When Sauvignon BlancSA made the Concours Come to Town

Besides being South Africa’s most popular wine, Sauvignon Blanc is fortunate in having arguably the most dynamic collective body from those representing the various grape cultivars grown in the country. Sauvignon Blanc SA is the name, and its status as a leading wine entity was once again underscored last year when – through tireless groundwork, diplomatic lobbying and a bit of traditional Cape wineland hustling – secured the rights to host this year’s Concours Mondial du Sauvignon, the world’s leading competition for international Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc-blended wines.

This 14th rendition of the major competition will see South Africa becoming the first country outside Europe to host the Concours du Sauvignon, also being the only truly international wine show held on local shores to date.

“Hosting an international competition of this nature began as a bit of a pipe-dream,” says RJ Botha, cellarmaster at Kleine Zalze Wines, chairman of Sauvignon Blanc SA and the one largely credited with persuading the Brussels-based organisers to give South Africa a shot.

“In the past the Concours du Sauvignon had exclusively been held in various European wine countries, and never in the so-called New World outside the traditional nations. About five years back myself and my management committee on Sauvignon Blanc SA began to ask ‘what if?’ A few members had been to Europe to take-up spots as judges in this competition. Their experiences of the Concours’s international gravitas and the manner in which it promotes the Sauvignon Blanc category in the country where it is held convinced me that hosting the event in South Africa, would underscore what Sauvignon Blanc SA is doing in promoting the variety as a jewel in the country’s wine crown.”

So began a lengthy process of inquiry and applying, with South Africa announced last year as the host of this year’s Concours Mondial du Sauvignon, which takes place from 13 to 17 March in Franschhoek.

Along with the excitement at hosting a global wine event of this nature, came a number of challenges, mostly logistic. Over 1 000 individual Sauvignon wines entered into the competition from 23 countries around the world had to be shipped to the Cape, with 35 expert wine judges from Europe, the USA and Canada brought in to scrutinise the wines.

According to Quentin Havaux, Director of Concours Mondial du Sauvignon, not only will Sauvignon Blanc from South Africa be showcased through this prestigious competition, but also the country itself. “By touring to different countries, visibility is enhanced both for the competition and medal-winning wines,” he says.

“The choice of host country does not occur on a random basis, as organisers we target growth markets, both for production and the consumption of wine,” explains Havaux. “After 14 years in Europe, South Africa as first-choice host region was obvious as there is a clear dynamic in improving the production of Sauvignon Blanc in the country.”

At the competition gold and silver medals are awarded to the best competing entries, as well as special trophies to entries achieving highest scores in the categories of dry unoaked Sauvignon, dry oak-aged Sauvignon, unoaked Sauvignon-based blends (at least 51% Sauvignon), and oak-aged Sauvignon-based blends (at least 51% Sauvignon).

Dr Caren Coetzee, an independent oenologist who is also on the management committee of Sauvignon Blanc SA has judged at three Concours du Sauvignon competitions, namely in France, Italy and Portugal, and says that the competition conforms to the most rigorous international wine judging standards.

“Judges use the 100pt scale for scoring each wine, and in the Concours competitions I judged the country of origin of the various wines poured for the tasting flights were not revealed to the tasters, making the process of judging even more intriguing” she said.

“The whole process is extremely focussed with judging panels only having to work through four flights of between eight and 12 wines per day. This allows you time to truly pay attention to the content of the glass before you, enabling thorough assessment. It is all extremely professionally run and committed to asserting the depth and breadth of Sauvignon Blanc wines and blends thereof. What’s more, wine producers entering the competition receive a detailed report on the judges’ findings on their wines, something which is of enormous benefit to wineries wishing to know how independent voices see the results from their vineyards and wine-making vision.”

But for judges of Concours du Sauvignon, it is not all work and no play. “The competition provides an opportunity for the host country to expose the international judges to your local wine industry, and this is one of the major benefits for hosting Concours du Sauvignon,” she says.

RJ Botha, head of Sauvignon BlancSA.

“Besides the rigours of wine judging, the influential wine people coming to South Africa from all over the world for this event will have the opportunity of tasting our wines, visiting the winelands and experiencing the hospitality and spirit of Cape Sauvignon Blanc producers,” she says. “There is a lot of wine-related social action, and all is great fun as well as providing amazing networking opportunities between wine-related people. Coupled with the international media exposure Concours du Sauvignon attracts, the hosting of this major competition is set to also be a tremendous ambassador for South African Sauvignon Blanc and our wine industry as a whole.”

Botha says that he and fellow producers of South African Sauvignon Blanc look forward to showing the Concours du Sauvignon international judges and organisers what Cape Sauvignon Blanc is about and how committed local wineries and winemakers are to this famous white wine.

“There is nothing like walking the vineyards, seeing the landscapes and conversing with the locals to truly understand the soul of a wine country,” says Botha. “Sauvignon Blanc SA is thus looking forward to showing the international wine community that South Africa is a premier producer of Sauvignon Blanc as well as being one of the most intriguing and exciting wine countries in the world. The success of a wine country in the international marketplace depends on your image in the global wine space, and by hosting Concours du Sauvignon we aim to underscore South Africa as one of the world’s leading wine nations.”

Another case of the country’s wine brothers and sisters doing it by themselves.

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