in wine GÇô or none at all GÇô is not easy.
As a former reviewer of rock music, literature, drama and especially film, I can say that discussing wine is far more challenging than aforementioned art forms. Here, your subject matter just lies there in a glass looking at you, waiting for your nose and palate to inspire one to turn analysis, thought and interpretation into a few hundred words. For the wine writer there are no pretty actresses, energetic guitar riffs or poetically enunciated words for use as hooks to get a review, analysis, composition or essay GÇ£goingGÇ¥.
To the doubting uninitiated, try it some time.
However, wine writers are willing to take up this challenge. Mostly for pitiful freelance writing rates, or GÇô as is ever-increasingly the case – in the blogosphere for no remuneration at all.
Why then do they embark on this labour where effort surpasses reward?
Because wine writers do it out of commitment, passion and love of their field. As Maya Angelou said: GÇ£A bird doesnGÇÖt sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.GÇ¥
I will therefore even run the risk of sounding excessively sentimental and monastic by saying wine writers also ply their trade because they deem the song worth hearing. They wish to share their interest and wonderment with readers whom they truly hope will show an even cursory fascination in the product of the vine, and possibly lead said-áaudience members-áto become as seduced by the noble product of the vine as the writers themselves are.
There is reward in the writing process, too. For here wine writers discover more about their love of wine and their relationship with and connection to it.
So, Literary Festival Organisers and Porcupine Ridge sponsors, these are the people who enter your SA Wine Writers Award. Not a bunch of hacks churning out daily stories in salaried news-desk positions on instruction of the day editor. Wine writers write out of passion, often for no reimbursement and at great personal expense, because they want to share their world.
By initiating the Wine Writers Award, the Franschhoek literary and wine communities wished to commend those writing about this world where wine and the written word are deemed synonymous. A wine sponsor, Porcupine Ridge, climbed on board, and things were peachy. Foremost wine writers were identified and the recognition they received through all this was welcomed by their peers and the industry as a whole.
Everybody loves a winner, and these writing awards communicated a worthy willingness to add to the narrative of wine communication as well as inspiring wine writers to write more, write better and become involved in this competition.
Franschhoek and the sponsors had led the way in this. And everybody was grateful.
Now the work of the past four years has been undone by a decision not to award the prize as not one of the 20 entries was deemed to be of a worthy standard.
Of course it is the organisersGÇÖ right to do this. Just as it is the right of a referee to walk away from a rugby match because he does not like the style the two teams are playing.
We will never know the real reason. But judging by the degree of embarrassment it has caused the organisers of the competition, as well as the sponsors Porcupine Ridge, the reason not to make an award must have been a forceful one as both Franschhoek and the relevant wine brand would obviously have been aware of the reputational damage this step would incur. And boy, has it.
I, however, refuse to believe that there were no worthy entries. I refuse to believe that out of the thousands of words penned by the committed, knowledgeable and impassioned entrants there were none that rose above the surface upon which John Maytham, Christopher Hope and that Canadian-somebody paddled.
I simply refuse to believe that the judges and organisers understand wine writers or wine writing.
Because those who understand, would not commit such and insult nor such a blatant lie.