Despite the impact on the economy of the Covid pandemic and the successive bans on wine sales, the 19th edition of the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show saw a gratifyingly strong entry from a broad range of producers. A total of 747 wines from 162 cellars was judged from 31st August to 3rd September at the Grande Roche in Paarl. Conscious of the value of a strong showing at the country’s premier wine competition the Cape’s leading producers waited through the various levels of the lockdown until it became possible for the judging panels to meet in a Covid-compliant environment. Their patience was rewarded with a sumptuous set of results which is likely to play a key role in setting the Cape wine industry on the path to recovery. 


Cross border travel restrictions forced the exclusion of the international judges whose presence has been a hallmark of the show since its inception. However, thanks to the work done by the Wine Judging Academy run under the auspices of Old Mutual and the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business a broad range of judging talent was assembled from within the country’s borders. The judging panel was chaired by wine authority Michael Fridjhon. The first International co-chairman of the International Wine Challenge, and immediate past-chairman of the Six Nation’s Challenge, he has directed the show since the competition was launched in 2002. 


This year’s panellists comprised a hugely experienced group whose members included Christian Eedes, editor of winemag.co.za, panel chair of innumerable category judgings and visiting panellist for competitions in Europe and Australia, Patson Mathonsi, sommelier and wine judge, now regional sales manager at Spier Wine Estate, Cathy van Zyl MW, an international judge and lecturer, primarily in Asia, and Narina Cloete, long-serving Trophy Wine Show judge, as well as panellist at the Zarcillo International Wine Competition in Spain.

Other senior panellists included François Rautenbach, who directs the Singita fine wine programme and has been a judge at the OMTWS for several years, JD Pretorius, formerly chief winemaker at Steenberg and now cellarmaster at Warwick, and Alexandra McFarlane, winemaker, viticulturist and Trophy Wine Show judge in 2018 and 2019. Champagne and Cap Classique specialist Heidi Duminy CWM, recently appointed principal of the Cape Wine Academy, Spencer Fondaumiere, ASI Sommelier and founder of Wineyard East Africa and Trizanne Barnard, owner-winemaker of Trizanne Signature Wines made up the cohort. In the interests of keeping numbers to a minimum (per Covid-19 rules), there were no associate judges invited to attend the show to hone their judging skills.


As convenor and chairman since the inception of the competition, Fridjhon has been in a unique position to witness the transformation of the ultra-premium sector of the Cape wine industry since the millennium. Since this has coincided with a period of remarkable growth in the country’s wine exports he has also seen the role played by the Show in calibrating winemaking performance to meet the expectations of the international markets. “The striking feature of this year’s entry was the overall quality of the wines across almost all the classes,” said Fridjhon. “There were very few faulty wines, and a higher percentage of medal winners than at any time in the past. While this may partly be attributed to the quality of the vintages under consideration, what is also abundantly clear is the significant improvement in the quality of viticulture, in fruit handling, in vinification strategies, including the more subtle use of oak, leading to greater refinement in what has gone to bottle. There was a real exuberance in many of the wines, an intensity, and a sense of precision unlike anything we have seen in the past.”


“Considering the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the economy, and on the wine industry in particular, the very strong entry this year reflects the value producers see in the credibility of the competition’s results. This vindicates Old Mutual’s investment in the Trophy Wine Show: at a time when many of the Cape’s wineries are battling to survive the fact that they have chosen the platform of the competition to present their achievements to consumers in South Africa and abroad speaks of the very real value the show brings to one of the country’s most visible and prestigious industries.”


Times have never been tougher for South Africa’s wine producers: no sooner had they begun to recover from the devastating drought when Covid-19, and the strategies adopted by the Government to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the country, forced many to cease trading. Vinpro, the representative body of the country’s grape growers and wine producers estimates that at least 20% of the Cape’s cellars have fallen victim to the attrition. 


