Submitted by Tim James on 27 April, 2011 – 22:45 Largely a few last comments (I do hope) about the Top 100 SA Wines competition. I trust they won’t be more than a trifle blurred by the wines I drank with dinner: firstly, the last glass of light-orange-gold El Bandito 2009 (see this previous entry; I’m getting more and more hooked on these wines of Craig Hawkins, which explains why there was, embarrassingly, only one glassful left over from a previous night). And then more than one glass, I fear, of Chateau Bernadotte 2001, which is an elegant, modest (in all the best senses of the word) Bordeaux, still hanging in nicely after ten years – and there are, sadly, fewer and fewer modest Bordeaux, even at a modest level. This property is owned by Mme de Lencquesaing, also owner of the imensely promising Glenelly estate next to Rustenberg, in Stellenbosch. Ah! I can make an elegant transition to the SA Top 100, as Glenelly was one of the most worthy inclusions in the results of this unprecedentedly controversial competition. The controversy has not done it any harm, of course, though I’m getting tired by it all. For this reason I’ve avoided the website of Jamie Goode, one of the three (very well paid, gossip says) British judges in the competition. Jamie’s blog has, I believe, included a lot of his gushing praise about the competition he judged on, and some outside comments, including further gushes from the other British judges. And apparently a sneer or two from the usually nice Jamie against South African winewriters who’ve had the temerity to criticise aspects of the competition. We’re “insular”, apparently, and that sufficiently explains why we don’t think that the results (which exclude Kanonkop, Vergelegen, Boekenhoutskloof, Sadie, etc etc etc) don’t deserve the name “Top 100 South African Wines”. Also, we don’t want anything that’s new. Well, firstly, there’s nothing much new about this competition or its related activities, except that it has a single list of winners rather than breaking them up into different medal categories. (Which is something that I welcomed in my post following the results announcement.) Otherwise, it does exactly what the Trophy Wine Show has been doing for a decade, notably a list of winners, a book and roadshows. And it also seems to aim to sell the winning wines, somehow. Sadly, many South African winewriters are, indeed, insular, and lack experience of foreign wines. But I wonder if we locals were to make easy blanket generalisations about British winewriters – calling them arrogant, patronising or whatever? It wouldn’t be fair, really. Because I’m quite sure that one or two of them are not. The trouble is, perhaps, that the controversy around the competition – particularly the early threatened legal challenge by Michael Fridjhon – has pushed both sides to extreme positions. I will admit for my part that I’ve been a bit more negative about the competition than I could have been, partly in response to the extravagent gung-honess of Tim Atkin and Jamie Goode (as well as to the excessive prose of the organiser). Facts I’ve at long last had a response from the aforementioned organiser of the Top 100, Robin von Holdt, to some queries. He confirms that there was no independent auditor of the results of a competition which Tim Atkin enthusiastically acclaimed as “setting new standards of professionalism and integrity for the Cape wine industry”. Lacking an independent auditor seems to me to make this claim deeply problematical, under the circumstances. I’m not accusing von Holdt of cheating, but I am pointing out again that the winning list included wines from the two winemaker-judges involved, as well as wines from all the winemakers on von Holdt’s so-called “Industry Executive”. It would have been (shall, we say?) more graceful if there had been someone to confirm that the list the judges eventually settled on was the same as the published list of winners. Because there is now no way that this can be independently confirmed. Tim Atkin didn’t even see the list, apparently, until the day they were announced It’s been mentioned before in this sad world, I hope, that injustice needs to have been seen not to have been done, as well as not to have been done. On a less problematical note, eminent New Zealand winemaker Rod Easthope (for a while from 1996 winemaker at Rustenberg, and then a consultant here before returning home) contacted me commenting on the statistic I reported about 23 out of the mere 390 competition wines being corked. He said: “That’s 6% – which is very high. Especially when you consider that some of the entries would have been under screwcap. Are we able to find out what proportion were under each closure?” A good point. Robin von Holdt, to whom I forwarded Rod’s question, has replied as follows, also fair enough: “… all 390 wines had a minimum of 2 bottles opened, with some having up to 5 bottles opened over the course of 4 days. I’d say the fault % was 2% or probably just less. This should make better sense. I could find out the stelvin/cork ratio although given the facts above, this probably is unnecessary.” My final insular word, and prediction, on this competition: It is more than likely to continue. Next year is likely to see more entries. I’d bet quite a bit that Tim Atkin will be in charge of the judging again (which is undoubtedly a plus for it – and for him). And the result, in terms of the “Top 100” name (which, dear Jamie, is really the only thing that has been seriously objected to by responsible people here) will be as essentially untrue as the first one. And I will vehemently protest against the misrepresentation once more – if the Lord decides to spare me and to irritate Robin and Tim. Tim James’s blog Login or register to post comments Submitted by Angela Lloyd on 28 April, 2011 – 07:22. Re: Some late-night thoughts (and facts) As one of the people who has commented on Jamie’s blog, I’m happy to report that the hot air blowing between the UK and SA, like the weather, has considerably cooled. Now’s the time to sit down together with our UK colleagues and drink some of these good wines we’re on about; perhaps we could help Tim with his regular spelling problems – Tim Atkin, Tim and Rustenberg! Login or register to post comments Submitted by Tim James on 28 April, 2011 – 07:31. Spelling Spelling fixed – thanks Angela. Am not sure why I can never get Rustenberg right when Lencquesaing comes so trippingly off my keyboard! Login or register to post comments Submitted by Tim James on 29 April, 2011 – 07:20. Re: Some late-night thoughts (and facts) The following came in an email to me, from a local producer, who’d rather remain anonymous: I have been reading your stuff about the Top 100 competition. The simple fact is that as you rightly point out, no-one objects to the competition, but to the idea that the results represent a definitive list of the best wines in the country. In that respect it is almost certainly a misrepresentation. I’d also suggest that the somewhat negative response in SA would be likely to be repeated in any wine producing country where someone was attempting to rewrite the status quo in such a fashion, and in that respect, is not a function of the ‘insularity’ of South African wine. What is objectionable is the condescending attitude being exhibited by the U.K. judges. The superior tone of their missives isn’t likely to endear them, or the competition, to producers vacillating about whether to enter in future years. That’s even without going into the question of judges acting as PR agents for the competition they were tasked with being impartial about. But at least it has people taking notice of SA wine for a change! Login or register to post comments Tim James Recent posts from Tim James Good, better, Boekenhoutskloof Red contentment at Meerlust Four shirazes, in all their variousness Changes coming at Grape Changes coming at Grape Dredging through the results Moving on Steenberg (and other) sauvignons Glasses for the riche and the nouveau-riche In praise of real wine journalism User login Username: * Password: * CAPTCHA Apologies for this extra step – this question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions. Math question: * 6 + 14 = Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. 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Largely a few last comments (I do hope) about the Top 100 SA Wines competition. I trust they won’t be more than a trifle blurred by the wines I drank with dinner: firstly, the last glass of light-orange-gold El Bandito 2009 (see this previous entry; I’m getting more and more hooked on these wines of Craig Hawkins, which explains why there was, embarrassingly, only one glassful left over from a previous night). And then more than one glass, I fear, of Chateau Bernadotte 2001, which is an elegant, modest (in all the best senses of the word) Bordeaux, still hanging in nicely after ten years – and there are, sadly, fewer and fewer modest Bordeaux, even at a modest level. This property is owned by Mme de Lencquesaing, also owner of the imensely promising Glenelly estate next to Rustenberg, in Stellenbosch.

