Competitions are no laughing matter.

What do those who award themselves medals, or winners of their own national lottery and the Top 100 SA Wines: Wine List Challenge have in common?  They all declared themselves winners in their own “competitions”.  You see Idi  was known to hand out medals for all sorts of trivial things to himself, Bob Mugabe has won the Zim Lotto on the odd occasion. And the Top 100 SA Wines: Wine List Challenge has just voted its very own wine list as one of the best in South Africa. So if it is good for Bob and Idi it is good for us. Not quite.

The murky and shady world that is South Africa wine has seen it fair share of controversy over the years. Nothing like a bit of scandal to drum up publicity. Enter one Robin von Holdt of Rodwell House in St James. Earlier this year he launched the Top 100 SA Wines Competition to great fanfare and controversy. And that bring us to his latest business, money spinning adventure, wine related competition the Top 100 SA Wines: Wine List Challenge. A competition to find South Africa’s finest wine lists. Only problem is Robin’s very own guest house, Rodwell House, was voted as having one of the best wine lists in South Africa. Nothing like patting yourself on the back old chap. Remember those arb competition rules printed in such small type you couldn’t read them anyway: no direct employees of company X or their family members, nobody within a nuclear zone of company x may enter competition Y. Well seems Robin never read those rules either, as if they don’t apply to himself or his competition. I wonder if at the awards ceremony he will be handing over an award to…himself.

As with most competitions the judges should be independent of who they judge. The judges were judging Rodwell House , Rodwell House is owned by Robin, he pays their wage and therefore there is a clear link between the judges and Rodwell House. Whether this effected the judges or not we will never know, but to dispel any doubt Rodwell House should never have entered their ”own” competition. When questioned if the results were audited and verified, like they do in those silly beauty pageants, Robin replied that GH Willis & Co and Vivid Accounting were the paid for Auditors for the event. A quick Google of GH Willis & Co threw up a blank and when contacted Vivid Accounting confirmed they are bookkeepers and not auditors… As entries for this event are done purely via an entry form I wondered if any of the entrants had actually been visited. Robin’s answer was that 20 restaurants had been visited. Yet when I did a bit of homework and made a few calls it seems I couldn’t find one entrant that had been visited by a representative of the Top 100 SA Wines: Wine List Challenge. I am sure there is a fairly good explanation for all of this and that Robin would be able to provide a detailed list of venues visited, dates, times etc. The cost to enter the event and for making the final list was about R1500, I assume Rodwell House also paid this entry fee like all other entrants and that Robin has proof of this. To make white wine even murkier the judging took place at Rodwell House… nothing like an unfair advantage when playing host.

This is wrong on so many levels. Yet Robin via Twitter seems to think nothing of the fact of this major conflict of interest. Reality is that this is a very small and fairly insignificant event on the SA wine calendar, so I am not sure how seriously consumers will take the final results. What really concerns me and has my alarm bells ringing is the Top 100 SA Wines cavalier approach to ethics and competition standards. If this is the way they go about their business, then serious questions need to be asked about The Top 100 SA Wines Competition. This is the big mamma competition held earlier this year to unearth South Africa’s finest 100 Wines. The monies involved are huge, certainly hundreds of thousands of Rands are spent on books, entry fees etc. The stakes for producers are enormous. Competitions of any kind need to be managed and meet the highest professional standards.

Last week I had the honor of judging at the most irreverent wine awards ever: THE SA BOX WINE AWARDS. This is all about fun, having a laugh, enjoying wine and pokes fun at the so called snobbery and seriousness of wine. In my humble opinion the SA Box Wine Awards has more credibility than the Top 100 SA Wines: Wine List Challenge.