The Cape Winemakers Guild has announced that it has largely done away with peer review in determining which wines appear on its annual auction. Whereas previously a wine proposed for sale was subject to a blind tasting, Guild members voting to decide if it was up to standard, now all 43 members are entitled to have at least one wine on auction.
This decision must be welcomed as it is an acknowledgement that the process of peer review was narrowing the stylistic range of wines which were making it through to auction, and hence contrary to the what the Guild’s main aim must surely be, that is to lead the way in terms of what the top end of the South African industry wine is capable of.
The panel tasting has not been done away with entirely, wines destined for auction still undergoing some sort of review, this done to facilitate learning and the exchange of ideas. However, in the event that the wine of any particular member is deemed below par by his or her fellows, this is non-binding and that member can still decide to put his or her wine on sale. As such, membership of the Guild becomes the first and only hurdle to cross before a winemaker can take part in the auction.
The requirement that a winemaker must have a wine on auction once in three years in order to retain his or her membership is still in place remains in place, but whether or not this is quite the same spur to action as it used to be is a moot point. It’s difficult to foresee any Guild member sitting an auction out under the new dispensation.
The observation could be made that the Guild has abdicated its responsibility in terms of maintaining quality standards but the retort to this is surely that the Guild has opted to let the market decide who’s hot and who’s not, which will be nothing if not efficient.
The danger here however is that the auction is a key source of revenue for many of the members and they will consequently continue to make fairly safe wines, lest something too alternative alienates potential customers (the biggest buyer for past nine years is restaurateur Alan Pick, who owns Johannesburg’s steakhouse The Butcher Shop & Grill among others).
To this end, it is worth noting that members can in fact have a maximum of two wines on auction, the total number of lots fixed at 780, each member getting an equal share of those lots. A crafty Guild member could therefore potentially put forward both a big red to keep the high rollers that frequent the Butcher Shop & Grill happy as well as an esoteric white blend to titillate the wine geeks.