Top 100 SA wines. Oh really?

Cathy Marston has some questions about this new wine competition.

22 Feb 2011

A few months ago, a new wine competition was announced by Robin van Holdt, a guesthouse owner from St James. To be called ‘The Top 100 SA Wines’, it claims it will be ‘The Olympics of SA winemaking’ and will ‘re-position South Africa’s top wines with clarity, vigour and integrity.’

Already controversial

Commentators such as Neil Pendock and Tim James plus a variety of different bloggers have already condemned the competition on various different grounds, some personal, some sensible, some heated, some measured. There has been so much controversy over the various competitions in SA over the years with titles being withdrawn, results being leaked, wines winning which are different from those on the shelf etc, that it would be fabulous to see one competition raise the standards, set an example and shine as a beacon in the naughty wine world.

But I am not sure that this is the one to do it. I have been looking through their website ( and talking to others in the industry and I have a few questions I would love to have answered. Such as:

1.    Wines which cannot be entered. If one of the stated aims of the competition is ‘integrity’, can we assume that these wines will not be entered – Cape Point Vineyards, Mulderbosch (and Kanu, even though these are now ‘separate’ entities) and any of Sam Harrop MW’s wine clients in South Africa, since all these people are on the judging panel?

2.    How are you going to print the wine guide in less than 10 days? The timeline says that the judging will start 28th March (Monday) and should take about 4-5 days so the first working day to start prepping the guide should be Monday 4th April. The guide is due to be published mid April which gives ten days to ‘design and publish a high quality consumer guide, including individual wine and vineyard-specific 2-page entry.’ Wow – that is some going! I looked at the entry form and there is a lot of information which could be pre-loaded into a computer, but I can tell you now, having worked from the entry forms for the Platter Guide, many people will not complete that information in full. The website claims the guide will provide ‘consistent, useful, accurate information on each wine and vineyard’ – well, good luck getting all that done in 10 days, say I.

3.    How are wineries meant to recoup their money? The website suggests that each winery should buy 100 books which it can then sell for R150 each to cover entry costs. This seems incredibly optimistic – the Platters Guide retails for far less than that and it includes details of hundreds of wines and wineries, not just the chosen few. Furthermore, the cost example provided fails to take into account the cost of the wines which must be supplied to the competition organisers, either for nothing, at trade price or at 50% of trade price. For smaller producers, these are expenses which are extremely difficult to justify, even with the publicity promised by the organisers.

4.    Who is going to enter? This seems to be the biggest question on everyone’s lips. I have been talking to quite a few producers, as have many other journalists and so far, none of us has found either anyone who’s entered or indeed, anyone who knows anyone who’s entered! What I have found is a lot of big names who haven’t – and that is my main concern and which brings us onto my last point.

5.    Why are we all getting our knickers in a twist over just one more competition? There are lots of competitions, all of which benefit the organisers financially and the winners promotionally. Does it really matter if there is one more? I would argue that it does and the reason is the name – Top 100 South African Wines. By its very name, it implies ‘definitive’ and punters around the world are going to have little or no idea of the circumstances in which this list has been compiled. If the list isn’t going to include names such as Rust en Vrede, Nederburg, Cape Point, Mulderbosch, Rustenberg, Eagles' Nest and all the other wineries who can’t or won’t enter, then it isn’t a list of the Top 100 SA wines and that is an unarguable fact. Are we damaging our industry by allowing a wine to call itself ‘The best wine in South Africa’ without proper qualification as to what that entails? Can we afford to be judged internationally on that basis or ultimately, will this competition be just one more example of the real need for ‘clarity, vigour and integrity’ in the South African wine industry without actually meeting any of those aims at all?

Postscript – Apparently lawyers letters are now flying back and forth between the organisers of the show and the folk behind the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show who claim copyright over various phrases, aims and rules – read more here.

The plot thickens

Cathy Marston writes and tweets about all things wine. Read her blog and follow her on twitter.


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