Innovation marks the 2020 Sauvignon Blanc SA Top 10 competition

Monday, 7 September, 2020
Sauvignon Blanc South Africa
Sauvignon Blanc South Africa has taken innovation in wine judging a step further this year by using tailor-made technology. Judges were able to complete the judging process of the 2020 Sauvignon Blanc champions Covid-19-friendly, but also faster and more accurately by making use of tablets. In addition, more useful cultivar information could be collected at the same time for future research.

“The Sauvignon Blanc SA Top 10 competition is the only competition in South Africa where judges’ scores are fully captured on tablets,” says Dr Winifred Bowman, Cape Wine Master and panel convener. “What distinguishes it further, is the fact that additional data could be collected from wine profiles, that will be shared with members during Sauvignon Blanc SA's technical seminar.”

A Canadian sensory evaluation software programme was tailored specifically to Sauvignon Blanc SA’s needs. Dr Bowman collaborated with Dr Carien Coetzee of Basic Wine and Sauvignon Blanc SA, and Dr Jeanne Brand, an expert in sensory studies from the Department of Viticulture and Oenology at Stellenbosch University to further refine the program following a trial run at last year's judging. The development was made possible by funding from Winetech.

According to Dr Bowman, there was outstanding support for the competition again this year. A total of 149 wines from 96 producers competed for the coveted title. Judging took place from Tuesday 1 to Thursday 3 September 2020 at Uitkyk Wine Estate in Stellenbosch, which included following a comprehensive Covid-19 protocol.

Dr Bowman was joined on the panel by cellar master Charles Hopkins of De Grendel, wine judge and writer Fiona McDonald and winemaker Rudger van Wyk of Stark-Condé Wines. This year the panel again included protégé judges, Candice Barnes from Boekenhoutskloof, Kelsey Shungking from De Grendel and Victoria Davis from Glenelly.

The judging panel agreed on the benefits of using tablets:

  • McDonald: “I have previously judged at international wine competitions on tablets, with very sophisticated and purposeful systems. The Sauvignon Blanc system is exciting because it is much more focused; the options that are available to identify the character of the wine are used to collect data on Sauvignon Blanc as a variety. The Sauvignon Blanc system therefore expands knowledge about the grape. I find it very easy to use and I think going digital is inevitable.”
  • Van Wyk: “As a younger person who is focused on technology, judging via tablet was a much more comfortable process than on paper. The sensory options gave me more time to focus on tasting the wine, rather than making notes. It’s a wonderful innovation for all future tastings. The fact that we use less paper also keeps our carbon footprint low.”
  • Shungking: “Using the tablet makes the evaluation process faster and more concise in terms of categorising the wines into distinctive groups and sensory profiles. This eliminates the process of later transferring the information to the computer and converting it into usable data.”
  • Barnes: “I was really impressed by the idea of paperless ​​judging. It is an environmentally friendly choice, especially given the direction in which the wine industry and consumers are currently moving. We all strive for a 'greener' lifestyle and this is just one good example of progress.”

Along with the tablet innovation, the judges lauded the exceptional quality of wines, especially from the 2019 vintage and wooded entries:

  • Dr Bowman: “The 2019 wines, which we liked a lot last year, stood out again this year. It was particularly interesting to me how well the wooded wines did, especially the older ones.”
  • McDonald: “2019’s wines were really good, and in hindsight it was certainly a very good year for Sauvignon Blanc. It’s probably a bit early to judge the 2020 vintage, as the wines are still very young. The category I most enjoyed judging was the wooded styles; the best examples were those where wood did not dominate the fruit.”
  • Hopkins: “As a trueblooded South African winemaker, it’s great to see that our wines have generally improved a lot over the past ten years. In terms of vintages, 2019 was a better vintage for Sauvignon Blanc than 2020. However, I think the 2020 wines are still very young and a bit closed at this stage, but will open up and develop over time into lovely wines. We tasted some exceptional older wines, which proves how well Sauvignon Blanc can age. It’s a pity we only have a few wooded Sauvignon Blancs.”
  • Van Wyk: “I enjoyed comparing the beautiful 2020 vintage with the excellent 2019 Sauvignon Blanc vintage. Although the 2020 wines have performed well, I think it will get even better with time and aging.”

The competition's Top 20 finalists will be announced later this month, while the Top 10 winners will be announced during another novelty this year – the virtual Sauvignon Blanc SA Top 10 awards event on Wednesday 14 October 2020.

A virtual awards event with a difference (or two!)

Sauvignon Blanc SA’s Chairman, RJ Botha says the organisation invites everyone around the world to attend this year’s prestigious awards event. “We invite all Sauvignon Blanc lovers to join us for an online celebration on our website at as we announce the best Sauvignon Blanc wines in the country,” says Botha. “We promise an exciting event with celebrity chef Zola Nene as master of ceremonies and guests will be entertained by one of South Africa’s greatest storytellers. During this event, guests will also be able to make a contribution to the Vinpro Foundation in support of a student in the wine industry.”

This year marks the ninth consecutive year that the Sauvignon Blanc SA Top 10 competition is being held, with the support of FNB.

“Sauvignon Blanc is a key variety for South Africa,” says Botha. “It is only possible to promote its excellence locally and internationally through long-term relationships. We are very grateful for the support that FNB and our partners in the wine industry offer us despite challenges such as Covid-19.”

A technical seminar that conveys information about the Top 10 will be held on Wednesday 18 November 2020 in Franschhoek.

Sauvignon Blanc SA promotes South African Sauvignon Blanc’s excellence locally and internationally. Anyone can become a member of Sauvignon Blanc SA, to enjoy the benefits of shared expertise. For more information, or to subscribe to the Sauvignon Blanc SA newsletter, visit or call 021 975 4440. Join social media discussions on the #SauvignonBlancSATop10 and follow Sauvignon Blanc SA on Twitter as @SauvignonSA and on Facebook and Instagram as @sauvignonblancsa.