There are significant challenges being mounted right now to the bizarrely fascinating place that Neil Pendock still clings on to in South African wine journalism.
I’ve just been to look at his Times blog this evening and noted quite a few thousand hits today – most, I day say, from people like myself interested to know whether there’s anything new there (no, nothing for four days now). For rumour has it that the powers that be have finally (after umpteen formal complaints against the Pendockian style of vicious attack) frozen it. Many people, clearly, are up to date with this story, and many (unlike me) will also have sought out what is, I believe, Pendock’s personal site, for which he has apparently been writing furiously (and, I have no doubt, as viciously as ever).
It’s five years at least (probably a few more than that) since I’ve written anything about Pendock. The favour has not been reciprocated – a stream of malice has flowed, though it has been merely sporadic of late. I was at one point nearly driven to abandon any involvement in SA wine by his continual attacks (it’s not nice, I promise you, to have someone pursuing you from a position of some prominence with crude and implacable viciousness). I could only continue by ignoring him, and consoling myself with knowing that his circle of admirers was irrevocably shrinking and that not fewer significant people were taking him seriously at all.
I was not always merely a recipient, I admit. For some time, many years back, I traded insults publicly. Rather stupidly, I even used my then column in Noseweek to respond and, only partly humorously, suggest that he was near to madness. (It’s a diagnosis I stick to!) But I later tried to achieve a ceasefire, and was told by the “honest broker” it was just not on. So I simply gave up mentioning him at all, hoping that he would reciprocate.
Which was naïve. He didn’t stop attacking. He never does, as many people know – ask WOSA, ask Platter, ask Tim Atkin, ask Jamie Goode (eminent Brits have not been excused); ask any number. At one point, after a particularly nasty campaign by him, I complained to his Sunday Times employers about his malice, misrepresentation and intellectual dishonesty. That didn’t get anywhere, which increased my contempt for Times Media. So I learnt to just ignore him, and observe with some satisfaction that more and more people came to see him as a bizarre, emotionally troubled (“narcissist” is a professional opinion I’ve heard expressed) and destructive character.
Not everyone, certainly. Somehow – Pendock can deploy personal charm, and his undoubtedly great intellect and showy but shallow erudition can be impelling – he has retained influence, though a small and waning one. Even after the Sunday Times abandoned him as their wine columnist, his Times blog attracted a lot of attention and this suggested to some that he remained significant.
What of that general blog appeal? An email I had yesterday from a thoughtful young winemaker said: “I have no idea who or what keeps him under the illusion that anyone cares for his opinion. Only reason why people actually read his posts is the same reason why people slow down to look at roadside accidents, there is something morbidly fascinating in seeing a trainwreck unfolding!”
So what’s happening now? Why am I writing this?
Well, Pendock the narcissist (or is it insecurity?) has a history of violent reaction to rejection, and it’s happening again. A campaign against Michael Fridjhon followed the decision not to continue the brief experiment of having Pendock as a Trophy Wine Show judge. The most relentless and nasty campaign of all was directed at the Platter Guide after it ceased using him as a taster.
The latest instance in this pattern was a decision not to have him as a judge for the 2012 FNB Sauvignon Blanc Top 10 competition. It unleashed the usual barrage of insult and innuendo. Says Pieter de Waal (untiring champion of Cape sauvignon): “Not being selected to be on the panel turned Neil Pendock against SBIG [Sauvignon Blanc Interest Group] and South African Sauvignon Blanc in general.”
I didn’t follow all this process, but it led to accusations which Pieter – and, I’m guessing, the lawyers of the competition sponsors – understandably regard as libellous. Pendock wrote about “inappropriate coaching of judges” at the 2013 FNB Top 10 Sauvignon Blanc Competition. Says de Waal: “All of the judges in the competition were contacted, and every one made a declaration that no inappropriate coaching had taken place.”
Has Pendock finally gone too far? Perhaps.
I do know that Pieter de Waal (whose behaviour since the accusation has been governed by the rectitude that everyone except Pendock expects of him) has contacted the members of the SBIG giving his own story. There are a lot of sauvignon producers. Pieter says the industry support for him in this process has been “incredible”. It is this particular widening of things that is surely going to be particularly relevant to Pendock’s future. There are scarcely any of his winewriting colleagues who talk to him by now; some wineries and producer groups have ceased inviting him to their functions, but many producers have until recently thought that he was still important. And respectable.
De Waal has asked Times Media “to distance themselves from the subjective and malicious writing of Neil Pendock”. The silence on the “Uncorked” blog suggests that perhaps something is happening in this regard.
You can see the whole of Pieter de Waal’s letter on Chris von Ulmenstein’s blog, here.
Incidentally, I sent my own note to Pieter de Waal after he sent me his letter to the SBIG, and I sent it also to the relevant big guys at Times Media:
Congratulations on taking a firm stand against Neil Pendock’s libellous and malicious statements. As someone who has long suffered foul innuendo, untruthful allegations, intellectual dishonesty and misrepresentation from Pendock, I am eager to offer you my total support. I too have complained formally to Times Media in the past (as have many others), but got nowhere; let us hope the cumulative effect will now finally convince them that it is time to cease giving his continually negative and destructive viciousness a platform. I have no doubt that most of the South African wine industry would cheer such a decision – certainly the vast majority of Pendock’s wine-journalist colleagues would do so.
Should you not get satisfaction from Times Media and/or should you decide to pursue legal action personally, there would be substantial financial support for you, I can guarantee.
I am copying Messrs Goldberg and Abdinor here.
No doubt some more of the unquenchable flow of bitter bile is already being directed against me again. I don’t intend looking for Pendock’s new fetid hole on the internet to find it. I’ll cope.