Bringing women and wine into disrepute?

A wine competition which doesn’t announce its results? Intuitively, it doesn’t make much sense. Like having the Olympics behind closed doors, and leaving it up to the winners (or losers) to make any public announcement they might want to make after the race is won. Otherwise, no-one knows.


A woman and a wine – from the SAWWA website

This is the curious policy of a recent minor local wine competition: South African Women’s Wine Awards. Nothing to do with another seemingly sexist competition, the Woman Winemaker of the Year, which seemed to quietly fold some years back – perhaps we can hope that the new one will be even shorter-lived. The older competition was for female winemakers, while the schtick of SAWWA is that the wines are “judged by women, for women”.

There’s a bit of guff on the website about maybe women being better wine judges than men, but the important thing for SAWWA is the importance of women as consumers (they are apparently “more discerning wine buyers”, apart from anything else). It’s therefore important “to tap into this target market”.

So it’s pretty clear from the start that it’s all nakedly about marketing and money – there’s not even the usual pious pretence that the competition is there to serve consumers with expert guidance.

I’d come across a dull little SAWWA award sticker on a bottle recently and started following it up. The website contains startlingly little useful information – including no results (the judging was on 10 June), and nothing about the number of entries or the number of awards made. Nothing about who the judges were (it seems the Cape Wine Academy is associated with the competition and was to find the judges); nothing about how the competition was going to be run (presumably no auditor?); nothing about the kinds of awards that were to be made – the sticker I saw stated GOLD, but whether there are silver or titanium or bronze or triple-gold stickers as well, who knows?

And nothing about who is in charge of the whole thing – or who is behind it, raking in R525 (+VAT) entry fees and the easy profits from sales of those little stickers (R190 +VAT per 1000).

Wow! and the amazing thing is that at least a few respectable producers entered – I’ll come back to that.


The branding as it appears on official emails. There’s the Cape Wine Academy logo, but I have no idea what the one on the right is for.

Curious as well as bemused, I sent off an email asking about the results – I hadn’t yet noticed the small print in the entry form stating that “The judging process and results will be entirely confidential and no details will be released”. Anyway I got a reply from Helen Steyn (“General Enquiries and Administration”), attaching a brief press release – which, despite me being part of the press and looking at lots of other parts of the press, I’d never seen: I do wonder who received it.

It didn’t say very much, the press release, apart from naming the judges (hardly household names, I think it’s fair to say) and saying how enthusiastic they were about virtually all the categories of wine they tasted. But it did name “the top-scoring producers”: Accolade Wines, GlenWood Vineyards, Haskell Vineyards, and Taillard Family Wines. (What the hell is Haskell doing in such dubious surroundings?! was my first response to this snippet of info.)

So I sent off another email to Ms Steyn as to why no results are given out, and got this disarmingly honest response: “The entrants are notified as to which wines are awarded, and the general results are not published to protect them from the potential negative publicity of bad results.”

In fact, of course, this policy does have an intimate connection with just about all wine competitions, local and international. Others, unlike SAWWA, are not in the least bashful about publicising their medal winners, however. Far from it – not only do some of them make money by public tastings of the winners, they see it as in their commercial interests to please their sponsors and the medal-winning producers by pushing their names into the media as much as they can. This, obviously, to encourage the sponsors to keep on giving them money, to encourage producers to enter again, and to encourage envious others to do likewise. All those juicy entrance fees, added to the sponsorship….

But as to the also-rans, those who ranked below the lowest medals – not a mention. None of them publish a list of all the entrants. If the real motivation for competitions were to inform the public about wine quality, then surely the public should be told which wines were so awful that they couldn’t even rate a bronze medal, or a “Commended”? Of course, however, that is not the motivation of competitions.

As SAWWA blandly indicates, producers don’t like the risk of losing and that ignominy being broadcast. And one must please the producers (not the wine-buyers), as they are the cash-cows.

Probably the competitions also want to protect their good name and the reputations of their judges by not revealing the weird negative results (the fine wines that didn’t get anywhere) as well as the weird positive results (the very ordinary wines that got covered in glory) that have to be advertised.

Other competitions are all a great deal more open than the South African Women’s Wine Awards, however. I wonder if it could be argued that SAWWA is bringing women into disrepute as well as competitions?

One thought on “Bringing women and wine into disrepute?

  1. South Africa isn’t the only country to hold competitions for women; this one (link below) is Australian, but at least it has more integrity and purpose than SAWWA, which appears to have no purpose at all. I couldn’t agree more with your comment about Haskell; great wines made by one of South Africa’s top winemakers, male or female.
    Frankly, the Cape Wine Academy also isn’t doing it’s already diminished reputation any good by being part of such a dubious competition.

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