South Africa makes history by hosting the Concours Mondial du Sauvignon this week, the first country outside of Europe to host this prestigious competition. Besides being South Africa’s most popular wine, Sauvignon Blanc is fortunate in having arguably the most dynamic collective body of those representing the various grape cultivars grown in the country.
This year’s edition takes place at Le Franschhoek Hotel and Spa in Franschhoek from Monday 13 March to Friday 17 March with judging over three days. The results will be announced on Monday 20 March 2023 in Düsseldorf, Germany, at Prowein, the only international trade fair that covers the complete global market.
Sauvignon Blanc SA is the name, and its status as a leading wine entity was once again emphasised last year when – thanks to tireless groundwork, diplomatic lobbying and a bit of traditional Cape Wine- lands hustling – it secured the right to host this year’s Concours Mondial du Sauvignon, the world’s leading competition for international Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc-blended wines.
This 14th rendition of the major competition will see South Africa becoming the first country outside Europe to host the Concours du Sauvignon.
“Hosting an international competition of this nature began as a bit of a pipe dream,” says RJ Botha, chairman of Sauvignon Blanc SA and the person largely credited with persuading the Brussels-based organisers to give South Africa a shot.
“In the past the Concours du Sauvignon had been held exclusively in European wine countries and never in the so-called New World, out- side the traditional wine-producing nations. About five years ago Sauvignon Blanc SA’s management committee and I began to ask ‘what if?’. A few members had been to Europe to take up spots as judges in this competition. Their experiences of the Concours’s international gravitas and the manner in which it promotes the Sauvignon Blanc category in the country where it is held convinced me that hosting the event in
South Africa would underscore what Sauvignon Blanc SA is doing in promoting the variety as a jewel in the country’s wine crown.”
So began a long process of enquiries and application that result- ed in last year’s announcement that South Africa would host this year’s Concours Mondial du Sauvignon in Franschhoek from 13 to 17 March.
Along with the excitement of hosting a global wine event of this nature came a number of challenges, mostly logistic. More than 1 000 individual Sauvignon Blanc wines entered into the competition from 23 countries around the world had to be shipped to the Cape and 35 expert wine judges from Europe, the USA and Canada were brought in to scrutinise the wines.
According to Quentin Havaux, the director of Concours Mondial du Sauvignon, not only will South Africa’s Sauvignon Blancs be showcased through this prestigious competition, but so will the country itself.
“By touring to different countries, visibility is enhanced for both the competition and the medal-winning wines,” he says.
“The choice of host country is not random. As organisers, we target growth markets for the production and the consumption of wine,” explains Quentin. “After 13 years in Europe, South Africa as first-choice host region was obvious, as there is a clear movement towards improving the production of Sauvignon Blanc in the country.”
At the competition, gold and silver medals are awarded to the best competing entries, as well as special trophies to entries achieving highest scores in the categories of dry unoaked Sauvignon, dry oak-aged Sauvignon, unoaked Sauvignon-based blends (at least 51% Sauvignon), and oak-aged Sauvignon-based blends (at least 51% Sauvignon).
Dr Carien Coetzee, an independent oenologist who is also on the management committee of Sauvignon Blanc SA, has judged at three Concours Mondial du Sauvignon competitions, in France, Italy and Portugal. She says that the competition conforms to the most rigorous international wine judging standards.
“Judges use the 100pt scale for scoring each wine and in the Concours competitions I judged, the country of origin of the various wines poured for the tasting flights were not revealed to the tasters, making the pro- cess of judging even more intriguing,” she explains.
“The whole process is extremely focused, with judging panels only having to work through four flights of between eight and 12 wines per day. This allows you time to truly pay attention to the contents of the glass before you and thoroughly assess the wine. It is all extremely professionally run and committed to asserting the depth and breadth of Sauvignon Blanc wines and blends. What’s more, wine producers entering the competition receive a detailed report of the judges’ findings on their wines, which is of enormous benefit to wineries wishing to know how independent voices rate the results from their vineyards and winemaking vision.”
But for judges of Concours Mondial du Sauvignon, it is not all work and no play. “The competition provides an opportunity for the host country to expose the international judges to your local wine industry, and this is one of the major benefits of hosting the Concours,” she says. “Besides the rigours of wine judging, the influential wine people coming to South Africa from all over the world for this event will have the opportunity to taste our wines, visit the Cape Winelands and experience the hospitality and spirit of our Sauvignon Blanc producers,” she adds.
“There is a lot of wine-related social action, which is great fun but also provides amazing networking opportunities among wine-related people. Coupled with the international media exposure Concours du Sauvignon attracts, the hosting of this major competition is set to be a tremendous ambassador for South African Sauvignon Blanc and our wine industry as a whole.”
RJ Botha affirms that he and fellow producers of South African Sauvignon Blanc look forward to showing the international judges and organisers of Concours Mondial du Sauvignon what Cape Sauvignon Blanc is about and how committed local wineries and winemakers are to this famous white wine.
“There is nothing like walking the vineyards, seeing the landscapes and conversing with the locals to truly understand the soul of a wine country,” says RJ. “Sauvignon Blanc SA is thus looking forward to showing the international wine community that South Africa is a premier producer of Sauvignon Blanc as well as one of the most intriguing and exciting wine countries in the world. The success of a wine country in the international marketplace depends on your image in the global wine space, and by hosting Concours Mondial du Sauvignon we aim to underscore South Africa as one of the world’s leading wine nations.”
50 experts for around the globe
More than 1 000 Sauvignon Blanc wines will compete for the attention of 50 judges of which 40 are international and 10 are local wine experts. A handpicked trade-only panel from around the world, the esteemed tasters include Andrea Amadei, journalist at Decanter from Italy, Jean Smullen, journalist and wine event manager from Ireland, wine writer Paula Sidore from Germany, Peter De Leeuw, MD of Kaapwijn Import De Leeuw in Belgium, Christophe Bourgeois, wine producer in France, Daphne Teremetz, wine buyer at Waitrose Great Britain, and Stefan Potzinger, President of the Austrian Wine Association. The rest of the international contingent hail from Brazil, Croatia, Denmark, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Austria, France, Germany, Belgium, Great Britain and the United States (full list at www.sauvignonblanc.com/concours).
Renowned SA judges joining the panel are Cape Wine Masters Dr Winnie Bowman and René Groenewald, as well as Heidi Duminy, Francois Rautenbach, Dr Carien Coetzee, Cathy Marston, Christian Eedes, Fiona McDonald, Joseph Dhafana, and Malu Lambert. During this competition, South Africa’s exciting Sauvignon Blanc regions will also be showcased through daily excursions to Durbanville, Constantia and Stellenbosch, and with special dinners hosted by Diemersdal, Groot Constantia, and Vergelegen.
Bringing this competition to home soil was no mean feat. “Collective support from the industry was instrumental in making this bid a reality,” says Botha. “We are extremely thankful for the support of our platinum partners, Vinventions, Concours Mondial de Bruxelles (handling the technical organisation of the tastings), the National Convention Bureau and WESGRO, and our bronze partners Boutes, Tonnellerie Garonnaise, Tonnellerie Sylvain, Enartis, Beveratech, FNB, Porex, Hillebrand GORI, and Anchor Yeast, as well as all other event and media partners.