AN INDEX OF EXCELLENCE

in Out and About, What’s in a glass…. •
by scar*let nguni

Anyone old enough to appreciate South African wine has an opinion on the fermented grape: there’re probably as many wine writers and awards as there are wine makers. With well over six thousand local wines, how do you decide what to drink? Do you choose based on the number of trophy stickers the bottle bears? Google what Christian Eedes drank last night or see how many stars Platter’s gave it?

Opinions are by nature, subjective. And while there’s nothing inherently wrong with subjectivity since we’re entitled to our preferences and opinions, it makes determining a reliable wine ‘standard’ difficult.

National and international competitions are a starting point as these are generally blind tastings judged by a professional panel but even these have limitations: wine producers often have to pay to enter, so limiting the sample size; scoring protocols differ and there’s generally no measure of the wine’s performance, year on year. And how on earth is the man in the wine shop meant to know which award trumps which?
rands & sense…

Let’s illustrate by way of analogy: imagine you wish to invest your savings. Would you be comfortable buying shares based on a single reference point (i.e. company X won a gold medal in the 2010 Da Vinci Startup Awards) or would you prefer information which tells you how company X performed over the last 5 years in relation to similar companies? The gold medal offers limited information as it relates to an isolated event in company X’s history while the latter offers greater insight into the relative performance of the company over a longer period and is thus more meaningful to your decision making process. Now the company operates within an industry with a known average index of 85 for example and X’s score is 90, you could safely conclude that this company is in the top percentile of the industry and is probably a good investment.

This concept of an industry index allows the investor to determine the company’s comparative ‘value’ and forms the basis on which shares can be traded on stock markets.

An index is a single number, the result of a mathematical equation designed to aggregate a set of data effectively, allowing us to compare like with like. Indices provide us with benchmarks, their usefulness evident in our daily life: from the CPI (Consumer Price Index) to GI (Glycemic Index) to BMI (Body Mass Index) to the Dow Jones Index. What if this could be applied to the wine industry? Perhaps finding the holy grail of great wine would finally be within reach.

…but what does it all mean?
It is clear that those making wine are excited by the potential a reliable, recognisable standard offers the industry. With a credible index as benchmark, the true value of South African wines can be gauged and celebrated. While there is emphatic support and enthusiasm for SAWi, the biggest concern is the wine drinking public’s ability to embrace its significance and understand that this is not just another competition.

SAWi may prove to be the viticultural equivalent of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity: a game changer. I’ll drink to that!

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