Nedbank Green Wine Awards – Musings and opinions of a concerned consumer

I sit here writing this article with a glass of Wedderwill Sauvignon Blanc 2007(which is drinking magnificently at the moment) wondering why these natural wines are struggling to sell in South Africa.

Last week I attended the Nedbank Green Wine Awards Ceremony at the Mount Nelson in Cape Town.

The awards were a very stylish affair and it was a quintessentially glorious Cape Town summer afternoon. Canapes were served in the garden while the best red(Laibach’s The Ladybird Red 2010), and best white (Reyneke Chenin 2010) winners were announced accompanied by perfectly chilled glasses of the Reyneke Chenin and interestingly, a Waverley Hills Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc.

It was notable that the Waverley Hills Sem/Sauv. was the only wine served at these awards that was not a winner and we discovered later that it was the joint 2nd highest wine scored overall. In fact it came very close to being the winner in the best white wine category.

Other winners were Stellar Heaven on Earth for the Best Natural Sweet and the Best Environmental Practice Award went to Paul Cluver in Elgin.

Before moving into the Planet Restaurant for lunch and the announcement of the Best Wine Overall winner, the exec. chef Rudy Liebenberg spoke to us about how he designed the menu for the day based on the winning wines being served and also gave us an informative rundown of the sustainability of the ingredients sourced and used.(watch this space for more on Rudy and the Planet Restaurant)

Appetites suitably whet, both for the food to come and the announcement of the Best Wine Overall winner, we moved inside and took our places at our designated tables. Our table was made up of myself, my colleague Oliver Bauer and an assortment of wine journalists and marketers.

We sat down to a great meal, accompanied by the Ladybird Red, while speeches were made and the Best Wine Overall winner (Reyneke Chenin 2010) was announced. It is now the 2nd year running that Reyneke has won the Best Wine Overall Award and he is obviously now the top exponent of his trade in this country. Well done to Johan and also well done to the team at Laibach who have been knocking on the door and even been slightly unlucky at these awards for the last couple of years now.

If there was a winery of the year award based on number of wines entered scoring 3 stars or more it would have gone to Reyneke which scored 1 x 4 star, 1 x 3¬Ĺ star and 5 x 3 stars…more than double anyone else. This is maybe something that could be considered going forward as this type of award does appear in other competitions.

Two points were made during the speeches that were of interest to me and the main reason for this article…the first one, made by Christian Eedes, who voiced a concern over the lack of growth of entries into the competition since its inception.

There are a couple of reasons which I am going to touch on as to why this could be…the first one being the slight controversy last year over one of the judges on the tasting panel being involved with the eventual winner Reyneke Woolworths Chenin 2009. I am sure that this did not influence the decisions made, but I do know that there was some outcry over this as one should not only be independent but, more importantly one should be seen by others to be independent, especially when it comes to awards. I know that the intention of these awards and of the people involved are good however and I am sure that this slight blip will not re-occur in the future.

I do think that a winery of the year award as discussed above would also encourage more producers to enter more of their wines into the competition.

Happily there are a number of wineries that are in the process of certification over the coming 12 – 18 months and this should bump up the number of entries quite nicely.

The other issue discussed how well the ‘natural’ wine movement is doing overseas compared to here in South Africa and this is something I feel very strongly about. It seems that there is a bit of a backlash from South African consumers regarding organically grown and produced products in this country which is even more pronounced in the wine industry. The use of the word ‘organic’ in branding is almost a double edged sword these days and Waverley Hills has even resorted to removing this word from the front label of their wines after sales dipped when it was prominently displayed. This is a sad indictment as to the level of knowledge of the average South African consumer as regards the benefits to the environment, our health and more importantly to the wine itself!

People in this country seem to think that organic wine is somehow inferior to conventional wine when, if one took the time to understand what the term really means, this is impossible to be so. Organic or ‘natural’ wines reflect greater individuality and variety because producers allow the terroir to reflect its true essence due to minimal intervention(no pesticides or chemicals) and the inherent robustness of the meso-climate of a natural vineyard. It all then comes down to the talent of the winemaker as to how good the wine is actually going to be.

As Michel Chapoutier(stellar biodynamic winemaker in France) says quite beautifully, and I quote…”on the vine you create the ladder which the winemaker then climbs, but you cannot go higher than the ladder itself”. Organic and biodynamic vineyard practices should by their inherent nature lead to higher ladders.

Notice that I am using the term ‘natural’ rather than ‘organic’ or ‘biodynamic’ and will be doing so more and more in the future as I feel that this term could potentially be the catalyst for changing the consumers perception regarding these unique and expressive wines. Why?

Replacing the word organic or biodynamic with the term ‘natural’ on the labels should allow the following to happen:

  • Informed consumers will continue purchasing the wines as they already know if a wine is organically produced or not(merely include the term in the fine print on the back label),
  • Ordinary consumers, with these unfounded but very real misconceptions, will not be scared off by the term organic and in fact should be attracted to these ”natural’ wines.

The term organic should not be used as a marketing tool or trick as this is just not sustainable or viable at the moment in this country.

Happy, healthy and responsible  eating and drinking to you all.