Jean Vincent Ridon and the SA Wine Tasting Championships
02 December 2015
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Brad Brown: Time to chat some more wine here on the podcast and it’s an absolute pleasure to welcome onto the show a man who is no stranger to the South African wine fraternity, it is Jean Vincent Ridon, welcome, nice to catch up, bonjour.
Jean Vincent Ridon: Yes, bonjour, thank you for having me on the radio, I’m very happy to join you today.
BB: Jean Vincent, before we get into what I want to chat about today, there’s obviously been a great competition, it’s the SA wine tasting championships that you’ve been very involved in. Let me find out more about you and if our listeners don’t know much about you, where did your journey into wine start?
My wine ambition brought me to South Africa
JVR: My journey into wine started when I was a little kid, I come from a family where wine was very important and I started my own company making wine and I then trained myself as a sommelier. I had my first wine bar restaurant when I was 21, if I remember well, which was a mistake when you do things so young.
But I got into wine and I learnt wine making and came to South Africa to make my first wine in 1996. So it’s been my 20th harvest as a winemaker and still working a lot as a sommelier and a wine adviser for many people in the industry.
BB: Jean Vincent, what brought you to South Africa? Why South Africa of all places?
JVR: It’s coming from France where the history of wine has been written for centuries, you feel quite oppressed and the ability for me when South African became a free country again was to come and experience the freedom to push the boundaries. That’s why as a winemaker I’ve been doing a lot of new stuff, things that was not illegal in France, but that was cast in stone.
You had to do Sauvignon Blanc a certain way and Pinot another way, only in certain regions. Here I’ve been able to be the first to do Grenache, first to do Petit Verdot, pushing boundaries and creating what South Africa wine industry will be in the future, so it was a great adventure, it was a great journey for me, yes.
BB: Let’s talk about the SA Wine Tasting Championships, it sounds like a lot of fun, but it gets taken very seriously doesn’t it?
The art to being a good wine taster
JVR: It is, you know, on one side some people take it very seriously because yes, at the end of the day, the best of us will fly to the World Championships and fly the national colours. It’s not something to be taken lightly, however, the South African Wine Tasting Championship is an event where everybody can participate, it’s like an open competition where people can, we’ve got three provincial legs.
One in CT, one in Jo’burg and one in Durban. People come to a mini wine show, they taste wine from different wineries, about 50 wines and then they come into a blind tasting arena where they face 10 decanters which are completely anonymous and they have to recognise the wines that they ‘ve been exposed to.
It sounds very easy, actually it’s an ego crusher, trust me, even the most trained sommeliers, the wannabe wine gurus, they have to be very humble in front of the anonymous decanters because it can be so misleading. The point is to appeal to your natural taste memory. So even if you don’t know anything about wine, we all have friends around here that oh, they know the perfume you’re wearing, they can recognise this type of flower just by the smell of it.
These types of people have very strong palette and nose memory, these people, if properly trained, can be the Robert Parker of tomorrow. It’s just a question of using the natural talent into the wine industry and the South African Wine Tasting Championship is not the end at picking out this natural talent, it’s like a South African Idol for wine lovers.
BB: Jean Vincent as far as the quality of South Africans when it comes to wine tasting, are you finding that it’s mostly people who work in the industry or were you surprised by someone out of left-field who possibly is not involved in the industry but they’re just a massive wine lover? Where did you see the top competition coming from?
Exposing South Africans to different styles of wines
JVR: You know, there’s a lot of wine lovers in South Africa, but people haven’t been exposed so much to all the styles of wine. We’ve been isolated for so long in South Africa and still finding international wines on the shelf, is either too expensive or just plain very difficult to source.
There’s a real passion about wine in SA, now when I bring the Team South Africa to the World Championship which will be the four best tasters of all the provincial legs. You know, I was not expecting to become World Champion, it can be like, I still remember the movie Rasta Rockett, it’s a bit, with South Africa, we just want to be part of the world tribe of the wine lover of the wine industry.
However, team 2015 brought me a great gift because we did the best score we ever did. It scored over 12 wines from all around the world and some of the wines we had, like a cultivar from Greece, which I’ve tasted that once in my life and nobody in the team could find that out because nobody has ever been exposed to that wine.
But we made enough points, I think we made 98 points this year, which put us seven or eight points away from the French team who were the World Champions the year before. We’re on the top 12 of the best teams of the world and for us, it’s a great achievement. So I was very happy and I can see bringing new wine lovers, realising, oh, next year I want to participate, next year I want to take my chance.
Yeah, it’s a nice brotherhood of wine and as a small story, it was so nice to see Team Monaco that was as well participating to this World Championship, bringing a special gift from Princess Charlene with South Africa, the Prince Albert II and because she’s South African, she sent a small word through Team Monaco to make us feel like we’re part of the world as South Africa and that’s a feel-good feeling, trust me.
BB: That’s fantastic, what a great story. Jean Vincent, if somebody is listening to this and goes, I would like to be involved in that next year, I’d like to test my palette against the best in South Africa and possibly make that South African team to represent the country, what advice would you give to someone sitting at home listening to this now? I’m guessing the first one would be to try and experience as many wines as possible.
How to get into wine tasting
JVR: You know, we should not say on the radio drink a lot because you have to say with moderation with alcohol, because it would be bad for you and it’s true. However, to train, when you smell a wine, you open a bottle of wine, you just smell it and you try to find markers in the wine. Is it the fruit, is it the acidity on the palette, what makes this wine different.
We’re all wine lovers, even myself, when I’m not asked to really identify the wine, I’m just enjoying the wine regardless of where it’s coming from. I’m not this analytical geek that absolutely tries to find, hmmmm, that’s 2005 it’s a…no, that’s just to impress people on TV.
Wine is made to be enjoyed, but even when you enjoy it, you just need to find markers, what type of fruit, the volume, the alcohol level, the tannin of the wine and if you want to participate next year, you can find either on Facebook or on our page or we will announce very soon the different provincial championships.
You come, you get your ticket, you get your glass, you go through the wine and one advice I have to give, don’t over-think, follow your instincts. I’ve seen so many great wine-lovers and great wine tasters, journalists etc, they felt so much pressure because they didn’t want to perform bad that actually; instinctively, they could find most of the wines on a blind tasting but because they were over-thinking it.
They’ve crushed the good answers and you know, when you want to follow the wrong path, you always find an excuse for it. Just follow your instincts. Even at the World Championship, we work as a team of four people. So I’m the coach and I’m just here to try to play the Devil’s Advocate and listen to what they say and guide them with the answer, what it could be. Very often the right answers come within 30 seconds and after that, when we try to find if it’s the right wine or the wrong wine, then sometimes we get completely lost.
The best is follow your instincts, if you feel that’s mellow, just write mellow down because after that, the wine is getting oxygen, your palette gets fatigued and you might end up saying oh, that’s Pinot Noir, that’s Cabernet, where actually you had the right answer first. So just trust your instincts.
BB: I love it. Great advice. If you want to find out more, get to the website, sawtc.co.za, it’s the South African Wine Tasting Championships, the acronym, sawtc.co.za, they’re also on Facebook, just search for South African Wine Tasting Championships and you can get all the details there. Jean Vincent Ridon, thank you so much for joining us here on Old Mutual Live today, much appreciated. We look forward to catching up again soon.