The rottenness in the Wine of Origin Scheme

Those who are think that the Wine and Spirit Board is determined to protect the integrity of the Wine of Origin system – you might want to reconsider after hearing this story. It seems a tremendous pity that the Board is unwilling, or too spineless or uncaring perhaps, to deal with a fundamental flaw in what is probably the best established and most rigorous appellation system in the New World.

To recap, briefly: In June I wrote about a nice new sweet riesling from Perdeberg Winery in the north of the Paarl district. “Wine of Origin Paarl” says the label. But the grapes don’t come from the Paarl district at all; they are 100% from Durbanville.

The label tells a lie, but it is a lie permitted by the system – ultimately permitted by the Wine and Spirit Board (WSB). It is an anomaly dating back to the origins of the system. To help large producers who had historically drawn grapes from widespread areas, those producers were allowed to claim a single origin for them. Fair enough at the time, perhaps – but nothing has been done in the 40 years since then to bring integrity back to the system.

On enquiry, I was told that 45 farms are involved in this misrepresentation. In the 2010 harvest, more than 17 million kilos of grapes were allowed to have winelabels tell lies about their origins; that is, 1.38% of total production. It is a widespread practice of systematic misrepresentation, telling untruths to consumers.

Excuse me for being repetitive as well as angry – but I’ve found that few people can credit that this situation is true.

Anyway, in reponse to my queries to officialdom about this, I was told that the Management committee of the WSB was going to look into the matter.

And they have looked into it, as I was recently informed. Apparently, all those producers qualifying for this use of “traditional units of land” were written to and asked to comment on the idea of doing away with the practice.

This is, of course, a bit like consulting billionaires to see if they think there ought to be higher taxes on the super-rich. Unsurprisingly, most of these producers involved in this misrepresentation of the truth wanted to carry on. I was informed:

“The vast majority of participants to the Wine of Origin Scheme have requested that their vested rights be protected and that the status quo with regard to traditional land be maintained. The Board has therefore decided that the vested rights of producers be respected and maintained.”

You have to love that word “therefore”!

So, nothing changes. Perdeberg Winery, for example, will be able to continue to take grapes (riesling, sauvignon blanc, whatever they want, whether the vineyard is old or new) from this farm in Durbanville.

I asked for details of the other producers making use of the practice, but was told that this is secret information.

Who are they?

You might be interested to know, as I was, who it is in the Management Committee of the WSB that is capable of making a decision that, in my opinion, goes entirely against the spirit of the Wine of Origin Scheme.

It would appear that the Management Committee, ruling on matters like this about Cape wine culture, consists of representatives mostly of big business wineries, co-ops and former co-ops (the SA Liquor Brandowners Association and Wine Cellars South Africa), and of VinPro, the producer organisation, and of the Department of Agriculture. The chair is Jakob Deist, retired director of  ARC Nietvoorbij/Infruitec.

Incidentally, if you really want an interesting list of people, have a look at who is on the Wine and Spirit Board itself. I wasn’t able to ascertain much about most of these people, except for the three winemakers (two of them from big merchants). At least some of the representatives of the Department of Agriculture would appear to be veterinarians. There’s a lawyer, reasonably enough, and three “consultants” – but what expertise in relation to the wine industry these consultants might offer that a veterinarian can’t, I’m not sure.

But because I don’t think this list appears anywhere else I offer it for your bemusement:

  • Ms S Nkomo (Chairperson)  – Appointed by the Minister
  • Mr A Adams – Consultant
  • Ms C Stevens – Winemaker
  • Ms W Jonker  – Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
  • Dr K Du Plessis – Agricultural Research Council
  • Mr S Epstein – Attorney
  • Mr AM Kruger – SA Liquor Brandowners Association
  • Mr H Phasa – Consultant
  • Mr M Damon – Winemaker
  • Ms N Khubeka – Winemaker
  • Ms T Montwedi – Consultant
  • Dr E Mogajane – Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
  • Dr B Ntsabele – Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

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