Authentic Pendock

Thursday, 1 August, 2013
Bertus van Niekerk
In the first article in a series of twelve on influential minds in the wine industry and their vision on the future of wine consumption patterns, Bertus van Niekerk speaks to Neil Pendock.
Shelf space: the crucial frontier. 
These are the endeavours of Vitis Vinifera. It’s relentless mission: to explore every new option, to seek out great wines from exciting producers, to boldly go where no competition has gone before.

Migrating to the winelands half a decade ago, I was hell bent on getting my foot in the door of the wine industry. I made it to the cat flap, but at this stage I reckon at least I’m on the right track.

Coming from left field with a background that could not be more disparate, I had lots to learn, many influential to meet, doors to bang on and all against a ticking time watch. Perhaps changing careers, environment and affiliations when one hits mid-forties is after all not that advisable. But there was just one way to know for certain.

I set out trying to meet as many influential people and decision makers as possible and was fortunate to land a six month contract as marketing manager with a wine rating system. During a star studded event in December 2011 I met some of the most decorated winemakers and producers and rubbed shoulders with influential journalists. I ticked names off the list in my black book. But there were a few producers not present, I was set on lining them up for future excursions. And there were journalists who could not attend the function, much to my disappointment.

I called two of them up and asked to meet them. Neil Pendock and Emil Joubert suggested we meet at &Union, a pub I have since grown fond of. It was just after lunch and the gentlemen bought a round of beers. I thought I would be asking the questions, but in the end it turned out to be a much less structured conversation about rating systems and the role media portrays in establishing perceptions on the quality of South African wine. Yes, there was another round of beers.

In this first article of a series of twelve I revisited Neil Pendock, one of the most prominent wine columnists in the country. Among other involvements, he writes for the Financial Mail, Good Taste, Sunday Times and also was a regular contributor to Wine magazine. He also regularly takes part in prominent wine competitions.

I asked Neil a few questions you may not find answers to when you Google him – he is after all more of a private person than I am!

Vitis Vinifera: Tell me something about your early life, where you grew up, and who fostered your interest in wine. Do you have fond memories from early childhood about rituals involving wine?

Neil Pendock: I was brought up in Singapore and arrived in SA in 1969. I had my first glass of wine 5th Avenue Cold Duck – as a teenager in Boksburg, where I went to school.

VV: I find very little online that displays some of your background data. Some friends tell me you have a background or are still involved in complex applied mathematics. Yet you are probably most renowned as a columnist with a preference for eloquent nuances on all things regarding wine. Which are the most exciting projects you're involved in at the moment?

NP: I studied Mathematics at Wits and got a PhD in Applied Maths in 1985. Nowadays I'm more of a statistician. I collect fine art and am opening a Wine Gallery at the Taj Hotel in Cape Town in September. Fine wine is after all, fine art too.

VV: Are there some colourful anecdotes about the progression of your career to the point where you are one of the key voices in the industry? Name one or two highlights that might have influenced the course you are on.

NP: I tasted for the Platter wine guide for five years and the experience has turned me against sighted tasting forever. I’m also horrified at the poor value SA wine receives from industry organizations such as WOSA.

VV: Who are the role players in wine (production, logistics, marketing and on ambassador level) you admire most?

NP: I have respect for many of the unsung heroes of SA wine. Guys like Abe Beukes who make excellent wine without arrogance and pomposity. I also admire the wine families like the Krones of Tulbagh and the Nels of Calitzdorp. They truly live the product.

VV: In your opinion, what do you think are the main influences on consumer trends? Where do you see the focus in consumer buying patterns shift in the next decade?

NP: I really hope consumers will realize the value of regionality and move away from anonymous bulk wine.

VV: What do you make of the prominence of social media in wine making/marketing/sales/consumption patterns?

NP: Social media in SA is nowhere near as important as it's hyped-up to be. That said, a recommendation from a friend remains the most potent marketing vehicle. I also think input from chefs and food pairing will become increasingly important.

VV: Which are the most compelling questions we should be asking at the moment

NP: Is the wine youre drinking authentic? '