The news that Standard Bank, mother ship to Diners Club, is to sponsor a Standard Bank/Chenin Blanc Top Ten Challenge hit SA wine this week like the Chelyabinsk meteor in a shower of sparks. It must have come as a special shock to Diners director Reg Lascaris who manages the Platter guide, which rates wine labels sighted. Reg’s own brands are no strangers to five star glory, although a cynic might speculate how well they’d do if tasters didn’t know who the owner was. Especially when Co-op wines of similar provenance get far worse ratings.
Of course no impropriety is intended or implied – it just looks Piscean, as things so often do in SA wine. And fishy smells are something you’d expect banksters to be specially sensitive to, given the poor opinion in which they are held by the public at the minute. So perhaps this is why Standard are sponsoring Chenin themselves, rather than allowing a Diners Chenin Challenge.
Last year, when Standard teamed up with Du Toitskloof on their Wine Writers Award in an attempt to tempt them away from ABSA, Diners tried to join the jolly party but were rejected and ejected by Du Toitskloof as being too toxic on account of their involvement with the discredited Franschhoek Wine Writers Award (Reg’s Porcupine Ridge is a sponsor) and the problematic Platter guide which gives the impression of bias against producers on the wrong side of the mountain (like Du Toitskloof) and exhibiting an anti-Afrikaans bias (ditto).
While wine sponsorship for a bank is a no-brainer – aspirational, cheaper than rugby, loads of coverage from dipso hacks – is the Chenin Blanc Association wise to take Standard’s shilling? Or is it thirty pieces of silver? Certainly holding Winter Showcases and awards beanos at Delaire, the most luxurious wine venue in the Cape, sends mixed messages to consumers of the least expensive style of wine in SA – unwooded Chenin and its blends. How much of Standard’s sponsorship goes on caviar and foie gras a cynic might wonder? Given enough residual sugar, not that bad a food match.
I’m all in favour of Delaire myself as Indochine can surely push out the food pairing junk and Delaire’s own Chenin comes from my mountain, the Siebritskloof of the Paardeberg. Or partyberg, as we call it. I even used my own Chenin blend to illustrate this post but not being a member of the CBA, I won’t be eligible to enter.
FNB are backing Sauvignon Blanc and now that Michael Jordaan, married to the most glamorous Sauvignon producer in Stellenbosch, is an ex-CEO, few would quibble at that. ABSA have Pinotage in their camp while Nedbank have gone the cult winemaker route and bankroll the Cape Winemakers’ Guild.
It speaks volumes that the fastest growing bank and the one the Big Four are terrified of, Capitec, has yet to throw its hat into the ring. But then the bank was founded by the men from Stellenbosch Farmers Winery who saw no future being swallowed up into Distell in the merger with Distillers Corporation. With the wisdom of hindsight, a smart move indeed. Capitec is unlikely to sponsor wine, unless a director buys a farm and wants shareholders to do his marketing. So no Wonga White Blend Award or Payday Loan Pinotage then.
Likewise Investec are unlikely sponsors. Investec investment strategist Brian Kantor went so far as to investigate the correlation between scores and prices and after assuming a linear relationship between the two concluded “investment in the new world wine industry may have less in common with the average business and much more in common with the entertainment and sports industries, as well as the fashion business, where average earnings are very low – most who try fail – but where the small chance of making it very big compensates and encourages participation.”
In spite of a fundamental flaw in assuming a simple linear relationship between price and score (above), Brian came close to a useful insight. Rather than write off wine as a black swan investment, comparing prices and scores may be used to determine the best buys on the shelf. A strategy Piet Viljoen and Jan van Niekerk have embraced at RECM through their sponsorship of our weekly blind tastings at the Pendock Wine Gallery @ Taj. As Jan comments “price is what you pay. Value is what you get.” Let’s hope Standard Bank shareholders get value from Chenin Blanc.