Frances Horder, competitions director of the International Wine & Spirits Competition, is currently braving 40°C-plus temperatures in Paarl, South Africa, organising logistics. That’s because – for the first time ever – the IWSC will be judging South African wines in South Africa.
“Three years ago we were looking to expand the competition and decided to judge American wines in America – a sort of a Mohammed going to the mountain kind of thing – and it worked really well. It was expensive, logistically, but the costs were more than covered since we doubled our entry,” Horder said.
The IWSC is very cognisant of the strength of the rand and the pressure that local wine producers are under with regard to containing expenses – and international wine competition entries is one of those Horder said. “The entry fee doesn’t change but it does mean that the only transport costs involved are those of getting the samples to the Grande Roche in Paarl rather than shipping them overseas.” It is hoped that this cost saving is enough of an incentive for more local producers to enter.
“We’re very happy with the South African numbers as there’s a strong entry every year. We get around 700 entries and South Africa traditionally does well. We’re not expecting the entries to increase this year.”
Horder said that the American experiment turned up some interesting results. “We used local judges and were expecting results to improve – and quite the opposite happened. We found that the American judges were very hard on their own wines.”
The judging takes place in Paarl mid-July and local judges will be pressed into service. “We’ll be using a number of South African judges who would otherwise have travelled to the UK as well as some who haven’t judged at IWSC before.”A full day will be spent with all judges ahead of the final tasting in an induction process. “We want to ensure that all IWSC procedures and methods are followed throughout.”
One difference between the judging at IWSC headquarters in the rural Surrey countryside and the charms of Paarl in mid-winter will be the lack of squealing tyres. The IWSC operates out of premises at an old World War II airfield, Dunsfold, which is also the venue for the popular motoring series, Top Gear! Dunsfold’s runway forms the “track” on which presenters Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May (and The Stig!) do high-speed vehicle tests.