Balls, Bibulous Banks and Hangovers


The terrifying slow motion ballet that is the global meltdown of the world’s banking system looks set to rewrite the public face of SA wine. Even show impresarios – the largest profit centres for the last few years – should soon feel the icy tingle of the trickle-down economy. For how much longer can Old Mutual be seen to fund the glitzy indulgence of a Trophy Wine Show as it writes off US subprime investments and changes CEOs faster than room service at the Grande Roche?

auden Balls, Bibulous Banks and Hangovers

Last month Investec dropped a rumoured R250K at the Winemakers Choice Competition and almost double that to launch an (admittedly brilliant) MCC at Summer Place in Melrose. They’re all at it: Nedbank were headline sponsors of Cape Wine 2008 and last week announced a three year extension of sponsorship of the Cape Winemakers Guild Auction. Absa has Beyers and his Pinotage, Rand Merchant Bank has WineX and Standard Bank supports the Soweto Wine Festival.

As bank employees get laid off by the branch full and overdrawn clients hit the wall, how sustainable will marketing spend on wine be? Quite why generous sponsorships are required – seeing as though hard-pressed producers pay to enter these shows – has never been satisfactorily explained. Perhaps now is the time to call in the forensic auditors and determine just why shows are so expensive, or is that just shutting the stable door after the horse has elegantly trotted off with great finesse and a lingering, linear aftertaste…

Not that a withdrawal of banking bucks will bring any joy, except to schadenfreude self-loathers, KWV short-sellers and the odd masochist in Kenilworth who thinks that profit derived from wine is a synonym for exploitation anyway.

That great English poet Wystan Hugh Auden (born a century ago last year and owner of an incredible crinkled face that had David Hockney asking ‘if his face is so wrinkled, what the hell does his scrotum look like?’) puts things in perspective in his poem Musée des Beaux Arts:

In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure…