Competitions Show Wine Industry the Write Stuff

Just in-case you thought otherwise, wine-writing is not as engagingly gratifying and pleasure-filled a profession as it would appear. Take the delivery of all those complimentary tasting samples, for example. Why do the winery couriers always ring one’s doorbell just as you are in the middle of delicate contractual negotiations with that paranoid editor so petrified at the prospect of losing your free-lance writing services?

Talking of telephone calls: in which other profession is one subjected to telephone calls from those pesky PR types who want to know when you will be publishing a piece on the riveting smoked game-bird and Pinot Noir event you attended? Not to mention having to listen to lengthy PR pitches, even if it is as potentially engaging as being asked to do a story about a winemaker who enjoys fishing for galjoen from the rocks on the windswept southern Cape coast with a rod he inherited from his grandfather, also wine man.

Then there are deadlines, the logistical nightmare of parking at media wine events in the city as well as evading the traffic police when driving back from a function in the winelands knowing you have gone over the legal limit in pursuit of journalistic excellence of the vinous kind.

It just ain’t easy, no matter how much fun it may appear. That’s the way it goes with professions seemingly filled with endless pleasure. Just look at my friend Natie Dijkstra. Highly qualified at UCT, he ended-up as masseur to the Swedish women’s beach volley-ball team and picked up a rash bad enough to require plastic surgery as well as three knuckle-implants.

Wine-writing does, however, have a few marvellous benefits. If you listen attentively during those four wine events a week, a lot can be learned about this intriguing subject. It is also an industry employing engaging personalities and great characters, communication with whom brings out the human side in us all.

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South African wine-writers, especially, are blessed to be within striking distance of the most spectacularly scenic winelands in the world and are welcomed by accommodating winery owners whenever the occasion calls.

Then there are the competitions for wine-writers. Am I correct in saying that with three competitions awarding top-notch wine-writing South Africa leads the way in this field?

So, not only is one paid for your work and enjoy many perks, but there is also the chance to enter your writing into a competition with the chance of obtaining recognition as well as winning a bit of cash.

The two main competitions are the Du Toitskloof and Franschhoek Literary Festival Wine Writer prizes. And the current format of both are the result of, well, a bit of competition.

The Franschhoek prize has been the longest running, but had limits in that it excluded a number of journalists as entries for this competition were confined to pre-published pieces. However, with many wine-columns having been reduced to nothing more than consumer snippets, the potential offering of substantially worded entries was limited to media vehicles carrying articles, instead of pint-sized tasting notes of the kind most consume magazines carry due to space restrictions.

Du Toitskloof Winery from the Breedekloof changed all that. With foresight and marketing verve, this winery last year introduced its own competition and with a novel approach to boot. Here the playing field was made even with entrants required to submit articles written specifically for the competition covering a single topic. A brief, as it were.

The result of this competition, the inaugural one which was held last year, was not only a winning article – written by Tim James – but a set of narratives deemed topical and original enough to warrant publication in various printed and on-line media.

Taking a note from the Du Toitskloof book, Franschhoek has subsequently changed the format of its competition by allowing entrants to submit un-published pieces, including ones on any topic specifically written with the competition in mind. (More details here.)

To my mind the current initiative in the offering of wine competitions belongs to Du Toitskloof. Another relevant topic has been chosen for this year, namely the wine industry’s contribution to the Cape’s aesthetic profile thereby tapping into Cape Town’s Design Capital status.

This year’s Du Toitskloof Winery Wine Writer Competition, the winner of which will be announced in November, will once again give the industry a set of quality and relevant wine writing. Seeing no new books about the industry are being commissioned, articles such as these are crucial in creating topical commentary and analysis.

For we can tweet, facebook and pinterest to our hearts delight, the collection of a thousand well-written and perceptive words remains the best way to tell our industry’s story.

Fortunately we have the tellers to do it, and they should be given as much space as possible for their voices to be heard.

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