Opinion, Rants, and Stories

Some Recent Thoughts On The South African Wine Writing Scene

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I’ve been absent dear readers, absent-minded mostly, but also absent from this blog. My apologies.

I have ended my year or two stint writing weekly columns for 2oceansvibe.com, so I will hopefully now be able to focus my efforts back here. Not just for wine, because I have learnt a life of writing focused solely on wine is a life that will make you mad, and also poor.

Much has happened over the past year to South African fine wine. Mostly in that the rest of the world seems to be catching up on what our new crop of very very talented wine makers are up to.

It is delightful to see that we have wines that international wine journalists are now happy to use ‘cult’ before mentioning them. High scores in the important publications, entire columns in national British papers dedicated to us, South Africa, and our new talent. Delightful.

Delightful, but also worrying for anyone who wants to write about South African wine for money. These wines were not discovered because of dedicated South African journalists shouting to the world, no, it has happened instead by the hard work of wine marketers, WOSA, brilliant wines, and trips here by aforementioned international journalists.

South Africans, it seems, cannot discover wines. We write to each other waiting for the British and Americans to do all the discovering. Please do not read any bitterness into this, I cannot be happier. People I have got to know well over the last few years who are making these wines deserve every point and column inch they get. Our finest wines are world class, we know this, the world, it seems, has not.

My point is that what are South African wine writers for? Judging by the recent non-result of the Franschhoek Literary Festival’s wine writing award, not much. I am happy to take the judges decision at face value, and believe that the entries we submitted were not good enough. It is entirely possible that while the judges were looking for a vinous Andre Brink, or a vinified J.M. Coetzee they only found drunkenly plagiarized Dan Brown. So be it.

[The previous post here was my entry, and though the R25k would have gone down nicely, I can understand why it did not win]

The world does not look to locals to hear about South African wine, they look to their own. This makes perfect sense, but with mounting international attention on our finest wines, this may begin to change, and I think there are only two people who are ready to attract such a focus.

Christian Eedes with his updated blog, and switch to the100 point-scale seems ready, and Michael Fridjhon, already an internationally renowned wine columnist, seems to be covering his local bases with Wine Wizard. Sorry, a funny aside. Every time I see Mr. Fridjhon’s site I cannot help but pronounce it like that of a Terry Pratchett character. Wine Wiz-aard. I also think of Rincewind, and his suggestion that all you really need to be a wizard is to have the right look.

Anyway. I think that South African wine writing needs a kick up its arse, and hopefully the non-award will be that. Although, I am still waiting for meaningful feedback from the organisers, so the jury is still very much out to lunch with their fourth bottle Chenin on that one.

We need meaningful, useful stories for locals, and we need to start protecting what is ours internationally. Hopefully with the interest in our wines, international editors of wine publications will look to South Africans to write content about South Africa. I feel this is doubtful, but we knew all about Cartology and Julien Schaal’s wines long before they appeared in a Telegraph column. Maybe it’s because those Londoners have still have never met a nice South African.

Looking at all the bitching and in-fighting amongst the food and wine scribes of this country, this is entirely possible.


6 thoughts on “Some Recent Thoughts On The South African Wine Writing Scene”

  1. Good to re-discover your blog, Harry. I shall become a regular reader.
    A point on what you’ve written above. I’m not sure whether you’ve singled out Christian and Michael because they both use a rating system. Personally I get awfully confused by figures generally and the different scoring systems in particular. An 88/100 can have totally different meanings for two people. For quite a while now I’ve given up rating numerically, preferring to describe why I do or don’t like a wine. Those who’ve followed my comments for a while will know the style I prefer and, hopefully be able to guage whether or not they’ll like any wine from my description.
    I should add that I have great respect for both Michael and Christian and hope they and others achieve for South African wine what you believe is currently left to international writers.

    1. thanks for reading Angela, I just hope I can write often enough for you to read regularly.

      I absolutely agree with you with regard to points. Can’t stand the things. I guess what I was trying to say is that with their updated and snappy new sites, they are looking to be THE voices of South African wine both locally and internationally. Based on how they are approaching it (not saying whether I like it or not) I think they are in the best position to do so.

  2. Good to have you back at the blog!

    Another item for thought- why can certain SA wine writers not stop themselves from attacking each other rather than writing about the wine industry? It gets so boring and childish.

  3. Nice one Harry

    Are we as South Africans maybe too blinded by the pizzaz that goes along with wine marketing? Do we notice the artfully made, characterful and sometimes less showy wines amidst the constant hum of PR from the established brands? My hope is that we will see the emergence of (as we have seen with the new generation of young, talented winemakers) a generation of enthusiastic wine lovers and wine writers who are determined to explore, think for themselves and inevitably make the discoveries you speak of. Build it, and they will come!

    Nice Spitting Image reference, by the way


  4. Great Work Harry! We certainly need more wine writers in SA and especially in JHB as well! But for that we need to offer more writing platforms for wine writers to express their views and observations! Perhaps you can start a wine blog, where you allow certain wine writers to post their articles on your blog! I wrote an article a little while ago about some wines that really impressed me and have found it extremely difficult to find an outlet for it to be published as much as I don’t think it is the article/content itself! Let’s make it happen ourselves!

  5. Not a big fans of points systems either, Harry. Fridjhons “Wine Wanker” website was a let down. I expected more, given the lengthy development time and rumoured funds spent. Eedes does a much better job for less investment. The “Ego” on the Wine Wanker site is enough to make you want to take the Pledge. I’m afraid I disagree with most on Fridjhon, as I think he does us more harm than good. I read an article he’d penned for Meiningers – Wine Business International that whilst well written was nothing more than a plug for his own business and that of his mates. He went over to the dark side years ago, and should be left there.
    I look to you and your fold to lead the charge. It won’t comes from the Old Guard, they could teach Zuma a thing or two about corruption and brown envelopes.

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