Shiraz continues to be the largest class with 82 submissions, followed closely by Cabernet Sauvignon (78). Sauvignon Blanc (71), Chardonnay (69) Bordeaux blends (68) and Chenin Blanc (67) continue to dominate the tasting benches. The growing diversity in vineyard plantings was evident in the number of niche reds (24) and niche whites (12) entered this year. There were 33 Museum class entries, 15 certified Old Vine, 13 Boutique and 7 Organic wines entered.


Old Mutual, headline sponsor of the competition since its inception, sees great value in a process which identifies the country’s top wines and makes this information available to the South African wine drinking public. Discernment of future value defines both the role which Old Mutual plays in the lives of South Africa’s investment community and the role the show plays for the country’s wine enthusiasts. 


Thobile Tshabalala, Head of Brand at Old Mutual Limited, says: “As title sponsors of this world-class event for the past 19 years, we continue to be immensely proud of the exceptional wines our beautiful country produces. We recognised the challenges many industries have been facing lately and are delighted at the response and participation this year with so many entrants. It is very rewarding for us to know that by supporting and raising the profile of South Africa’s wine industry, we have been able to contribute to the overall reputation and investment potential of our nation. As a company that’s been investing for 175 years, Old Mutual understands the value of expertise and the importance of delivering quality experiences. Like great financial investments, the outstanding wines identified by the judges of this show have taken careful planning, nurturing and expertise to get it just right.”


Partners American Express, Grande Roche Hotel, Miele and Riedel each have naming rights to a trophy. Other named awards include the Chenin Blanc trophy – named after the late Harold Eedes, who, as publisher of Wine Magazine in the 1990s, played a key role in South Africa’s Chenin Blanc renaissance. In 2012 the Trophy for Best Cape Port was named after the late Tony Mossop CWM.


The 2020 Show results will be announced online on September 30 from 15h30. The Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show app (available on iTunes and the Google store) will detail the results of the show by medal, category and producer. It also provides a direct link to facilitate the purchase of winning wines via www.port2port.wine. The 2020 updates on the app will go live simultaneously. This will enable all smartphone-users to access the key information they will need to optimise their wine-purchasing and ordering decisions for the year ahead. 


For editors: More information on the judging process 

Old Mutual’s support of the competition makes it possible for the show’s organisers to assemble the very best international judges to share their views and expertise with the local panellists, and to ensure that international aesthetic criteria form part of the message the competition shares with the industry – both through its results, but also in the feedback session which follows the judging. Meticulous attention to detail throughout the process is part of how the Trophy Wine Show maintains its reputation as one of the toughest and most rigorous events of its kind in the world. 


The Show’s rules and guidelines are detailed in the entry kit and cover certification requirements, the market-readiness of the wines and the composition of the blends.  Producers are compelled to declare the actual volumes of the batches bottled for submission to the show and medal winners may only order medal stickers to cover the volume detailed in this declaration and confirmed by SAWIS (South African Wine Industry Information & Systems). The judging process and the competition results are monitored and audited by Barry de Klerk CA from Narinx de Klerk.


While technical issues are referred to Fridjhon, the entire management of the show logistics, from checking off submissions against the physical entries to co-ordinating the ‘blind’, i.e. unsighted tastings, compliance with the audit procedures and verification of the technical analyses of the winners, is the responsibility of Alex Mason-Gordon and Michael Crossley. 


Submissions are kept in Miele wine storage units so that they can be brought to the judges at optimum temperature in Riedel tasting glasses.  Judges never see the bottles or any aspect of the packaging, ensuring that their opinion is based on the wine’s merits rather than its image or reputation.  The three panels are directed to produce a consensus-driven result. 


Museum class entries have become an important feature of the competition, one which suggests that producers and consumers now recognise the age-worthiness of the best new-generation South African wines. To qualify for the Museum classes white wines must be at least four years old and all other wines at least eight years old. This year – as last year – they represented 4.5% of all submissions. 


The 2019 show saw 20 trophies, 32 gold, 143 silver and 522 bronze medals.

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