It strikes me…..

Thursday, 25 November, 2004
Jeanine Wardman
Cape Town’s Afrikaans daily, Die Burger, earlier this week proclaimed on its front page (loosely translated): ‘Cellars that cheat with additives sniffed out’, and with it ended an almost eerily quiet spell between the initial storm in the press earlier this year and the much anticipated Wine and Spirits Board’s (WSB) pyrazine findings of the 2004 harvest.
It strikes me that the industry should be grateful to whoever tipped off Die Burger. One has to wonder if the WSB would have uttered a single word in the public domain and, most notably, in the interest of the industry’s reputation and the public’s right to know had Die Burger not been tipped off. Die Burger also suggested a possible connection between Veritas’s lack of double gold medals awarded to the cultivar in question this year and the additive allegations - this in a competition that awarded medals to 80% of wines entered. Veritas denied the existence of any connection and stuck to their story that wines are judged only on merit. Linley Schultz earlier this month on WineNews begged to question how it is possible that a Colombard blend was welcomed into the double gold inner circle, yet none were bestowed upon what some fairly influential people, including Schultz, believe to be South Africa’s greatest vinous achievement since grapes were first cultivated here three centuries ago. What hasn’t been said, and categorically won’t be according to the WSB, is who the supposed culprits are. What strikes me hardest and most ironically is the impossible situation our industry finds itself in – between a rock and hard place if ever there was one! The more silent the WSB is, the more vicious the rumours festering in our midst. And, the frightening flipside of the coin: should the names of those proven beyond any doubt to have added pyrazines be released, will those entities and brands ever be in a position to trade without the stigma? Will they ever trade again full stop? And if not, isn’t it a case of getting what they deserve? After all, it is against the law. What really inspired me to put pen to paper on an issue that many had hoped had dropped off the media’s radar, is the damage repeatedly inflicted on those rumoured to be suspect every time the debate flares up. It strikes me that the tacit policy of non-committal by those being gossiped about, and those implicated alongside in some instances because of sheer geographics, is hurting them more. I am of course referring to producers who are not guilty of artificially adding pyrazines, but are rumoured to be. The time has come for them (and their neighbours) to speak up for themselves. As for the guilty? The winemakers WineNews approached for comments answered in unison – hang them! Industry commentator and original whistleblower on the Sauvignon scandal, Michael Fridjhon agrees: ‘I believe that if there is evidence that producers have used flavourants they should be prosecuted. It automatically follows that their names would be revealed.’ Mr. Fridjhon reveals that the WSB’s testing method is inconclusive in that all its capable of is alerting the Board to the possibility of flavourant usage. This makes the identification and prosecution of culprits problematic, says Fridjhon. ‘I am however led to believe that there are tests which would provide clear evidence of illegal flavourant usage and ultimately the Board is going to have to obtain access to this technology if it is properly to police the situation.’ The fact that the WSB’s testing method is incapable of scientifically proving who has wronged the industry's reputation leaves us with nothing more than a hand full of feathers, to borrow from the Afrikaans. In fact, the absence of absolute proof leaves us with a rather hopeless prospect and the one I fear most – that the incessant rumouring eating at our industry’s core is doing far more damage than transparency would. It strikes me that unless we resolve this issue, the rumour mill will continue to churn and do us all even more harm.