For some reason Jancis Robinson thinks I’m very argumentative – or as she puts it more delicately in public: “Tim James is an old friend and never short of an opinion. I was therefore braced for his reaction to this article.” She’s introducing some correspondence between us about her article talking about the use, misuse and – mostly – sheer lack of use of named origins in South African wine. Here’s the link to her interesting article if you haven’t seen it already. Jancis has appended to it my argumentative/opinionated notes to her, with her responses, so I won’t go into them here. I’m not at all sure, actually, that she’s adequately answered my basic problem with what she wrote, which is to wonder why, if she values giving origins on wine labels, she objects to the South African rule that the information must be 100% true, rather than only 85% true as is the case is most countries. However.
But there were two aspects emerging from our discussion that I wanted to take forward and find some answers to:
1. South African wines have been allowed for a few years to declare themselves as coming from multiple origins; so a wine might be “Wine of Origin Swartland and Tulbagh”. But the European authorities will not allow such declarations on South African wine sold there. Yet Australian wine, for example can do it!
2. Jancis and I agreed (as will surely anyone with any sense of geography and terroir) that “Wine of Orgin Coastal”, which is one of the catch-all appellations she thinks is vastly overused, is a nonsensical one. A wine from deeply inland Tulbagh can declare itself WO Coastal, but a wine made a stone’s throw from the sea in the Walker Bay District cannot do the same! Something a bit askew here, surely?
I turned to the ever-helpful André Matthee, Director of Regulatory Services at the Wine and Spirit Board. Not surprisingly, it turns out that he was very well aware of the international anomaly, and says: “This issue has been discussed in depth with the EU during ongoing bilateral negotiations and remains on the table for resolution. The fact that indication of more than one origin is allowed for Australia and other countries has featured prominently in our government’s submissions, also as part of the WTO’s (World Trade Organisation) MFN (most favoured nation) principle.” So, watch this space. Perhaps.
I asked André if there is any discussion about the possibility of re-grouping the districts and wards into more sensible regions. Yes, he said: “We have just had a first report from our demarcation committee in this regard.” But he wasn’t going to be much less cagey than that – but pointed out that any changes would have far-reaching implications “and will require extensive consultations”. Which is a bit of a pity – “extensive consultations” with the Board can sometimes take a very long time to reach a satisfactory decision, especially if the big boys (who are the ones that at present, I think, make most use of “WO Coastal”) don’t want any change. So watch this space too – but not holding your breath.
Incidentally, if you want to learn a bit more about the generally excellent (I think, unargumentatively) Wine of Origin Scheme, with some colourful maps that show the different regions, districts and wards that the winelands are divided into, it is all there on the website of Sawis (SA Wine Industry Information and Systems – a section of the map showing districts is included above): click here for them. I did point out to André that there were some things out of date on the maps, and he says that updated maps will be there “by the 20th of this month at the latest”.