Pendock Unfiltered - Monkey Business

Friday, 17 December, 2004
Neil Pendock
If 1992 was the annus horribilis for Queen Elizabeth, 2004 will go down in the annals of the KWV in the Afrikaans equivalent. Neil takes stock at ground zero in Main Street, Paarl in the wake of the latest round of bad publicity to hit the already somewhat embattled industry patriarch.
2004 started off so well: Danie de Wet became chairman - no surprises there as this giant from Robertson had been in the vanguard of the Robertson revival and the SA vinous renaissance as a pioneer of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling. In the old days, chairmanship of the KWV was the second most important job in SA after prime minister and urban legend has it that Owen Horwood lost his job as minister of finance after he offended one of Danie’s predecessors. The Gordian knot of black empowerment equity was finally cut with financial facilitation provided by Christo Wiese and KWV wines were successfully launched on the local market, much to the satisfaction of MD Willem Barnard who called a purely export business without local representation 'monkey business'. But distribution problems soon had local retailers complaining about lack of stock and Danie speculating on a tie-up with Distell to break this distribution logjam. On the export scene, a strong rand battered financial results and at a WOSA-sponsored marketing and intelligence conference, KWV export brand Golden Kaan was presented as a case study of the triumph of marketing mojo over old-fashioned concepts like flavour and value for money. Named after a Kaan, which bouncy German marketing wünderkind Marian Kopp cheerfully explained 'has no meaning' but at least sounds like something in 'a native language' viz. Afrikaans. Mr. Kopp is President of Golden Kaan, which sounds like something the Israelites might have worshipped after forty years wandering around the desert. Or a small African country lost in the continent’s armpit, somewhere between Nigeria and Cameroon perhaps. The kind of place Evelyn Waugh would have visited and ridiculed in the thirties. Chairman De Wet commented: 'Personally I find the logo (a golden map of Africa) unfortunate. One can never claim ownership of a continent. Golden Kaan was intended to be a lifestyle brand with Golden Kaan cigarettes and clothes to follow. I’ve also got my doubts about the product’s international diversity – for example, the Germans want the Sauvignon Blanc to be heavier. This style of wine is not what we want in SA, the UK or even the States.' There was clearly some tension in the export department and sure enough KWV International MD Vernon Davis jumped ship for Winecorp. De Wet’s comments on Sauvignon style are eerily prophetic with hindsight. The other shoe dropped in December with the dismissal of two winemakers for adding illegal flavourants to Sauvignon Blanc from at least two different vintages. Wines rated double gold and four stars by the Platter Guide as well as a trophy winner at this year’s Young Wine Show , which throws all kinds of question marks at SA show judging. To add insult to personal injury, De Wetshof were first to bottle a single varietal Sauvignon Blanc back in 1979. While I’ve always thought that adding a green pepper to a tank of warm climate Sauvignon Blanc was as dodgy as adding a sock full of wood chips to a tank of bland red, lying about it is fraud and I’m sure the competition will be faxing SA newspaper reports on the matter to the wine buyers of Sainsbury, Tesco and Waitrose. Value for money Sauvignon Blanc was hitherto a potent Trojan horse for getting SA wine listed on foreign restaurant winelists and supermarket shelves while producers in those appellations where green pepper flavours come in grape form must surely be considering legal action for any financial losses they may suffer. 17th century playwright William Congreve, a friend of Swift, Pope and Voltaire, could have had the current situation in mind when he penned his comic masterpiece The Way of the World in 1700, described by Matthew Parris as 'a fiendish tangle of desire, deception and general waywardness.' Danie de Wet would make an unlikely Lady Wishfort, but who can disagree with her comment: 'this will never do!'?
Danie de Wet
Danie de Wet

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