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The ultimate wine industry benchmarking event

The Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show has entered its 16th edition with 198 participating producers and 960 entries. Designed to enable the ultra-premium end of the Cape wine industry to benchmark performance to the highest international standards, the competition brings some of the world’s leading wine judges to Grande Roche in Paarl from 1 to 5 May.

Three person tasting panels (with at least one of these judges an experienced overseas expert) has been a feature of the competition since its inception. This year’s international judges were Neil Beckett, (UK) Member of the Grand Jury Européen and Editor of The World of Fine Wine; Eduardo Brethauer (Chile) independent wine writer, columnist, publisher and wine editor of Vitis Magazine; and Heidi Mäkinen (UK) Finnish-born senior sommelier at 67 Pall Mall in London. The South African panel comprised Narina Cloete (winemaker, Blaauwklippen Agricultural Estate); Heidi Duminy CWM (National Trade Marketing Manager for Meridian Wine Merchants); Christian Eedes (co-owner and editor of winemag.co.za); Nkulu Mkhwanazi (Durban-based wine educator); James Pietersen (SA Portfolio manager for Wine Cellar); and François Rautenbach (head of the Singita ‘Premier Wine Direct’ programme for Singita Game Reserves). Michael Fridjhon was the Show Chairman.

The participation of a team of associate panellists, drawn from the pool of rising South African winemaking and wine-writing talent, ensures that the next generation of the country’s wine judges gain experience in this most rigorous of environments. A different associate judge sat with each panel on each of the medal-judging days of the show.  They participated in the tasting and the post-judging discussion, though their scores were not necessarily taken into account in the final tally.  Their involvement provides an essential training platform for the country’s wine judges of the future.  This year’s associate judges were Spencer Fondaumiere, Patson Mathonsi, Jacques Mbuyi, Alexandra McFarlane, Tinashe Nyamudoka, Laurie Smorthwaite and Debi van Flymen CWM.

As convenor and chairman since the inception of the competition, Fridjhon sees in the growing diversity of entries evidence of how the industry has evolved since the turn of the century. He is also encouraged by the confidence with which the industry has imbued the show since its launch in 2002. “When times are tough – and wine producers have had a particularly tumultuous time in the past six months – yet entries remain at the same levels as ten years ago, it’s clear that producers recognise that the sounding board provided by the competition is an essential rather than discretionary investment. I’m also particularly happy with the diversity of skills sets represented on the 2017 judging panels. Strong and experienced judges who have worked together in the past and who understand the dynamic on which a consensus-based competition operates are in a position to make an invaluable contribution – not only to the show, but also to the South African wine industry.”

Shiraz was the largest class with 110 submissions (112 in 2016), followed by Cabernet Sauvignon at 93, an increase of over 10% on 2016 (83). Pinotage was slightly down (53 compared with 2016’s 58) and Chenin Blanc was also slightly smaller – 62 instead of 71. Sauvignon Blanc with 92 entries (2016: 105) and Chardonnay with 89 (2016: 104) lead the white wine charge while Bordeaux Blends with 79 (2016: 93), Merlot at 43 entries (2016: 54), and Pinot Noir on 23 (2016: 34) the balance of the remaining red wine classes

Old Mutual, headline sponsor of the competition since its inception, sees great value in a process which identifies the country’s top wines and makes this information available to the South African wine drinking public. Discernment of future value is a key component of the investment side of Old Mutual’s business, locally and internationally, so the process by which the show’s judges approach the task of sifting through the roughly 1000 wines entered annually resonates with the country’s financial services group. Recognising the importance of the rigour which goes into the Show’s judging methodology, Old Mutual takes the top wines on a national roadshow to present them to some 2000 wine enthusiasts in eight cities in South Africa.

