Opinion, Rants, and Stories

Another Damned Wine Competition

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I noticed this a little while back, but I think I subconsciously blocked it out. I have steered clear of writing anything about wine competitions because rants get tiring. Like ’em, hate ’em, or be entirely ambivalent about them, wine competitions and awards are going to be here forever.

I have made peace with this idea. But the thought of more competitions is ludicrous; especially one so obviously determined to print as many stickers as possible, that were I a conspiracy theorist, I’d start looking for printing companies putting up the cash to run the damned thing.

The competition I am alluding to was announced a little earlier this month and is called the The Vitis Vinifera Awards – although it should be named, the GOLD FOR ALL AND SUNDRY AWARDS – and is being run by Bertus van Niekerk, garagiste wine producer and part time dominee. When I started reading about these awards I laughed. I thought, excellent, someone with a sense of humour has trolled wine.co.za with an excellent bit of satire. But sadly, it seems to be real.

Here’s the link to the press release. I’m going to go through a few bits because these awards are a wholly ridiculous idea.

Basically the notion here is that competitions don’t award enough medals, and as such don’t give consumers enough choice. Do you know how to solve this? Easy. Hand out more medals. Doh! Why didn’t I think of that.

Many fine wines are not entered into competitions because competitions are structured to only reward a small number of entries. Often excellent wines are relegated to silver or bronze medals based only on the philosophy that superb wines must also be the exception rather than the rule.

Yes that’s exactly right; superb wines, as in very high scoring wines, as in 18pts plus, or 95 plus, are the bloody exception. If we put aside the flaws inherent in wine compeitions for a second and just look at the notion of competitions, surely the very reason for their existence is for the best wines to rise up to the top. The Vitis Vinifera Awards is not a competition, but a group of people handing out noddy badges.

“I’ve made a wine.”

“Really, what’s it like?”

“Pretty tasty, try some.”

“Ooh yes, tastes like every other R80 red wine. Boring stuff.”


“Here’s a double gold medal for you.”

Few producers enter competitions hoping to achieve bronze and many will even choose not to display silver stickers on their bottles.

Easy enough. No bronze or silver medals here. Golds all round. Problem solved. NO! The reason that producers don’t put bronze stickers on their bottle is because there are already to many fucking stickers and as such they have lost value. More gold stickers simply devalue what’s already out there.

“Mr. President, the country is running out of money.”

“It’s OK we’ll just print some more.”

Great, the hyperinflation of wine competition stickers.

“Gerald, you brilliant winemaker you, I see you’ve just got a Centuple Gold at Veritas for your Chocolate Pinotage.”

Ironically, this just exacerbates the problem: it has become very difficult for the average consumer to come across an awarded wine on a regular basis.

What? Are you kidding? This suggestion implies that without a damned little sticker on a bottle a wine is no good. Sod that. The best wines of my life have never come within a mile of a sticker. You are not helping the consumer, but forcing them to believe that only wines with stickers are worth anything. I hope this little bit of irony, Bertus, is not lost on you.

Vitis Vinifera Awards will give a fair assessment of quality wine which are already displayed on shelves and listed in restaurants. It will reverse the notion that quality wines can only be bought on allocation or through specialist wine shops. Skilled winemakers in South Africa have the luxury of choosing from a wide variety of ripe grapes as a result of excellent growing conditions and this result in wonderful and affordable wines that can almost be found anywhere.

Although this is not the main focus of the competition, Vitis Vinifera Awards will also award trophy stickers to category winners. Connoisseurs and collectors who select the best this country has to offer will more often than not find that exotic wines bear the Vitis Vinifera Trophy Award. Vitis Vinifera Awards will only award gold, double gold and trophy stickers.

So basically wines that have already been sold out, or have a big enough demand to warrant allocation can’t enter. So wines that need the most help to be sold will be awarded, rather than those who probably deserve the medals in the first place. You see, brilliant satire.

