Since writing some reactions to the Cape Vintners Classification under the Widow’s Nephew heading (a space that isn’t working well; I think it must collapse) I’ve done a modicum of thinking and a bit of off-the-record chatting with important people committed to the initiative. Incidentally, the chatting led to me being more impressed by, at least, the seriousness of the whole venture, and I wish it well. I confess, though, I still have serious doubts.
My provisionally final thoughts on this initiative follow.
Firstly: They must get things correct about wine estates. The CVC website still talks about “a registered wine estate as defined in the Wine of Origin Scheme”. When they abandon this inaccurate nonsense (there has been no such thing in the Scheme for a decade), I’ll listen to what they say about “estate wines”.
Secondly: the CVC website must also get a little more serious and accurate about its wine history. Consider the timeline given under “The legacy of 1659-2013”:
- 1659: The first Cape wine is produced. Fine.
- 1761: Vin de Constance, Napoleon’s drink of choice. Why 1761? Napoleon wasn’t even born then, let alone drinking Constantia.
- 1855: The Bordeaux Classification. Huh? So what?
- 1886: Cape vineyards devastated by phylloxera… which results in a complete renaissance of Cape wine. What a load of crap. It didn’t result in that. It even took very many years for replanting on rootstocks.
- 1918: Industry regulated by the KWV. Well, not quite, but it was indeed the year the KWV was floated as a company, and, agreed, a vital date.
- 1955: Cape wines represented by the Distillers Corporation. Dr Anton Rupert establishes the Distillers Corporation pioneering the making, marketing and distribution of Cape wines. Yes. read that nonsensical stuff again and wonder how this ranks as a notable date in “The legacy of 1659-2013”. Could it, just perhaps, represent the substantial influence on the whole CVC business by the Rupert camp? (Looking at the names of three or four of the seven “founding members” is not going to reassure you if you have doubts.)
- 1972: First estate wine certification. Well, of arguable significance, but I’d have thought that 1973 was the correct date, given that it was the year when the Wine of Origin scheme was legislated.
- 1994: Nelson Mandela elected President. Well, I get their point, but this isn’t the USA and we don’t have elections for President here. Mandela was the leader of the ANC. Let’s try to be accurate, please. The point wasn’t Nelson Mandela, anyway – the point was the enfranchisement of the majority of South Africans, something which it would be hard to have found support for from most wine estate owners, of course!
The above might be seen as mere sniping. But the CVC is offering itself as a serious organisation, so it must start doing things properly. Early days? True, but were they in fact ready to launch when they did? I have severe doubts. They have no members yet, only candidates – and that list is a pretty mixed one which doesn’t fill me with confidence.
And that, in fact, is the crux. There’s crucial detail missing from the CVC website about membership, especially about the assessment of candidates and their wines. To be a member, will it be sufficient to have just one wine qualifying under the various “tiers of classification” – as well as fulfilling the technical requirements? As to the wine quality, who is going to judge this?
To my mind, the quality of members’ wines is going to be the one crucial factor. If this is going to be more than just another boring group of self-promoting producers, they will have to have some excellent way of showing that their wines are amongst the best made in South Africa (as well as those other factors). Among their candidate members there are some who undoubtedly produce some of the Cape’s best wines. But I would assert confidently that some of the candidates produce wine that falls far short of that standard.
The CVC will be judged by those it excludes from membership even more, perhaps, than by those it includes. Will it bite that bullet? So far it has not revealed the mechanism by which candidates’ wines will be judged. Who will be on the tasting panels? Presumably the panels will be looking at the wines knowing what they are. Will the judges be brave enough to reject candidates from well-connected properties if they see fit? But who will those judges be, anyway, and will we accept their judgements? The CVCguidelines at present say only that “a minimum score of the range averaging 75% is required”. It’s not at all clear what that actually means.
The bottom line of the relevance of the CVC as an organisation representing and advancing (part of) the top end of Cape wine will be what they offer in terms of wine. At present, there looks to be a real danger that they are starting with personalities, and nostalgia about the old estate system, even more than with wine quality.
Really, to be taken seriously, they should be starting with wine quality. Nothing else.
Let’s see what they do. Why they’ve launched without any members, only a fancy-but-flawed website, partly thought-though procedures, and candidate members, is their own business. It seems to me a strange procedure, and not to bode well, but still. Let’s hope that something good emerges.
PS: I still have received no press releases from the CVC, nor any explanation as to why not, despite having raised the matter!