The Aussie Made Me Do It

Yup, this guy.

Some of you may have noticed that I have not been writing recently. This happens every time I start to believe my own bullshit. When I start taking wine too seriously I get fed up with the whole shebang. This is a terrible attitude for a wine writer.

I have, however, been spurred into action by David Clarke’s recent guest blog on Tim James’ site, where he lists some of his first impressions about the local wine scene. I agree with all of them, but I think they come with added weight, because they are written from an outsider’s POV. We need more stuff like this. 

But, why did this post drag me back here? Well, he calls me out in person:

10. Where are all the young wine writers? And finally, with reverence to my host and provocateur, I ask where are all the young wine writers/critics/judges? The industry is alive with the efforts of vibrant, young winemakers and viticulturists; but where are the members of the wine press born after 1980? Harry Haddon was there, but now he has disappeared. Looking at the panels for competitions and Platter’s, it appears that the wine drinker under 35 is not represented.

Rather than drown in a sea of existential angst: am I here? Where am I? Who am I? I thought I would ask the same question differently.

What do wine drinkers under thirty-five want to read about? Where do writers contribute content for these individuals that allows them to pay rent?

These are difficult questions to answer. Myself and Christiaan Eedes have tried to answer them over many bottles of wine. We have never really got to any conclusion. Apart from the one where we both agree that I do not blog enough.

I have a sort of an answer, that does not really go very far to paying the rent, but it is an answer all the same. Before I get there I think there is another point that David makes that is connected to the lack of wine writing/media in South Africa.

The need for third party validation on both quality and taste. Old Mutual Trophy, Veritas, Top 100, Platter’s, Wine Advocate, Wine Spectator, Decanter, Jamie Goode, Tim Atkin et al: guides to wine all—gospel none. When selecting a wine, they can be informative and useful, especially when they are used in conjunction with each other and, if you are very familiar with them, can make adjustments for taste—theirs and yours. The surprising part of this to me is the omnipresent reliance on these guides (usually just the scores) in and by the South African wine industry. Don’t bother finding out where the fruit comes from, how it was grown, treated in the winery or the stylistic influences and aspirations of the winemaker/s—just memorise the score/s the wine received. Very few in the industry seem confident enough to stand behind the quality and style of their wines without mentioning (ramming it down throats) the “93 points it got from so-and-so”.

As you are all well aware, I am no fan the back slapping, self-congratulatory, circle-jerks that many of these events are. They speak to how wine is marketed in South Africa. Part of a wine writer’s job is to find out and inform about “where the fruit comes from, how it was grown, treated in the winery or the stylistic influences and aspirations of the winemaker.” Yet, with wine being marketed as a lifestyle addition, quality=scores, and anything over R100 is crazy expensive, the realm of the wine writer is generally limited to his or her blog.

Not only do we need more younger wine writers, but we need to understand the younger wine audience. In my opinion, we need to find ways to create one.  It’s a massive challenge, with no financial reward, and its very, very difficult. I’ll admit to failing. It was far far far harder than I thought.

So what’s the solution.

London has seen the release of a new independent wine publication called, Noble Rot. They focus on wine, food, and music covering unashamedly geeky and niche topics, in a pretty engaging, well-written manner. I can say for sure that it is not going to make its owners millionaires, or possibly any profit at all……but



This indie publication managed to raise 3000 quid more than their target. That’s R100k. Does anybody  believe we could do that in SA? Because, to be honest, the only way we are going to see young, talented, interesting young wine writers emerging from South Africa is if we find ways to publish their work in a financially viable manner,  find an audience who wants to listen, and find out what that audience wants to hear.

Why is this important? More than just so there is SOMEONE to write about wine in South Africa in 10 years time, South Africans need to tell the South African wine story. Currently we pander to international journalists to arrive here and tell it for us. South Africans need external validation constantly. While that need is not entirely misplaced, it is makes the narrative of the South African wine industry totally unbalanced.

There are exceptions, of course, Tim, Angela and Christian (and myself in the tiniest way possible) have written for international websites and publications, but that is not what I mean.

If you are a foreigner wanting to learn about South African wine, where do you go online? Jamie Goode’s blog, Jancis Robinson’s site, basically they will be looking outside South Africa. The same could be said of many of the world’s wine regions. But this is what we should be working toward.

Another very important point is that the wine media is not only aging, but very very white. The industry as a whole does not like to talk about it. Serious wine appreciation and writing is always going to be somewhat of a niche subject, but it should definitely not be niche in terms of race. I have no answers, but it is a glaring issue.

There are less column inches available each month, fine wine makers are looking overseas for validation and communication more and more, and we seem to know little and less about what local consumers want to hear about (other than medals, lifestyle, etc.) I really don’t have the answers.

Anyone want to start a super indie, super niche wine magazine with me?

(I’ll also be listening to David and Christian and writing more. But I refuse to take it all too seriously. I have other work now, but will carry on doing this for the joy it brings. Wine’s awesome, and all I can hope for is to make some people agree)


11 thoughts on “The Aussie Made Me Do It”

  1. Nice piece mate. More than anything, we need stories that engage on personal level about the people behind the wine, preferably tinged with a sense of humour. We’re sadly lacking humour in and around wine writing- I know anytime I get together with a bunch of people to drink good wine it’s an almighty hoot- that needs to be projected through the written word as well.

