I really thought hell would freeze over before a bunch of rural Breedekloof winemakers would be eating raw fish at an Italian joint in Cape Town while talking about their Chenin Blanc wines. And while hell is still blazing, apparently, it was cold enough to freeze the scrotum on a brass monkey when the Breedekloof Makers – aforementioned group of Chenin Crusaders – hit town to offer their current wares. Raw slices of red roman – Italian style at Riva Restaurant – optional.
It is a feature of the wine world that some human DNA has become embedded in certain grape varieties. In South Africa, for example, it’s impossible to think of Chardonnay without seeing the formidable presence of Danie de Wet from De Wetshof before you. And who can pronounce “Pinotage” without mentioning Beyers Truter in the same breath?
This is the second year I ran into Amanda Barnes, British wine writer and judge based in Mendoza, Argentina, at the Michelangelo Wine & Spirits Awards. Between flights of vino I got her talking on what she’d been tasting.
Michelangelo Judge Amanda Barnes on Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz
Judging for this year’s Michelangelo International Wine & Spirit Awards kicked off in Stellenbosch with 30 judges from 16 countries making their way through the record number of 2 244 wines and spirits entered for this year. Visiting South Africa for her second stint as a Michelangelo judge, Argentina-based British wine writer and judge Amanda Barnes is one of the assessors of the two largest wine categories, namely Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz.
History is the thing, and amateur historian Lafras Huguenet translates the rare slave diary of Duferius of Angola from Portuguese.
Monday, 6 August 1792
Our keeper, Sluithol, cruised in at day-break to unlock us for what promises to be a helluva working week filled with tremendous excitement and thrilling activities. Nekka of Bengal and his team were out to prune the last of the Muscat vines, as Baas Hendrik said the Bible told him it was going to be an early spring. Rosario of Malacca had some labelling of the previous vintage to do. And Perfort of Ghana had to move his ass as our entries for this year’s Pompengracht Wine Competition have to be in by Wednesday.
The tuxedos are being aired and pearls polished, for this is now the official awards season in the South African wine industry. With the invitations flocking into my in-box with greater frequency than unsolicited photographs of Melania Trump and requests for trinchado recipes, I am reflecting on the status of wine shows. Again.
Two are standing out – one old and one new.
by Lafras Huguenet
Situated en route to my fishing abode at Blombos, I have stopped off at De Wetshof in Robertson since the mid-1990s to stock-up for the coming days’ pulling galjoen, mussel-cracker and Steenbras from the droning white waters on South Africa’s most beautiful piece of coast-line.
Each year my clients and I sit down and discuss the merits of entering wine competitions in general, and then go through the list of shows on offer before making a decision on which to enter. If any.
Things are becoming more selective in this regard. First, entries fees could see a fairly range-heavy producer forking out R30 000 on four local competitions. What for? Well, for pride and honour, that is one. And then for the marketing punt that serious competitions give wines.
As my mate Thys Louw from Diemersdal Estate likes to remind me when I talk to him about the new trends in wine marketing: “Nothing sells wine like a double gold sticker on the bottle. Period.”
This undeniable commercial interest embedded in wine competitions makes me wonder why many shows are so slack in following through. For most competitions, you enter and you pay. And if you are lucky at the judging you are invited to an awards ceremony – for which on most occasions you have to pay to attend. And then, you win a gong, and then you pay for the honour of being able to buy a few thousands stickers to decorate your bottles.
So besides the bling on the bottle and a bit of hype from your marketing division – if you have one – what’s in it for the producer, except bragging rights?
It has been interesting to note recent developments in the Michelangelo International Wine and Spirits Awards. They follow most of the usual rigmarole outlined above, but since last year have shown an almost obsessive eagerness to tie-up the competition with retailers and other outlets so as to “add value”.
First, to add further impetus for entrants by getting wine sellers to stock the Michelangelo winners, the producers of whom would take an increase in sales above the nice warm feeling that comes with winning a medal.
And secondly, by aligning the competition with accessible outlets, the consumer is now able to easily access ranges of awarded wines that generally remain in some lofty realm of unapproachability.
A few weeks back Checkers, the retail giant that knows what booze means to its bottom-line, announced that it is sourcing Michelangelo’s winning wines and spirits for stocking in its ubiquitous stores. And at the week-end SAA came on board, saying it is using the Michelangelo selection to choose wines for on-flight lists as well as in its lounges.
From the periphery this development is going to shake-up South African wine competitions, most who have rested on their laurels assuming wine producers deem the honour of recognition enough reason for entering a show.
Not any more it ain’t. Take it from us on the wine marketing side, the bang is going to have to bet bigger to get wineries spending the bucks on entries, parties and stickers.
New time for showtime, it is.
If there is ever to be a comprehensive study on truly successful South African wine brands, I’ll be ignoring the results if Vin de Constance does not appear at the very top. As they say in the classics, when it comes to this brand, what’s not to like?
Alan Parker’s magnificently terrifying film Midnight Express did about as much damage to the Turkish tourism industry as Patricia de Lille’s brain-dead managing of Cape Town’s water crisis has done in eradicating tourist-related income to the Western Cape summer past.
South Africa has a number of wine groupings each representing and promoting specific grape cultivars, the activities of whom vary from blossoming and busy to cold and dormant. On the blossoming side, the Merlot Forum is headed up by an energetic bunch of wine makers keen to underscore the fact that Merlot is not only South Africa’s most-consumed red cultivar, but also one deserving a reputation as a variety of quality.