Tim James: Cape Winemakers Guild membership scrutinised

By , 13 October 2014

CWG-logo1This year’s Cape Winemakers Guild Auction is now done – very successfully, and with encouraging suggestions that there are a number of rich people out there, including local and foreign diners at certain restaurants, willing to spend a lot of money on Cape wine (much more once Mr Pick of the Butcher Shop & Grill has added his mark-up). So it seems more than usually curmudgeonly to raise a few questions about the Guild.

But there are legitimate questions about the membership of something styling itself as “a body of 45 members who jointly represent the pinnacle of South African wine achievement”.  It would take a committed curmudgeon to suggest that a few of the members don’t quite qualify as being amongst “some of South Africa’s finest winemakers”, so let’s stick to the absence of some names.

There have been a few resignations of smart winemakers over the years – including a piqued André van Resnburg, and an (as far as I know) un-piqued Chris Keet; and Eben Sadie is one who has thus far declined to be nominated. But it would be fascinating to know what happens at the secret polls when nominations of new members are dealt with.

Who, for example, has been opining that Chris Williams of Meerlust and The Foundry is not a suitable member? – three times he has been rejected! Wouldn’t you have thought Chris was rather more eminent than … well, OK, forget that. At least Gottfried Mocke finally made it a year or two back, but it was a long wait before he got enough support to join the hallowed throng.

I wonder if the effective vetoers are always the same, and what their motives might be. Surely not fear of competition? Some subtle factionalism? One member did tell me that he always votes in favour – “the more the merrier!”, he says. But others clearly want to keep things more exclusive.

Members are required, let me remind you, to be “winemakers recognised for their high standards of craftsmanship, who have been responsible for producing outstanding wines for a minimum of five years and are actively involved in operations in the cellar from harvest to bottling”. I wonder how some of the missing winemakers are seen to fall short, either not being nominated or failing the vote – apart from those still short of the five-year criterion.

But how about Bruwer Raats, perhaps? Gordon (and Nadia) Newton-Johnson? Razvan Macici of Nederburg? Carl van der Merwe (Quoin Rock and now DeMorgenzon)? Edmund Terblanche of La Motte? Peter-Allan Finlayson of Crystallum? Adam Mason (Klein Constantia and now Mulderbosch)? Albie Koch of De Toren? Sebastian Beaumont? To just start the list….

On the other hand, the Guild must grapple with the question of members who are actually no longer winemakers – or at least have handed over prime responsibility in the cellar. For example, Platter’s lists Braam van Velden as a viticulturist at Overgaauw, and his son David as the winemaker – yet Braam remains a CWG member. On what basis? Etienne le Riche is still listed as cellarmaster of the winery he founded, but son Christo is in charge of winemaking. I reckon there are other members who would have trouble proving they are “actively involved in operations in the cellar from harvest to bottling” – as opposed to coming in at blending time to offer an opinion.

As yet, there is no CWG constitutional possibility for simply handing over membership to one’s offspring, as in a traditional aristocracy. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s on the way.

  • Tim James is founder of Grape.co.za and contributes to various local and international wine publications. He is a taster (and associate editor) for Platter’s. His book Wines of South Africa – Tradition and Revolution appeared in 2013.


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