A fistful of thoughts from Fridjhon
Up close & personal with the Chairman of the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show
2 May 2017: An autumn sunrise with mist hanging low in the valley announces the start of a busy and stressful week – but Michael Fridjhon (pictured here) is in a relaxed mood. He puts down his coffee, slowly folds his hands behind his head and looks out to the vineyards and mountains beyond the Grande Roche Hotel, where he’s presiding over the 2017 Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show judging until Friday.
“As always, it’s a heavy job at hand for the panels of judges who have to taste no fewer than 960 entries over the next few days – but it is also a humbling task when you think about the immense talent of our South African winemakers and the pride that we enjoy when showcasing their craft,” says Michael.
Reflecting on the 16 editions since the launch of the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show, is the competition today what he envisaged back then?
“Yes, indeed – I do think we are doing the right things. So far, year after year we’ve succeeded in attracting a combination of brilliant international and local judges, and it certainly has helped to raise the profile of our top South African wines. The competition now is solid and credible; we’ve got real momentum and a prestigious position in the world of fine wine.”
What makes a wine show successful? What are the things that really matter?
“For me it is actually two things: the first is that it needs to contribute to the industry. A competition like this gives us an opportunity to look at ourselves and to examine ourselves. It provides an important perspective on the industry, on what we have and how we present it. In my view wine producers are also taking competitions such as the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show more seriously – so we now see perhaps fewer entries but a higher percentage of premium wines.
“In this sense the world of wine is similar to the business of art: you need good artists – but you also need good curators. You need the folk who can sift through all the paintings or sculptures and select those that showcase the best artistic talent in the best way.
“The second thing is that we discover wineries and boost their prominence. Each year we recognise great talent and this fuels their commercial prospects. The Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show has become a truly independent force; it is objective and our medal and trophy winners benefit from this recognition. Again, to follow on from my earlier art example, celebrated artists will tell you about the galleries or curators in their careers who discovered them and provided them with a platform. I’m proud to say the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show is such a place.”
What is the biggest achievement of the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show?
“My immediate answer would be that the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show has given the industry the confidence to show the world that it believes in itself. I think we sometimes forget what our world looked like in 2000: we were returning to a world stage after long years of isolation, our wine prices had not increased, South Africa had a reputation for ‘cheap and cheerful’ wines – and then we saw the talent of young winemakers, people like Eben Sadie and this certainly helped make the world aware of us.
“The other part of the answer lies in how incredibly dynamic our wines are – and to me the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show lends expression to it. South African wines excite, full stop. Our country and our wine industry have survived incredible challenges. We continue to see new areas coming into production; new varieties being planted. There are generational shifts and personnel changes. It contributes to this very dynamic winemaking culture with new styles, new varieties, new thinking – and these wines continue to win meaningful and significant medals. This is what we recognise and showcase at the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show.”
Moving on … what will the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show look like in the future?
“Rejuvenation – that is the key priority. We have a succession plan in place so we’ll see a younger generation of judges and associated judges coming to the fore, and we need that to continue growing experience and building a strong pipeline of knowledgeable judges.
“Importantly, part of this speaks to transformation too – our industry and environment need to transform; and our show is making great strides towards diversity. In short, the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show needs to remain relevant in the lives of individual wine lovers – and in the lives of our country’s great winemakers. And for that we’ll need to focus on doing relevant things.”