Ah! I can make an elegant transition to the SA Top 100, as Glenelly was one of the most worthy inclusions in the results of this unprecedentedly controversial competition. The controversy has not done it any harm, of course, though I’m getting tired by it all.

For this reason I’ve avoided the website of Jamie Goode, one of the three (very well paid, gossip says) British judges in the competition. Jamie’s blog has, I believe, included a lot of his gushing praise about the competition he judged on, and some outside comments, including further gushes from the other British judges. And apparently a sneer or two from the usually nice Jamie against South African winewriters who’ve had the temerity to criticise aspects of the competition.

We’re “insular”, apparently, and that sufficiently explains why we don’t think that the results (which exclude Kanonkop, Vergelegen, Boekenhoutskloof, Sadie, etc etc etc) don’t deserve the name “Top 100 South African Wines”. Also, we don’t want anything that’s new.

Well, firstly, there’s nothing much new about this competition or its related activities, except that it has a single list of winners rather than breaking them up into different medal categories. (Which is something that I welcomed in my post following the results announcement.)  Otherwise, it does exactly what the Trophy Wine Show has been doing for a decade, notably a list of winners, a book and roadshows. And it also seems to aim to sell the winning wines, somehow.

Sadly, many South African winewriters are, indeed, insular, and lack experience of foreign wines. But I wonder if we locals were to make easy blanket generalisations about British winewriters – calling them arrogant, patronising or whatever? It wouldn’t be fair, really. Because I’m quite sure that one or two of them are not.

The trouble is, perhaps, that the controversy around the competition – particularly the early threatened legal challenge by Michael Fridjhon – has pushed both sides to extreme positions. I will admit for my part that I’ve been a bit more negative about the competition than I could have been, partly in response to the extravagent gung-honess of Tim Atkin and Jamie Goode (as well as to the excessive prose of the organiser).


Facts

I’ve at long last had a response from the aforementioned organiser of the Top 100, Robin von Holdt, to some queries. He confirms that there was no independent auditor of the results of a competition which Tim Atkin enthusiastically acclaimed as “setting new standards of professionalism and integrity for the Cape wine industry”. Lacking an independent auditor seems to me to make this claim deeply problematical, under the circumstances.

I’m not accusing von Holdt of cheating, but I am pointing out again that the winning list included wines from the two winemaker-judges involved, as well as wines from all the winemakers on von Holdt’s so-called “Industry Executive”. It would have been (shall, we say?) more graceful if there had been someone to confirm that the list the judges eventually settled on was the same as the published list of winners. Because there is now no way that this can be independently confirmed. Tim Atkin didn’t even see the list, apparently, until the day they were announced

It’s been mentioned before in this sad world, I hope, that injustice needs to have been seen not to have been done, as well as not to have been done.

On a less problematical note, eminent New Zealand winemaker Rod Easthope (for a while from 1996 winemaker at Rustenberg, and then a consultant here before returning home) contacted me commenting on the statistic I reported about 23 out of the mere 390 competition wines being corked. He said: “That’s 6% – which is very high.  Especially when you consider that some of the entries would have been under screwcap.  Are we able to find out what proportion were under each closure?”

A good point. Robin von Holdt, to whom I forwarded Rod’s question, has replied as follows, also fair enough:

“… all 390 wines had a minimum of 2 bottles opened, with some having up to 5 bottles opened over the course of 4 days.  I’d say the fault % was 2% or probably just less. This should make better sense. I could find out the stelvin/cork ratio although given the facts above, this probably is unnecessary.”

My final insular word, and prediction, on this competition: It is more than likely to continue. Next year is likely to see more entries. I’d bet quite a bit that Tim Atkin will be in charge of the judging again (which is undoubtedly a plus for it – and for him). And the result, in terms of the “Top 100” name (which, dear Jamie, is really the only thing that has been seriously objected to by responsible people here) will be as essentially untrue as the first one. And I will vehemently protest against the misrepresentation once more – if the Lord decides to spare me and to irritate Robin and Tim.

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