In the past eight years, Eben Sadie tells me, scarcely a single local wine-writer has bothered to visit him and his winery; a tiny handful have come to his annual open day – that’s it. On the other hand, the number of foreign writers who’ve visited is legion. Tim Atkin commented recently on this website that he’d visited Eben seven times, a not unreasonable attention to the country’s leading wine producer, he thinks.
Yet local winewriters don’t seem to feel the need or the desire, despite living on the doorstep. Eben’s Perdeberg winery is an hour’s drive from Cape Town. One can presume that the same neglect applies to other leading Cape producers (not to mention non-leading but interesting ones).
I was thinking about this matter, after I’d written a touch peevishly, in response to Tim Atkin, about how nice it is for foreign hacks that they get so much arranged for them by Wosa, whereas we locals don’t. I’ve decided that I was wrong to make that point. Sure, the specific fact is true – but, on the other hand, we get plentiful opportunities to attend numerous events throughout the year: journalists are pretty invariably given free entry, as far as I know, to big events like Winex, the awards shows of the likes of Veritas and Trophy Wine Show, the Stellenbosch Festival, many trade shows, etc.
Not to mention various “new release” functions offered by the richer and/or more marketing-oriented producers. Cumulatively, at all of these venues a huge range of the Cape’s wines is available. Not to mention the possibility of visiting wineries and their vineyards that are spread out and welcoming within an hour or two of Cape Town.
Do we take advantage of the opportunities? I doubt if Eben Sadie is somehow alone in not being visited by local wine-writers. Who don’t seem to take much advantage of the larger events either. I’ve seen remarkably few of them at the Swartland Revolution and the Hemel-en-Aarde Pinot Noir Festival. Why? Is it the cost (neither of those expensive events gives freebies to local journalists)? Or that combined with a lack of interest? A lack of awareness that, really, to feel entitled to comment about local wines you should make a bit of effort to find out more than the superficialities.
On the other hand
Let’s look at it from the other side for a moment. It’s easy to convict South African wine journalists of laziness, of dereliction of duty, of insufficient education, experience, dedication, etc. On the other hand, look at how impossible it is to make any sort of a living out of wine journalism in South Africa. It is unquestionable that no-one does so, in fact, except for a few connected to the couple of wine (or wine, food and lifestyle) magazines. The market for wine writing is just not there. The vehicles for serious wine journalism are just not there. Proper wine journalists needing to make a living have to turn to making money from wine-shows and nonsense like wine competitions – and even these must be sponsored by ghastly institutions like banks to be viable.
A trip out to Stellenbosch, let alone the Swartland or Hemel-en-Aarde costs actual money. Seldom enough can a journalist sell a story (or a report) that results from such a visit, to at least cover the petrol costs. Eben Sadie and other producers who note the lack of attention from the local media contingent must remember that too. The foreigners’ expenses are usually paid for by their neespapers, or they have a commission, or are sponsored by Wosa. And local producers fall all over the foreigners because, actually, they can help sell more expensive Cape wine than the local journalists can.
There are wine producers who’ve made their money from banking or IT or leathergoods or advertising or whatever, who are there for the life-style even if they don’t make much profit out of wine. Some local wine writers could be earning much more from other careers, but are in this business because they love wine and have a great time being involved as parasites (as Jancis Robinson has slyly called us) on the wine industry.
Nonetheless, nonetheless. There’s not a little arrogance around among local wine-journalists. A bit more work from us would help justify it. I would say that, on the whole, if we make much less money than some of our grander foreign colleagues, we also have no conception about how hard they work for it.