An open letter to Professor Kader Asmal, SA Wine Council – Kader replies

Dear Kader

Wine Tasting “Qualifications”

The SA Medical Council keeps a tight rein on advertising in the medical profession and with a profusion of charlatans offering cures for Aids, it’s just as well. The situation in the SA wine industry is less clear-cut.

The inside cover of Platter’s SA Wines 2008, the largest SA wine guide, lists abbreviated biographies of the 15 tasters whose sighted opinions constitute the guide. Several tasters list “qualifications” such as “the Cape WSET Wine Judge certification” and “a Certificate of Competence with distinction from the Wine Michael Fridjhon Tasting Academy.”

What tasting “qualifications” does the industry recognize and is there an accreditation process? Peter de Wet, a producer from the wrong side of the mountain, phoned me on Monday with an alarming tale of woe. The Platter’s rating of his “always pleasing” Excelsior Cabernet halved in the 2008 edition as the vintage advanced from 2005 to 2006.

This in spite of 2006 being declared “excellent and largely problem free” as opposed to the “particularly challenging” 2005 by the guide – an assessment Peter agrees with as both he and his US importer regard their 2006 Cabernet as the best since 2001. Yet with two different judges assessing the two vintages sighted, the ratings are markedly different.

Given that this wine will be sold in the 650 restaurants of the Darden Group in the USA where the practice of including ratings on restaurant wine lists is widespread – a practice becoming increasingly popular in SA – the credibility of the two different judges is clearly germane and their “qualifications” speak to this.

Likewise naïve SA consumers might attach more weight to opinions supported by impressive sounding “qualifications” and might regard them as being quantitative or even competent when they are often personal stylistic preferences – surely this touting of “qualifications” to support an aesthetic opinion is an issue for the Advertising Standards Authority of SA to look into?

Another area of potential consumer confusion lies in the award of these tasting “qualifications”. May anyone award wine assessment “qualifications” to paying customers? Unless properly regulated, this may open up the wine drinking public to exploitation, which in turn may bring the industry into disrepute.

Platter’s is just one of several vehicles transporting “qualified” wine tasters whose authority and influence is often not matched by their “qualifications”. If the SA wine industry wishes to provide any credible assessment capability, surely some standards would be nice?

Your guidance in these matters would be appreciated.

Yours sincerely

Neil Pendock
excvinyard03 An open letter to Professor Kader Asmal, SA Wine Council   Kader replies
Kader’s reply:

To : Mr Neil Pendock
From : Professor Kader Asmal
Date : 12 December 2007

Subject : Qualifications for wine testers

Dear Neil

Thank you for your letter concerning the qualifications of wine tasters and gurus. As an old-fashioned academic, I will have to ask you for time before I can make a serious response. As chairperson of the S A Wine Council, I will also have to take into account the views /attitudes of the Board before I make a definite response.

But be assured, I will not ignore what is a serious matter.

Yours sincerely

Professor K Asmal, M.P.

Chairperson, S A Wine Council

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