Yes, we make affordable good quality wines in South Africa. Double golds for all. Man, I wish life worked like this. Bertus, can you take over the running of the SA wine writers competition so we can all win and get the 20k?

Oh, and by ‘exotic’ I assume he means, “unable to wine anything anywhere else.”

Vitis Vinifera Awards aims to commend more good wines than any other competition, where normally the focus is primarily on the exclusive, elusive top echelon wines.

No Bertus, the focus of other competitions is not on top echelon wines, the focus is on the best wines getting the best scores (well that’s what they attempt). This is what a competition is. You are not suggesting a competition, you are suggesting a thinly veiled marketing scheme.

Wineries of South Africa, why not just send me all your wine and then I’ll send you a sticker design that you can print an put on your bottle. Oh don’t even bother with the wine, just print this out for yourselves. Centuple Golds on request.

Harry's free stickertest4

I mean, really.

Let’s be serious for just a second. I want to reiterate that Bertus van Niekerk is not launching a new competition. He is launching a new – well not new really, actually very old, tired and repetitive – way of marketing wine. Other competitions already do this, but at least they have a competitive element. Bertus is launching the Olympics with no qualifying times, a surfing contest where you can use a yacht, jetski, windsurfer, or lilo. This, friends, is no competition, it’s a celebration of mediocrity parading as a marketing stunt, parading as a competition.

The only defence that I can see Niekerk making of this endevour is that it assists consumers as it gives them more choice, or perhaps helps them choose. No. It does not. As the competition ‘rules’ state the wine has to already be available the choice is already before the consumer. Handing out medals is not giving them more choice or helping them decide which wines are better than others, it is saying “these wines are worthy of double gold” when they may very well not be. If anything this will confuse the consumer, not aid them.

CONSUMERS: Ignore this competition

PRODUCERS: Really, how desperate do you have to be?

All this goddamn competition has got me to do is rant about competitions again. Why I oughta…..

And if you want to know how much it costs to coat your wine in golden glory:

Vitis Vinifera Awards is the most affordable competition in the country. Entries cost R500 per wine. Gold and double gold stickers will be available at R300 per 1000. Six bottles of each wine entered should be delivered to Vitis Vinifera Awards by the end of September. Wines not used in tastings will be donated to charity.


7 thoughts on “Another Damned Wine Competition”

  1. You can’t really blame ol Bertus. He’s just taking his cue from honourable Angie and the rest of the country’s ruling party. If you can’t go up in standard, we’ll bring the standard down to meet you. An aside – I wonder if perhaps Bertus will launch his competition with another biblical stunt – this time maybe a clothed woman riding a shaven horse or something inane along those lines.

  2. My (less eloquent) reply on wine.co.za when I read about this new award:

    Cheapening the sticker? Werner – 20 June 2013

    Since all wines nowadays carry stickers (gold and double gold), they no longer mean anything. By dishing out another set of gold and double gold stickers (to more wines than any other competition) what are we achieving other than giving money to Bertus?

    1. Do those shiny medals on the Castle Lager label make consumers buy a bad beer? No, they have one Castle and then know the medals mean nothing.

    2. Does the sticker have any credibility? No, Bertus is incentivised to award as many stickers as possible (to more wines than any other competition).

    3. Positive is the wines will be tasted blind.

    1. Hello Werner

      I left a reply to your note on wine.co.za. In the reply I mentioned that not all wines carry stickers, certainly gold or double gold, where I shop. In fact, it’s sometimes hard to find a medalled wine on shelves even in specialist wine shops.

      I also replied that indeed the golden stickers on Castle beer leads to better sales and higher consumption of that particular label. I fail to see the relevance and consistency of your argument there …

      Lastly, the credibility does not lie in the sticker, but in the opinion of the customer that buys the wine. No wine producer would ever tell his customer that he does not have a credible opinion on the wine purchased.



  3. So what was the outcome of the Every-child-a-winner awards?

    The big question: which wines entered and did not get a big sticker?

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