The Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club meeting held at Brio restaurant last night was a huge success, with five Haut Espoir wines tasted, and Rob Armstrong of the wine estate and Sam Wilson of Food24 informing and entertaining the food and wine bloggers attending.   There were lots of laughs, and bloggers attending participated in the discussion.  Cape Town was highlighted by Rob as seeing an “explosion” of food and wine writing, mainly via bloggers, which was not evident in other areas in South Africa.

Sam Wilson, Editor-in-Chief of Food24, Woman24 and Parent 24, impressed by doing her presentation using an iPad, which most bloggers had not seen before.  She challenged bloggers to find their “barrier of authenticity”, in that each blogger should define how far one can go, who one is via one’s blog, and how much of one’s self one wants to reveal.  Each blogger should set their own parameters. “How much of you do you want to be?” she asked the bloggers.   She argued for honesty in blogging, and for not following the magazine route of “selling out”, in only writing good restaurant reviews.  She said that Food24 would be following a policy of saying it as it is in their restaurant reviews.   Brad Ball, chef of Bistro 1682, in discussion of restaurant reviews, said that they welcome the feedback from reviews, and act upon it.  He does take the feedback “from whence it comes”, he said.    Restaurant owners and chefs were advised to not respond when they have had something to drink!   Restaurants should contact the clients posting negative reviews, and sort the issue out as quickly as possible.

Sam warned bloggers to not set themselves up as an expert, as one can easily be ridiculed by others.   She advised them to be humble and honest in their writing.  She reminded bloggers to not take their blogging too seriously, and not be too earnest, but rather enjoy it and to blog for fun.   Each individual blogger’s writing will not change the world, and “does not matter in the bigger scheme of things”.   Sam advised that Google Analytics be used to measure the blog’s readership.   Food24 has a special page on its website to provide a platform for 440 food bloggers, with 50000 readers and 200000 page impressions per month.  She advised new food bloggers to join the Blog platform that had been set up for them on the Food24 website, and then to start up their own independent blogs once they have gained in confidence.  Photographs should be captioned and tagged, to help with Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), and should be well-shot in good light.  Headlines should have “Googable” words in them, for SEO.   The most popular recipes posted on the Food24 Blogs platform are for fundamental meals such as chicken pie, macaroni cheese, bobotie, and anything with chocolate in it.   A recent post of a “Braai pie” recipe attracted 10 000 hits for a first-time blogger.  Sam concluded that she no longer sees herself as a journalist, but as a “conversation shepherd”.

Rob Armstrong impressed the bloggers by being himself and honest (as was Sam), and is incredibly tall.  Haut Espoir was bought by his family in Franschhoek ten years ago, and Rob took the bloggers through an informal tasting of his Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Shiraz Rose (he says they cannot make enough of it), Gentle Giant (named after Rob’s brother) and Shiraz.  Half of Haut Espoir is planted with vines, and the other half with fynbos, over 7 000 fynbos cuttings, representing 600 – 700 species, having been planted.  The goal is to follow organic and biodynamic farming practices, and  Haut Espoir supports the Biodiversity and Wine Initiative.   The winemaker is Nikey van Zyl, and Rob says that he is in charge of sales and quality control, in testing the wines.  He has a personal relationship with his clients (including &Union and Caveau), and personally delivers his wines to them, so maintaining the good relationship.  Rob writes a “Fynbos Friday” post about the wonderful plants they have on their farm.  One can do a Fynbos and Vine Tour with Rob, by making an appointment.   In contrast to Sam, Rob does not know his website readership, and does not really care what it is.  He does however know that they produce 80 000 bottles of wine per year.

It was interesting to hear the Canadian statistic that the average time between buying and drinking a bottle of wine is 17 minutes, meaning that wine drinkers are not ageing their wines any more.   In South Africa the statistic is 72 minutes.  Rob shared that the number of Vignerons of Franschhoek has more than doubled since 2004, and now stands at 54.  Discussions are in place to stretch the new Franschhoek Wine of Origin region, to include such wine estates as Backsberg and Glen Carlou.   Rob is the Chairman of the Vignerons’ Sustainability Committee, a joint action by the vignerons to self-audit their sustainability.  Wine buyers can check the sustainablity of the wines they buy and drink via the new sustainability seals.  Rob is on Twitter, as @Rambowine, while the farm’s Twittering (@HautEspoir) is done by Raoul de Jongh.   Rob was asked whether wine sales had increased due to his blogging and Twitter activity, and he said that he could not quantify that, but that it was easier to sell his wines due to the awareness that had been created for Haut Espoir.

The next Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club meeting will be held on Wednesday 22 September, at the Salt Vodka and Champagne Bar, above Salt Deli and across the road from the Ambassador Hotel in Bantry Bay.  Food blogger Dax Villanueva from Relax-with-Dax and wine blogger Hein Koegelenberg from La Motte will be the speakers.   To make a booking to attend, e-mail info@whalecottage.com.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com