Top 100 SA Wine Challenge - back again

The controversial competition is back for its second year.

by: Cathy Marston | 24 Jan 2012

The Top 100 SA Wine Challenge was launched this morning for the second time. This competition provoked more than its fair share of controversy when it was launched last year for the first time with cries of ‘Not another competition’ interspersed with queries about the integrity of the challenge, the aims, the costs and ultimately, the benefits to the competing wineries and the industry as a whole.

Twelve months down the track, the competition is back for another year, this time, according to competition owner, Robin von Holdt, bigger and better than before. As the result of a comprehensive survey of entrants last year, modifications have been made to some areas of the competition. Announced this morning, these are the main changes for 2012:

•    A loyalty programme has been introduced giving discounted entry to any wine previously entered for the competition – regardless of whether it made it to the Top 100.
•    Value awards will be made to all Top 100 wines retailing at under R100 (last year, this was approximately a quarter of the entries)
•    Book allocations have been altered to encourage multiple entries – previously a winery with 5 winning wines would have to buy 100 books, this year this has been capped at 50.
•    Entry to the competition is now online, saving time and paper for all.
•    The 2012 Challenge results will be independently audited – the auditors are still being selected and will be announced shortly.
•    There will be 10 judges instead of 9, with panels of 3 judging each section and Tim Atkin MW overseeing the panels as Chairman.

So the competition appears to have listened to its stakeholders, considered the market and made changes which generally add up to better value for the wineries overall. But the value of the competition was always designed to be somewhat larger than a pretty book and a certificate on the wall. One of the promises made last year was that entry to this competition brought you continuous and ongoing marketing - a year’s-worth of events and publicity. I asked Robin how he felt they had done last year.

“I am confident that on the whole we delivered on our promises last year. We’ve made changes this year because we are constantly looking outside the wine industry and benchmarking ourselves with practices which we feel to be right, even if they haven’t been done in other wine competitions as yet – ie the loyalty scheme. We had several successful events around the world including attendance at the ‘3 Wine Men’ event at Lords in London, we had good reviews for the book from the US, Australia, the UK and here at home and probably the most pleasing aspect of our marketing has been our success online. The amount of traffic to our site and the ratings with Google are far in advance of anything we predicted. The challenge now is to understand the business we have created and to make strategic decisions and collaborations which allow us to capitalise on that business.”

New this year is a Top 100 SA Wine Tourism programme - being trialled as we speak - which involves high-end, bespoke wine tourism experiences with customers having access to winemakers, cellars and events which may not be open to all. Tours will be led by winemakers – Philip Costandius, Richard Hilton and Jonathan Snashell – and will operate on 3 different levels depending on the expertise of the clients. In addition, the Top 100 SA Wine dinner programme will begin again soon and there are discussions for tastings in shopping malls and other events in Asia and the UK.

So all that remains is the same question I asked last year - do we need yet another wine competition? I think the changes to this one are positive and improving and the new wine tourism programme, the online marketing and the planned events look exciting. But the real benefit to SA wine has to be the attendance and attention of 7 highly-qualified, internationally-renowned judges from around the world, tasting, talking and experiencing South African wines for a week. To have the chance to dispel any persisting negative impressions of SA wine, to illustrate the progress some wineries have made in the last decade and to give indications of our massive potential for the future - all of which can be passed on by these judges to millions of wine-lovers around the world – for those reasons alone, I think the industry can handle just one more competition don’t you?

Judges on the 2012 Top 100 SA Wine Challenge

Tim Atkin MW (Chairman) – UK journalist
Greg Sherwood MW – UK winebuyer
Madeleine Stenwreth MW – Swedish wine consultant
Richard Kershaw MW – SA winemaker
Jenny Ratcliffe-Wright CWM – SA journalist
Jamie Goode – UK journalist
Kenny Ohashi – Japanese journalist & Master of Sake
Anthony Gismondi – Canadian journalist
Monty Waldin – Italian-based organic/biodynamic wine expert & journalist
Duncan Savage – SA winemaker 

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