Karen Thomas, Head of Brand at Old Mutual, explains the value of the association. “Old Mutual is proud of its 16-year affiliation with one of the country’s top wine competitions, the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show. This sponsorship is a natural fit for us. Like investments, wines take time to cultivate and develop. What’s more, investing for the long-term, like making world-class wine, requires specialist care and expertise. We’re committed to discovering talent and highlighting it both locally and internationally, and we enjoy building relationships with wine lovers all over South Africa and the world. Skills development is an important element of all our sponsorships and we are pleased to also support the development of world-class wine judges through the Wine Judging Academy, run with the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business.”

Nationwide retailer Makro partners American Express, Grande Roche Hotel, Nestlé Pure Life, Miele and Riedel in exercising its right to name a trophy: from 2017 the Show’s top shiraz producer will take home the Makro Trophy. Other named awards include the Chenin Blanc trophy – named after the late Harold Eedes, who, as publisher of Wine Magazine in the 1990s, played a key role in South Africa’s Chenin Blanc renaissance. In 2012 the Trophy for Best Cape Port was named after the late Tony Mossop CWM.

The 2017 Show results will be announced at the awards function to be held at the Mount Nelson Hotel on 30 May. The Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show app – which replaces the original Old Mutual app – will detail the results of the show by medal, category and producer, has links to buying the winning wines via makro.co.za and tickets to the public tastings. Previous results from 2015 and 2016 are already accessible. The 2017 updates will go live immediately after the final results have been announced at the function. This will enable all smartphone-users to access the key information they will need to optimise their wine-purchasing and ordering decisions for the year ahead.

A countrywide roadshow will follow immediately after the results are announced.  Public tastings take place on Thursday 8 June at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (17h00 – 21h00) and on Friday 9 June at the Sandton Convention Centre (17h00 – 21h00). Trophy, gold and silver medal-winning wines will be presented for tasting and to order via Makro. Tickets are available via Computicket at www.computicket.com and cost R190. The Early Bird Price of R175 is valid for tickets bought by 2 June.

Visit the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show website www.trophywineshow.co.za for judges’ profiles, information and historical statistics.  The 2017 results will be available on the website and the app from 16h00 on Tuesday 30 May.

Twitter: @omtrophywines | #OMTWS2017 | #OMTWS

Date:  5 May 2017

The judging process

Old Mutual’s support of the competition makes it possible for the show’s organisers to assemble the very best international judges to share their views and expertise with the local panelists, and to ensure that international aesthetic criteria form part of the message the competition shares with the industry – both through its results, but also in the feedback session which follows the judging. Meticulous attention to detail throughout the process is part of how the Trophy Wine Show maintains its reputation as one of the toughest and most rigorous events of its kind in the world.

The Show’s rules and guidelines are detailed in the entry kit and cover certification requirements, the market-readiness of the wines and the composition of the blends.  Producers are compelled to declare the actual volumes of the batches bottled for submission to the show and medal-winners may only order medal stickers to the volume covered by this declaration and confirmed by SAWIS (South African Wine Industry Information & Systems). The judging process and the competition results are monitored and audited by chartered accountants Grant Thornton.

While technical issues are referred to Fridjhon, the entire management of the show logistics, from checking off submissions against the physical entries, co-ordinating the ‘blind’ i.e. unsighted tastings, compliance with the audit procedures and verification of the technical analyses of the winners is the responsibility of Alex Mason-Gordon and Michael Crossley.

Submissions are kept in Miele wine storage units so that they can be brought to the judges at optimum temperature in Riedel tasting glasses.  Judges never see the bottles or any aspect of the packaging, ensuring that their opinion is based on the wine’s merits rather than its image or reputation.  The three panels are directed to produce a consensus-driven result.

Museum class entries have become an increasingly important feature of the competition. To qualify for the Museum classes white wines must be at least four years old and all other wines at least eight years old. The continued strength of this category suggests that producers and consumers are beginning to recognise the age-worthiness of the best new-generation South African wines. This year they represented 6% of all submissions, slightly up on last year.

The 2016 show saw 27 trophies awarded to 26 cellars, and 35 gold, 113 silver and 509 bronze medals.