The motivation for this post started with a piece of cheese… We have just recently received the Camembert Gold medal at the World Cheese Awards (WCA) in London, for the 4th time in seven years. This is a fantastic achievement, in a very competitive category. So, does this position our Roydon as one of the world’s leading Camembert? We are also the current holders of the Dairy Product of the Year from the SA National Dairy Championships for our Chevin with Garlic and Herbs. I found this result a bit strange – how hard is it to put a bit of garlic and herbs on a piece of cheese? We entered this same product in the WCA and they said the garlic character was overpowering. Aah, different cloves for different folks…

Moving over to the wine side of our business; Spice Route’s Malabar 2004 (the flagship wine from a different winery that we own) was awarded the Regional and International Red Blend over £10 Trophy at the 2007 Decanter World Wine Awards. At the same contest in 2008 the exact same wine received a Bronze medal. If anything, I know that the wine has improved with a year in the bottle – it was made to do so! We had entered it again to see what results came up.
Between our Fairview and Spice Route ranges, we have received 29 scores of 90 plus in the Wine Spectator in the last five years. It has been interesting to see how these wines have performed in local shows and publications.
This inconsistency is disconcerting to say the least and I have often tried to evaluate the costs of acquiring these mixed signals. This is not a questions of sour grapes, as personally I would prefer not to enter anything, but we seem to only perform excellently at international level. For example, I am told that we have been among the leading SA producers at Concours Mondial in the last three years, winning  9 Golds and 4 Great Golds. However we have already given up on entering Veritas because in some cases I would have to dramatically change my perception of what constitutes quality in order to garner a double gold. Perhaps my perceptions are the problem!

I am not seeking to knock anyone’s achievements, as style and quality are of course in the eye of the beholder. Recently I have held back our wines from magazine ratings and while we have only tended to enter 3 or 4 of the ‘top’ international competitions each year, I am reconsidering this as well. There are just so many competitions and when one looks at bottles on the shelf they remind me a bit of Idi Amin in full regalia. I wonder why these guys ever had an artist or expensive agency design their labels as surely the integrity of their design was not intended to be compromised and adorned with bling! I have chosen not put stickers on my bottles in the past. After having my arm twisted I gave in and we made the unfortunate move of using a Gold medal sticker on our 2007 Pinotage Viognier. I have instructed my team that in the future, for markets that ask for stickers we’ll put them on the back of the bottle.

This whole debate and line of thinking brought me to consider the actual costs of participating in wine shows and competitions. In my 2006/2007 financial year it cost me R388 000 rand! And for the present financial year (March – Sept 08) it has already clocked up R696 960 (including Cape Wine 2008). This really does beg the question – is it really all worth it? I certainly will be critically evaluating our participation in any wine show, competition or ratings drive in the coming year. Being in the wine business you are continually asked for samples and submissions to magazines and publications in addition to entry and registration fees. I often wonder if I shouldn’t plough all these resources into continuing to improve Fairview’s offering to the visitor who takes the trouble to drive out and see us.

We are fortunate enough to be attracting about two hundred thousand visitors a year and I think that our strategy should rather be to commit those funds to making their experience more worthwhile. Ultimately, word of mouth is the most powerful marketing tool I the wine industry and I feel that we should be trying to make every day at Fairview a festival, be it wine, cheese, bread or coffee. While hesitant of the risk of sounding arrogant (which I like to think that most people know I am not!) the fact that I have bottled a wine under my family’s label and put my name and signature on the bottle, means that it is the best that I can do. This is not saying that another producer can’t do it better! But hopefully through 30 years of winemaking we have built up enough credibility to not to rely so heavily on the endorsements gained through spending vast sums of money on competitions and shows. I would far rather use those funds to improve our offering at the cellar door, where we can really communicate what our brand is all about.

I am leaving for a short trip to the UK to pound the pavements as well as to do a presentation to our UK importer’s sales team. After seeing the figures above I need to get out there and sell some more wine! I will be back home on Wednesday and will reply to your comments then. To Life! Charles Back*

*Charles Back is the owner of Fairview Wine and Cheese estate, as well as the Spice Route Winery.

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11 Comments on Shows, competitions and the cost of bling

  1. Congratulations. We have watched your progress with pride.

  2. Madeleine says:

    it is a huge amount to pay just to enter your wine and at the end of the day the consumer surely pays more for you to absorb the expence. the layman wine drinker is surely – especially in todays financial climate – more interested in price related to quality than how many medals has been won?

  3. ChrisB says:

    Hi Madeleine, thanks for your comment.
    Over the last two years there were 10 golds or great golds, 18 silvers and a number of bronze medals. The competitions entered were Concours Mondial de Bruxelles, IWC, IWSC and Decanter WWA.
    Chris Bryant

  4. Abe Opperman says:

    As a tourist guide I frequently visit Fairview and would suggest that the cellar door experience rather be enhanced as oppose to competions. Some marketing material such as brochures would be very useful.

    See you soon!

    Kind regards

  5. Simon Back says:

    Hi Charles/Chris B. Just spotted the link on the Wine Country site. In the short amount of time I have been working full time at Backsberg, I am fast coming to a similar conclusion- ie I don’t really think the resources spent on comps/show is worth it, and can be better spent elsewhere. See you soon and cool blog. Simon

  6. [...] Fairview spent more than half a million Rand on entering their wines into competitions in 2008. I can also assume that their marketing and advertising spent amasses to probably twice of that, if not more. Given the brand value Fairview already enjoys due to no small effort in popularizing it, they could probably well afford these expenses. But why would they? [...]

  7. Chris Venter says:

    As a consumer I must congratulate Fairview on the total cheese and wine experience. It is always a pleasure to ride out and enjoy the offerings on the farm.
    Obviously some marketing must be done, however, is it not better to market through wine extravaganzas like Winex where the public can make up their minds as to whether they enjoy your wine or not? How often do we find that the competitions are consistent in their results?
    My pallet seems to disagree with the judges results very often and the stickers on the bottles can be misleading if it says “award won in 1876″. The printing is so small that no one over the age of 18 can read it without reading glasses.

  8. Hi Charles
    As a photographer and winelover I love taking photographs at Wine Competitions / Shows. It is always great to see what the winemaker did this season and even if he “improved” on the last season. New wines from established wineries also gives an indication of how trends are changing and how the winemaker strive to follow these trends. I think the cellar must evaluate where his wine is positioned and selectively enter competitions / shows that will give the most milage for his Rand in that target market.
    Have a great day.

  9. yes they do and i want to win

  10. Andre' Potgieter says:

    Mr Back. I personally bought a box of 6 Malabar 2004 more than a year ago and at the time cracked a bottle which was heavenly to say the least. Last Sunday 08 March 2009 I shared a bottle with a friend of mine who introduced me to wine 10 years ago and he absolutely raved about the wine which I thought had got better in the bottle over the past 12 months in my cellar. My thoughts are that wine is becoming as expensive as purchasing art which automatically takes out consumers from the market due to the cost factor. So please stop paying the exorbitant costs of entering your wines in these competitions and pass on the saving to people like me who market your excellent wine at no cost to your company what so ever!
    Wine competitions in my opinion certainly are nothing more than a money siphoning instrument and I question the integrity of such a vehicle as it is evident in this case that there is just no consistency. Keep up your productivity and quality and cut out your show costs which will keep consumers like me partaking and hanging onto the vine. Kind regards, Andre’ Potgieter.

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