    Great that David has ignited this debate because it is overdue. Where is next gen wine writing in SA going to come from?

    1. Andrew Jefford spoke about humour and narrative being a lack that wine writing all over the world needs to rectify. I agree so hard, that I’ve dislocated my agreement bone. Especially as one front that we wage battle on constantly is trying to convince people that wine is not the sole domain of the rich, pretentious, snobs.

  2. Hey Harry
    Great article and oh so true – on both fronts. I am the furtherest thing from a writer however started a fun, tongue-in-cheek approach to wine for young people. Not enough is being done to make wine approachable and accessible to both the young and uninitiated. The indie wine scene is massive in Oz – can it work here? Who knows. But if someone can make those changes you can’t but do well surely? Can check me out at Ps- just bought a new LP player so a trip to the Milnerton market is now essential!

  3. Here’s the thing…when you start writing about wine, the inclination is to write in a way that validates you to a potential audience ( ie- you want to prove your bona-fides). So you write like everyone else does, technically, and with a focus on the intellectual aspects of wine ( as I did, guilty, your honour) which appeals to the engaged, but pretty much no-one else. Be yourself, write from the heart, write about what wine means to you. Check out some of Campbell Mattinson’s stuff, and Ron Washam. Always good.

  4. Good to see articles back on your blog. I think that we’ve exchanged a few tweets on this in the past – and the frustration with identifying what younger people want to engage with when it comes to wine (if at all) and how South African wine is representing itself to a broader, international audience.
    Since leaving the SA wine industry and moving to London I am always trying to keep up with what is going on back in the Cape, but the availability and quality of content coming out of SA that actual appeals to me is pretty poor. For all their merit, I can only read so much of Angela, Tim and the Wizard. It’s interesting stuff, but not really what I want to read about.
    Jan and Anel are doing a lot to create buzz about the industry but it is more sharing content than creating it. Real Time Wine looked promising but seems to have lost something? Christian’s approach is cool, but I doubt his reach extends too far out from the trade and related industry.
    Too many younger SA commentators (and older ones too) seem to think that you need to be controversial to appeal to younger readers, which is short-sighted and plainly untrue. The embarrassing rants and personal bullshit on many of the more highly regarded blogs and sites speaks volumes of where the industry finds itself, and probably endorses their impression. And much of it seems motivated by jealousy. We don’t all have share collective hugs and sign our posts XOXO. But people are allowed to be different without setting themselves up for ridicule.
    At the same time, we need to remember that the SA industry (and market) is far less mature than many of those that we tend to compare ourselves to, irrespective of how much we may try to deny it. People need to make money and if wine writing can’t pay the bills it is difficult to motivate someone to apply their mind and the time to it.
    Wine people need to respect the audience that they’re trying to engage with – not try to convert them. Don’t tell someone they’re a muppet because they don’t want to spend more than £6 on a bottle of wine.

  5. Hey Chris, thanks for joining in.

    I think this is very important:

    “Wine people need to respect the audience that they’re trying to engage with – not try to convert them. Don’t tell someone they’re a muppet because they don’t want to spend more than £6 on a bottle of wine”

    But I think, especially in South Africa, no one really knows who the audience is, what they want, and how to deliver it. Wine’s niche. It will alway be. Forcing the issue doesn’t work (believe me).

    I have decided to Drink more, write more, tell more jokes. I’m just not going to be bothered about the rest.

  6. I read David’s post, and in chatting with David, and others it does seem his points (and particularly the one your post focuses on) resonate with many who enjoy wine.

    To your suggestion about starting an indie mag – I would love to see something in the Lucky Peach ilk that David Chang started. Although to gain a readership, it may have to include food-realted topics; but I for one would be amped.

    I do see a trend though – whereby the youth are introducing others to wine, and those previously ‘non-vino’ consumers have a latent rubber arm, ready to sample some wine.

    If you ever take this further let me know!


    1. Nic

      Should the jump from concept to reality ever be made. I think people will be pleasantly surprised at what they will find in terms of “readership”. Not enough 18-30 year old people interested in wine?

      Guess again…the industry should do itself a major favour and take a look at who is working in their tasting rooms, what those who work in that capacity think and what they are interested in. You will find vibrant, energetic, young people more in touch with the reality of modern wine than their 50 + year old counterparts, who hide in ritzy bistro’s and still nostalgically argue about the 1998 vintage of some particular wine or another.

      We are keen, willing and able to contribute to the industry we love, but will never be taken seriously by the “Old Guard” , as our views and opinions were not shaped during a million years of segregation. I mentioned the threat our wine industry’s conservative nature poses to its success in another post, so I won’t bring it up here, but that is another boulder blocking the road to participation by the younger generations.

      I concur with most of the opinions raised by his article, especially on the blatant absence of any “young” judges on all of the tasting panels. Who represents their point of view?

      Blessed be the day when I can attend a 5* wine-tasting at my local hang-out, instead of a snobby hotel where I cannot even afford an entree.


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