I have made a decision to stop supporting and attending WineMag events after having been called to a meeting with Christian Eedes, editor of WineMag, and his business partner Jax Lahoud. I was badly disrespected by fellow-writer Eedes, and I will not stand for bullying of any kind.
I had noticed that I had not been invited to a recent WineMag function, as one does via Social Media, and contacted Jax, to check if she had lost my email address. She asked me to meet with her and Christian, and I received an invitation to the next WineMag Report presentation for later this week,
which I accepted. It was difficult to set up the meeting time and venue, I refusing to being summonsed to the ‘Headmaster’s office’ of WineMag in Mowbray at 8h30 in the morning, when I live in Fresnaye! We saw each other at the FNB Sauvignon Blanc Top 10 Awards last Thursday, and I suggested that we meet after the event lunch, to get this over and done with. They agreed. However, after the lunch, Eedes was fuming in anger about twenty wine estates having been invited to the Awards event, with only ten winners. He also was furious that FNB spends R500000 (per annum, I presume) on the Sauvignon Blanc Interest Group, and this despite Eedes having been a judge of the Awards! He was fuming at the waste of the bank’s money, which could be far better spent with them at WineMag! Eedes was blood red in the face, and said he was too angry with the event to meet with me then.
We finally got to meet at Melissa’s on Kloof Street, a venue midway between our respective offices. Christian climbed right in, telling me that his business is facing financial threat, as wine estates are threatening to not enter their wines for his cultivar-specialist reports due to my presence at the WineMag events, for two reasons:
#. Being a member of a wine tasting panel in July, organized for the Harbour House Group by Divine Intervention, which specializes in winelist compilation on behalf of a variety of restaurant clients. It was clear that Eedes did not take the trouble to read my Blogpost about the tasting, held over four afternoons, and evaluating about 500 wines blind on a five point scale. Only the best scoring wines were considered for the winelists of the Harbour House Group restaurants. Eedes blatantly accused me of supporting Listing Fees, which he described as ‘extortion‘ by restaurant groups who sell a lot of wine and other beverages. I have NEVER written for or against Listing Fees, as I have no experience on the topic, it is not a concern to me as I am not a wine producer, and I have never felt compromised as a restaurant patron in having a limited wine brand choice. Eedes had got the Divine Intervention process wrong, saying that we tasted the wines first, and that the top-scoring wine estates were then invited to pay listing fees. It was exactly the opposite way around! It shows that Eedes did not do his homework before going on the attack against Listing Fees. Eedes had the cheek to suggest that I write a Blogpost against Listing Fees. I declined, as he wrote an industry response to Listing Fees some months ago! Both Christian and Jax said that they no longer eat and dance, respectively, at Harbour House Group restaurants, due to the Listing Fees!
Jax emphasized a number of times during the meeting that they value my support, as I have attended almost all their report events, and have never copy-and-pasted their very thin media releases, as most media ‘writers’ do, instead picking up extra information spoken at the WineMag report events, and writing my Blogposts around this.
# The second issue that Eedes raised was my Review in July of Spek & Bone in Stellenbosch.
Friends of his in the wine industry eat in the restaurant, and therefore he is under pressure to not offend these ‘friends’. Eedes conceded that he felt that Chef Bertus Basson was not appropriate in making it a personal attack against me, as my Review was of the restaurant, and not of Chef Bertus as a person.
Chef Bertus took the Review personally, and did not accept my invitation to meet to discuss my feedback and how he could improve his restaurant. Surprisingly he did not complain about the reviews I have written in the past about Overture and Bertus Basson @ Spice Route.
He acted as a bully, derogatorily referring to me as ‘Whale‘, and created signs with a ‘No Whales allowed’ message, offering them for sale to other restaurants at R100 a piece! Does the man not have five restaurants to run?! He clearly is not doing a good sales job, as I have only seen one such sign to date, when I parked outside Chalk & Cork. I reviewed Chalk & Cork when it first opened, and I have no intention of returning to it.
Ultimately the Spek & Bone Review is one of my most widely read Blog Posts to date, with a close to 20000 unique readership, with a monthly average unique unduplicated readership of my Blog of 30000!
#. Linked to the Spek & Bone Review, about which Eedes felt the hype had died down, was the three-paragraph post I wrote on my Facebook page about my shock in seeing the very disappointing new home of SCHOON in Somerset West. It is tiny (ten 2-seaters and some outside on a tiny stoep), hard to find on Bright Street, minute tables, one sits almost on top of the next patrons, no proactive service was offered whilst I was waiting for my sister to arrive, it has a meager bread and pastry offering, no baking happens on the premises (but at premises near his home), a fire burning on a 30C day overheating the tiny space, with a menu that had bread in every dish. SCHOON supporters from Stellenbosch will be very disappointed with this ‘Café’, as Fritz describes it!
