Investigating Veritas

Real live letters (with envelope, stamp and all) are rare enough these days – apart from bills, of course, and even those increasingly come via email. A mysteriously anonymous letter is an even more unlikely occurrence. The one I recently found in my home letterbox (it was printed, of course) came from  “A concerned winemaker”. It told how Eagles’ Nest Viognier 2009 was awarded a Veritas gold medal, the award being made in the No wood class.

What concerned the epistolary winemaker was that this wine is, of course, wooded. Surely some subterfuge on the part of the producer entering the wine in the wrong category, aiming to benefit from the extra complexity given by oak? And the Veritas panel “obviously cannot recognize wood in a wine”! “It may be worthwhile”, continued the concerned winemaker, “to see which other so-called unwooded wines actually contain oak!”

Indeed it might, but in this case I was rather doubtful about the problem, and suspected some innocent confusion – especially as Eagles’ Nest is a very respectable set-up, hardly needing to stoop to subterfuge, and indeed very proud of their Viognier (as they should be; this is an extremely fine wine, as I discussed a few months back).

Anyway, the matter having been left in my supposedly “capable hands”, I first checked the Veritas awards booklet, and the list of awards online…. Sure enough, the Eagles’ Nest was listed under “No wood”. But so were a whole lot of other other viogniers which I knew, or discovered upon checking, to be unwooded.

I started exploring sideways: every single one of the semillons was listed under “No wood” – yet most of them are wooded. Another oddity: Klein Constantia Riesling was listed as “Wooded” and indeed it does have a little wood influence, but it was not listed in the Weisser riesling/Rhine riesling class along with the other rieslings, but under Other cultivars (where Theuniskraal Cape Riesling and a few other grapes like Bukettraube and Roussane appear).

I stopped exploring, as it was becoming sadly clear that this was not a matter of subterfuge or judges’ incompetence, but of the Veritas list compliers having gone very astray. So I turned to Duimpie Bayly, the benign “Veritas Chairman”. He promised to investigate, and did so. He returned, unable to do more than make a simple admission that things had gone wrong, and with a sincere apology.

The list on the website, Duimpie assures me, has been corrected – and so it appears to be. The booklet, of course, being in that outdated form of ink and paper, will remain wrong till it crumbles into dust.

A rather dull conclusion to this tale that began with some wild suspicions. To me the only strange aspect remaining is that no one else had, apparently, noticed the problem (or at least had bothered to inform Veritas)! But my concerned winemaker can be pleased that he or she has had an effect – and no doubt the Veritas organisers will be watching this aspect more closely next year.

And I shall be looking forward to finding another interesting anonymous letter. But I have a feeling it’ll be a long wait, with real scandals aplenty in the interim.

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