21 Mar 2010
Since its inception last year, the Franschhoek Wine Writing╬ô├╢┬╝Γö£├¡Competition has presented organisers thereof with the fact that a good concept is not going to work without a bit of thought, tact and plain old brains. One of the richest prizes in SA journalism – the aim of which is yet as murky as a glass of Semillon must – is turning into a laughable blip on the local media landscape.
Last year the organisers were so keen to announce the╬ô├╢┬╝Γö£├¡Franschhoek Wine Writing Competition ╬ô├╢┬╝Γö£├¡and its bevy of international judges that they forgot about the good smack of local wine writing done in Afrikaans. After a local wine writer reminded them that Jancis Robinson and Christopher Hope may struggle with the Afrikaans entries, it was hastily decided to offer translating services for the souls writing in this language.
This stop-gap approach to appease those Afrikaans writers taking their craft seriously caused a few understandable grumbles, and a boycott or two. Why should Afrikaans journalists have to play second fiddle in an industry built-up and still dominated by the Afrikaans community?
This year the call to entry announced once again that translation services would be offered. And although British hack Tim Atkin would be honouring the competition with his endless skill and profound presence, the judging process would benefit from a bit of local flavour. Ton Vosloo, chairperson of Naspers will also be serving on the panel, hopefully ensuring that the Afrikaans entries are not overlooked.
Two problems here.
First of all, Tim Atkin has been known to show the kind of aversion to South African wine writers that wine farmers display towards over-demanding farm-workers. He has blasted the local scribes for Γò¼├┤Γö£├ºΓö£Γöñ among other things Γò¼├┤Γö£├ºΓö£Γöñ not being endowed with the kind of vinous reference he and his Pom cronies share due to South African writers not being as exposed to international wines as they are.
To put him on this panel is like asking a Wosa official to sing the praises of pinotage, co-operatives and far-flung wine regions.
Neil Pendock has already boycotted this yearΓò¼├┤Γö£├ºΓö£├╗s╬ô├╢┬╝Γö£├¡Franschhoek Wine Writing Competition╬ô├╢┬╝Γö£├¡due to the Atkin Factor, which must be niggly for the organisers Γò¼├┤Γö£├ºΓö£Γöñ itΓò¼├┤Γö£├ºΓö£├╗s like Beyers Truter boycotting the Absa Top 10 Pinotage Competition.
The second problem is with the presence of Vosloo on the panel. This is not insinuating that Vosloo is a prick in the Atkin mould. Far from it. Besides being a foresighted media dynamo, he cut his teeth as an extremely competent journalist and newspaper editor.
Problem is, Vosloo is chairperson of Naspers, South AfricaΓò¼├┤Γö£├ºΓö£├╗s largest media company that also owns many of the publications in which wine writing appears. One thus has to look no further for a brewing scandal than the winning entry╬ô├╢┬╝Γö£├¡originating from one of VoslooΓò¼├┤Γö£├ºΓö£├╗s own magazines, newspapers or blogs.
Should the dynamic Riette Rust or the magisterial Melvyn Minnaar, for example, win this yearΓò¼├┤Γö£├ºΓö£├╗s Wine Writing Competition, questions are going to be asked as both write for Naspers publications, and the chairperson he is sitting on the judging panel.
Is the logic so difficult to define?
Of course, if there were less at stake the whole thing could be laughed off like these lesser wine competitions floating around the country. But the first prize of R25╬ô├╢┬╝Γö£├¡000 makes the╬ô├╢┬╝Γö£├¡Franschhoek wine writing jaunt╬ô├╢┬╝Γö£├¡a serious matter.
Is any piece of South African wine writing really worth R25╬ô├╢┬╝Γö£├¡000? Most articles run to Γò¼├┤Γö£├ºΓö£Γöñ at a stretch Γò¼├┤Γö£├ºΓö£Γöñ 1╬ô├╢┬╝Γö£├¡200 words and letΓò¼├┤Γö£├ºΓö£├╗s be serious: will there be more than 20 entries now that media houses are cutting down on their wine columns and thus not providing wine hacks with sufficient outlets?
To put this whole thing in perspective, R25╬ô├╢┬╝Γö£├¡000 is R10╬ô├╢┬╝Γö£├¡000 more than author Mari╬ô├╢┬ú╬ô├«├ë Heese recently received for winning the African Division of the Commonwealth Writers Prize with her bulky novel, The Double Crown.
If this prize is not going remain the laughable and inept concept that it is, it has to be rethought. Let the writers register and give them a 2000 word essay to write specifically for this wine writing competition. This would give contestants the opportunity of competing on an equal foot Γò¼├┤Γö£├ºΓö£Γöñ how many South African wine writers, for example, are confined to writing no more that tasting snippets, whilst others get the luxury of doing monthly features that are understandably much more appealing to judges? And after a few years the organisers could compile a welcoming and original book on a selection of the best entries.
We could even get Tim Atkin to write the foreword, if heΓò¼├┤Γö£├ºΓö£├╗d indulge us.
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