I overheard an angry bread purchaser lash out at the staff member behind the counter, who refused to accept his payment in cash, having the exact amount of cash. The staff member refused to accept it, as a security measure, as the staff are not trusted with the cash payments. It is a shame that owner Fritz Schoon had stepped out of his shop at the time this altercation happened. Fritz returned, asked me if he could have a seat at my table, and then told me that he is Bertus’ best friend, and supplies all Bertus’ restaurants with bread. As a result he could not allow me to eat there with my sister. By now my sister had arrived, and she heard him praise me for always being kind to SCHOON in my coverage and support of his Stellenbosch bakery and restaurant, and that I had led to the growth of his business. He said that he felt terrible having to do this to me. It took me 24 hours to write the short Facebook post, carefully choosing my words to not make it look bad for Fritz, given that he had been so apologetic, which was by no means intended as a ‘review’, these being written on my Blog.
This is what I wrote on Facebook:
‘I loved SCHOON when it started in Stellenbosch off Church Street over 5 years ago, with Fritz Schoon baking his fabulous breads, and its item by item menu. Its expansion with a Deli added was less attractive but it offered more seating.
I do not get the new Somerset West SCHOON, minute in size, no baking on site, shocking service, a few pastries and breads on offer, almost invisible on Bright Street, and every menu item is bread related, not good for dieters and banters.
A sad day for my relationship with what was THE first artisanal bakery in our country, which I was proud to support in eating there regularly! ????☕️ #pigpolitics
Good to hear from Fritz how my support helped his business grow in early days #thankyou’.
Fritz took to Facebook a day later, in a 14-paragraph post addressed to me, referring to the ‘review‘ (it wasn’t one), urging me to ‘reconsider your strategy’; stating that my Spek & Bone Review in his opinion ‘showcased a root of bitterness and anger and it was generally sad’, sad as in his opinion it was ‘directed at such a good man. Not an easy man, but a good man’; and inviting me to ‘change your legacy in this country. Change your strategy’!
Eedes felt that my Facebook post would stir things up again, and would insult his Somerset West-based friends who might buy a loaf of bread at SCHOON, and that this could cost him business!
Fritz spent at most half an hour with me on Friday, whilst I was waiting for my sister to arrive, and prior to that we have not spoken in-depth for a number of years, given that he has been behind the scenes at his outlet in Stellenbosch, baking his loved breads. He admits to being a poor Social Media person. Anyone who is following my transformation will know that I am far from being bitter or angry, as I have sold all my businesses, am traveling, love dancing, and have just written a book in Italy about my transformation over the past year. Because I am critical and honest, being true to my value of Self-Love and Honesty with it, it does not make me bitter nor angry!
It is so sad to see that this is what Social Media boils down to, both from a restaurant and a Blogger perspective, with political games being played on both sides. If a writer only writes a nice ‘review’, or worse still copies and pastes the puff sales-driven Media release, they are ‘good writers’, their Review is Retweeted or shared, and they are thanked by the restaurant! The writer would not dare write anything critical or negative, for fear of not being invited back to the restaurant again, and a future freebie lunch or dinner opportunity being lost for what we call ‘Bleggers’. Many reviews are paid for. Any restaurant support one sees on 2Oceansvibe, for example, is guaranteed to have been paid for, for sure! But the same applies to many Blogs, which demand payment in return for coverage!
I will not play this game. I remain true to myself, and therefore to my readers, in presenting information honestly, without malice or hidden agendas. I have nothing to hide. I do not generate income from my Blog, and never have. I love sharing my experiences and information about Cape Town and the Winelands, and will continue to do so, without any constrictions or prescriptions! I will not allow any industry bullies (who are all male to date) to dictate what I should or should not write! #MeToo feels appropriate to write here.
So when Eedes insulted me by referring to me as a ‘hobby writer‘, because I do not make money from my Blog, that was it and I left the meeting. It was demeaning, as it suggested that I am a less serious writer than he, as I do not get paid for what I write. Not receiving income from my Blog has always allowed me to write the truth. It is clear that WineMag is desperate to make money to survive, and that it has fallen into the same political trap Eedes criticizes, just to survive financially. I was shocked to learn in our meeting that WineMag takes a fee from wine estates to have their wines evaluated for his reports. He used the word ‘extortion‘ in the context of Listing Fees, and I could not help think that he is doing exactly the same at WineMag, as should a wine estate not participate, it might fear not faring well in any judging Eedes may participate in outside of the WineMag reports. There is no disclosure in the WineMag media releases and presentations that wine estates paid a submission fee, a dishonorable writing practice in omitting such disclosure! Eedes did say that he believes in free speech, but then the ‘BUT’ word fell! Obviously not if my honesty costs him income, and damages his livelihood!
I am honored to be granted so much power and influence by the restaurant and wine industry, in having so many paragraphs dedicated to me, and in the advice I am being offered about how I can be a better writer and human being!
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.chrisvonulmenstein.com Twitter: @Ulmenstein Facebook: Chris von Ulmenstein Instagram:@chris_ulmenstein