Yet another wine competition – though, really, I can’t see how the new one announced by garagiste winemaker Bertus van Niekerk is going to get anywhere – however crudely it is designed to appeal to lesser producers (and it’s very crude).
Look at the current situation of the Top 100 SA Wines competition, for example. It’s an excellently and cleverly designed event, making use of first-class judges (an irrelevant distinction, I fear, when they’re tasting so many wines), and it works hard for those who crack the list. Yet in the three years that it’s been running it has increased the number of entries from under 400 to a bit more than 400 – a pathetically small number for any national competition, let alone one with a misleading name like this. Perhaps more to the point, but unsurprisingly, it hasn’t yet found a bank to sponsor it (it’s always financial institutions it seems). I’m sure it’s making money for its owner, Robin von Holdt, but without a sponsor it won’t make nearly as much money as he wants.
If even the Top 100 can’t break through to join the few big local guys (Veritas, Michelangelo, Trophy Wine Show) what chance is there for this new little effort? Have local producers finally decided that throwing their money at competition-owners has reached its limit? Dare we hope so?
But perhaps the number of entrants to a competition is irrelevant, as long as a winery can send out a press release announcing the prestige of the competition in which it has just triumphed. Certainly the fact that the Syrah du Monde competition, which recently trumpeted forth its winners, has approximately the same number of entrants as the local Top 100 – from around the entire world! – didn’t prompt any apparent bashfulness from those who triumphed over such pathetic odds. Quite the reverse. It’s all very depressing.
So what chance does our Bertus have of making money? Are there enough cynics among producers and innocents among wine-drinkers? Incidentally, Bertus hasn’t yet updated his Twitter page to reflect his new ambitions and still offers himself quaintly as “the brand owner of Osbloed, a garagiste winemaker and part time dominee”. (That religious connection, however, seems to be a continuity and a way of saving money too – the drop-off point for the wines is a church in Stellenbosch!)
Bertus’s Vitis Vinifera Awards website gives this crucial info, along with some other (like the entry cost), and points to what is clearly seen as his USP – don’t worry if your wine isn’t much good; if you want a medal and a sticker, this is the best way of getting one (whether anyone will do other than laugh at it is another matter).
For, the “principle of Vitis Vinifera is to award more wines with gold and double gold than any other competition”. There you have it. What a noble principle! At least some of the other competitions claim, implicitly or otherwise, that their principle is to reward excellence. Is it naivety that prompts Bertus to make it clear that this is all a means of getting gold stickers onto dull bottles? Or is he perhaps onto something and it’s the naivety of producers desperate for sales that is to be relied on?
There’s nothing about who will be the Vitis Vinifera judges or how they will do their job. Perhaps this is going to be the first really honest competition and will award the medals by scattering the names of the wines down a staircase and rewarding them according to where they land (I’d suggest this as a much easier and equally plausible way as going through the whole elaborate process of blind tasting for a day or two before arriving at unconvincing or even plausible results).
Even if it gets off the ground, Bertus’s competition looks set to be a somewhat farcical event compared with the big, big-money-making competitions, local and internationally. But if you still have lingering doubts about whether those are also ultimately farcical, have a look at the article in today’s (London) Observer, entitled “Wine-tasting: it’s junk science”. Despite some problems I find in aspects of David Derbyshire’s analysis, the evidence he offers about the uselessness of big blind tastings is surely pretty convincing.