Marthélize Tredoux: On the state of SA wine writing

computer-wineSome days, sitting down to write about wine is infuriatingly frustrating. Bang-your-head-on-the-desk type frustrating. I should be more specific though: the type of writing I do here can be frustrating.

I’ve been taking a look at who’s writing about wine in South Africa: what they’re writing about, where it’s being published, who’s reading it and – more importantly – who cares. The answer to the latter appears to be “nobody”.

Perhaps that’s harsh. You’re reading this right now. It just seems like while wine writing in many different forms seem to be gaining traction globally, in South Africa we’re losing ground. And column inches.

I consulted the oracle of Google to check on how many prominent, international publications still regularly feature wine columns or at least dedicate a decent amount of their food/lifestyle pages to drink. Turns out, there’s still plenty out there.

Eric Asimov regularly writes for The New York Times. The Financial Times has a popular “Food & Drink” feature which Jancis Robinson still regularly contributes to. So does The Wall Street Journal. The San Francisco Chronicle, forbes.com, The Los Angeles Times, The Seattle Times.

Major newspapers sourcing quality wine writing that is both accessible and interesting to the general public.

I’ll skip the comparison to what’s happening locally because, frankly, it’s too gloomy.

Yes – I already hear some of you bemoaning the lot of the newspaper industry and how everyone is losing ground to digital. Your argument is moot. All the above examples are available online. Most aren’t even behind a paywall. So what exactly is the excuse?

Instead of seeing our major publications investing in any kind of development of wine writing at all, most settle for 80% press releases, 15% fluff and maybe – and I think I’m being generous here – maybe 5% quality content.

Even on the online/informal/blogosphere fronts we’re lagging far, far behind. Winefolly and Vinepair have been flooding my social media feeds lately with a lot of really great content. I just can’t find a consistent analogue locally. And for all the yammering I hear local people doing about “wine education” and “making wine more accessible” I don’t see diddly squat happening on the same scale as (for example) our US counterparts.

You know, I’d even welcome some original Buzzfeed -type listicles.

We have some pretty good wine blogs, sure. A lot of them eventually crack under the crushing weight of press releases and demand by PR agencies on when they’ll be featuring the freebies they were sent. Even if you aren’t blegging, you soon find yourself invited to less events and launches if you don’t copy and paste those press releases.

And I know we have some nuggets of shining potential talent, but who’s helping them? Are the doyens of the local wine writing scene actually mentoring anyone? Or do they not really care and are they just waiting to retire into a bottle of Martinho Vintage Port one day, never to be heard from again?

What’s that? Why don’t I go out and fill the gap in the market that I’m complaining about.

Because I have a day job. One I like very much. One I would like to keep. But also one that pays my bills so I can do writing like this on the side. If I had to rely on wine writing for that, I’d be destitute.

  • Marthélize Tredoux is the co-owner and editor at Incogvino. By day, she helps SA wineries sell their wine in the USA. She won the Veritas Young Wine Writers Competition in 2013.

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Wine magazine was published from October 1993 until September 2011 & now lives on in digital form as Winemag.co.za. We cover everything to do with SA fine wine.

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