Bits of news and comment

Vergelegen retrenches, the New World collaborates, and women winemakers compete.


While there’s public fuss and squabbling at present about the colour of the leadership of Anglo American itself, the corporation’s vinous headquarters at Verglegen is clearly feeling the pinch of the “global economic crisis” – or whatever phrase is the current favourite. Don Tooth, Vergelegen Managing Director, speaks of “tough economic times” when asked for a comment about the retrenchments in the marketing department, notably that of marketing manager Eddie Turner. “We need to be ‘lean and mean’”, he said about the result of taking “a hard look at our business model”, and ruefully left it up to others to guess who the “mean one” is. “It’s always a tragedy when people are impacted through these tough economic times, particularly when they have been with the business for a long period.” Indeed. Our best wishes to all those affected by this latest instance of economic crisis.

If Vergelegen is having troubles (it’s been a difficult year for them for other reasons too: they had to drop 25 tons of red grapes contaminated by the fires earlier this year), think what it’s like in the rest of the industry. At least Vergelegen didn’t retrench their winemaker, like Lammershoek did recently. (On an impermissably frivolous note, I do wonder whethere Vergelegen’s new austerity will extend to dropping that social highlight of the wineland’s year, the launch of the latest V…).

Competitive collaboration

In an interesting assertion of joint interest despite their mutual competitiveness, five “New World” wine-producing countries, including our own, have formed a New World Wine Alliance. The immediate prospect is a joint showcasing of wines at Germany’s ProWein event next year. It follows some years of rumours about a separate wine show for such countries but, apparently “recent research had suggested that with so many shows already in place, the alliance would be better served by creating a show within a show, using the well-established platform of ProWein”. (The choice of venue is, incidently, surely also an expression of displeasure with the way the New World is treated at Vinexpo.)

The other countries involved are Argentina, California (not a country, OK, but it’s bigger than any of the others), Chile and New Zealand. The notable omission, of course, is Australia, which has clearly decided it can do better by itself – this at a time when the “lucky country” (not to mention the smug country) is going through its roughest time for ages, in terms of declining export values, problems with its image, and terrible weather.

Girls and grapes

A few years back, vituperative discussion about the Woman Winemaker of the Year Award occupied the virtual pages of Grape like nothing before or since. It’s that time again – for the Award, not the vituperation we hope, though it remains a concept worth debating. Undoubtedly the most interesting aspect of the press release recently sent out about the progress of the judging (they’ve reached the final round stage) is the statement that 28 woman winemakers had competed. Not a huge number in light of the total number of winemakers in the country (of course some women are not participating, for various reasons, including disgust at the idea of having to prefix a job description by detailing one’s sex), but think what the number was a decade back. And, if you fondly imagine that this gives room for a glow of satisfaction about the social progress in the industry, try thinking how many entrants there would be for a Black Winemaker of the Year Award. (And try to imagine the sort of discussion that this variant of identity assertion would provoke…. And then, on a different hilarious tack, ponder whether we shouldn’t have awards for Jewish Winemaker of the Year, and perhaps Gay Winemaker of the Year… the possibilities are scary.)

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