Diners Fiasco: Business Day weighs in

Business Day pundit Michael Fridjhon waded into the Diners Club Winemaker of the Year fiasco (from the Italian for a wine bottle, e.g. a fiasco of Chianti) last week. As fellow columnist for organizers WINE magazine and commercial partner in Tasting Academies, Trophy Shows, Experiences and suchlike, his comments are sure to be viewed as less than impartial in some quarters, such is the divided topology of the Kingdom of Bacchus at the southernmost tip, alas.

capepoint Diners Fiasco: Business Day weighs in

But conflicts of interest in the fourth estate aside, the elephant in the Diners dining room seems to me to be a breakdown in the auditing process. Surely someone should have counted the cases before a winner was announced? Which certainly used to be the case. Simonsig memorably missed out on Diners glory some years back for precisely this reason, the victor’s laurels going (most deservedly) to big Danie Malan of my parish, his famous vis plakkies not withstanding.

The Business Day story quotes Cape Point supremo Sybrand van der Spuy on the fiasco, presumably lifted from my interview in the Sunday Times that mysteriously appeared with the competition’s controversial 3000 bottle stock requirement magicked down to 300. A level most insiders agree would be more palatable. The original text of that interview:

Rules that make sense

The highest profile SA wine competition, the Diners Club Winemaker of the Year Award, collapsed in confusion last month when winner, Duncan Savage from Cape Point Vineyards, resigned after disclosing he lacked sufficient stock to make the 3000 bottle competition requirement. Neil Pendock spoke to Cape Point owner Sybrand van der Spuy about the Diners disaster.

Q: What happened?

A: We entered this competition in the same way as we enter any competition. We’ve been rather successful over the past four years and have seen an increase in demand for our wines. When WINE magazine interviewed Duncan as a finalist a month before announcing the resuts, he stated that his wine (Cape Point Vineyards Isliedh 2006) was ostensibly sold out. The stock level requirement was as at the date of announcement of results.

They published Duncan’s comments in the December issue of WINE and now accuse him of lying about having sufficient stock. I do not know which part of “sold out “ they did not understand. The buck stops with me and I have full confidence in the integrity and personal qualities of Duncan. He is innovative, passionate and a great winemaker.

Q: What can we learn from the affair?

A: The industry needs to urgently reassess the stock requirement conditions of competitions like Veritas and Diners. We must reassess the functionality of the rules. With around 50 entries for Diners, you have a 2% chance of winning. You can’t just stop selling product with such a small chance of winning. One should set stock quantities at the date of entry (and audit them) to compel producers to enter current wines.

Q: Is this a South African thing? Wine competitions (like Diners last year) seem to be magnets for charges of dubious dealing.

A: I was an outsider who got involved in the industry back in 1996. What struck me then (and still does) is the compassion of my competitors. Ross Gower helped us with the maiden vintage and we made the wine in his Klein Constantia cellar. When our first winemaker quit in the middle of the harvest, Herman Kirschbaum from Buitenverwachting helped out afterhours and wouldn’t accept payment whilst André van Rensburg from Vergelegen showed Duncan how to make proper Sauvignon Blanc wine. Can you imagine [FNB CEO] Paul Harris offering to chair Absa’s credit committee whilst Jacko Maree (CEO of Standard Bank) shows Maria Ramos how to run a bank?