Platter’s Publisher JP Rossouw introduces changes to top wine guide: will wine lovers and wine estates be happy?

Platter's South African Wine Guide 2014 'Aquamarine' EditionSlowly a number of changes are being introduced to the publishing and marketing of ‘Platter’s South African Wines’ since JP Rossouw took over as Publisher of the wine guide about six months ago.  Not all the changes may be to the liking of the wine estates, users, and advertisers of the Guide.

For the first time Platter’s has advertised!  Yesterday I saw an advertisement for Platter’s in the Sunday Times Food Weekly supplement, advertising the Guide, with its newish parent Diners Club benefiting from it too.   The advertisementPlatter ad Whale Cottage bears the headline ‘Platter’s Wine Guide discovers the perfect pairing’, being a self-aggrandizing accolade to the marriage between Platter’s and Diners Club!  The copy reads: ‘Platter’s Wine Guide, South Africa’s original and most authoritative guide to who’s who and what’s what in the Winelands, has the perfect partner in Diners Club, the world’s original and most prestigious charge card. Platter’s has always been  the go-to-guide to discovering, rating, pairing and sharing South African wines. Now there’s a quick and easy way to also enjoy Platter’s on your mobile device or desktop. Filled with the latest wine news, festival alerts, hot picks and competitions, Platter’s has become an even more valuable guide.  Whether you are shopping for wine, wanting to learn more, or need help planning a trip to cellars, Platter’s will enhance your journey. No App required.  Simply go to www.wineonaplatter.com to subscribe’.  The pay-off line is corny and meaningless: ‘When your thirst for knowledge coincides with the means to enjoy it, you BELONG‘!  One would hope that Rossouw was not the copywriter of this nonsensical ad, given his past copywriting career!  More likely is that the advertisement comes from the Marketing department of Diners Club, the give-away being that it contains the Facebook page address and Twitter handle of Diners Club, but not of Platter’s, a bizarre omission!

Ironic is that the biggest critic of Platter’s used to write for the same organ in which the advertisement appeared before he was sacked and thereafter banned from the TimesLive Blog platform!  Nasty Neil Pendock bragged about his readership stats on his Blog yesterday, misleadingly mentioning the number of Pageviews of his Blog  (which counts every click onto the link, not differentiating how many times the same user/reader enters the page, or uses a mobile device or computer to access the page), confusing them with Unique Pageviews (still containing duplicated readership via mobile device use), and Unique Readership, which halves his quoted number of Unique Pageviews to below 17000 per month for his website!  Ponderous Pendick probably has enough time to click his own pages to get to the (inflated) Pageview figure he quotes! Pendock Blog Google Analytics Unique Readership will be an even lower number, which his Google Analytics screenshot does not reveal. He is even more misleading, in that his Blog Unique Pageview figure is only 887 for the past month, giving him an average of 30 Unique Pageviews per day, and therefore his daily Unique Readership figure will be even lower!  Even worse for him is that the average readership time on his website is 37 seconds, and only 19 seconds for his blogposts, which means that those few readers reading his Blog are just scanning each blogpost to see who the target of his abuse is for the day, which includes ourselves ad nauseam, Tim James, Angela Lloyd, Joanne Gibson, anyone related to Platter’s, Su Birch (again), and more.   The lack of comments to his blogposts demonstrates how bored the wine industry is with his defamatory writing.  On Twitter his support is minimal, with few followers wishing to be identified with him, not reacting to nor retweeing his libelous links!

It would appear that the evaluation of the wines by the Platter’s tasters, which excludes Christian Eedes this year, according to a Tweet he sent last week, may also change.  In a media release a long rationale is given why a larger number of the finalist wines will be tasted blind.  Rossouw says: ‘Philip (van Zyl, the Guide’s editor) is very ethical and wants to do things right – so do I. It is important for people to understand that there is no connection between the ratings and the publisher and editor – the taster’s decision is final‘, probably referring to Rossouw’s family links to Beaumont Wines, and the Boekenhoutskloof co-owner Reg Lascaris’ link to Diners Club/Standard Bank. Given the growth in the number of 5-star wines, from 17 ten years ago to 80 last year, Rossouw has indicated that while they don’t want to cap the number of top wines, they have to make the standards more stringent, so that the Platter’s 5-star award remains prestigious. This must be balanced with the fact that ‘South Africa’s wines will continue to increase in quality‘, 1% of the more than 7000 wines tasted for the latest Guide having received a 5-star rating last year.  This proportion is lower than that of Decanter Gold awards or Veritas Double Gold awards.

During the initial sighted tastings, Platter’s tasters can nominate wines for 5-stars, to be blind-tasted by a panel of judges. ‘This ensures that so-called classic and funky wines are included in the line-up, while the judges’ palates decide on the final outcome. We would potentially like to taste more of the higher rated wines blind, including those in contention for 4-stars. We may also look at expanding the pool of judges’, Rossouw indicating procedural changes to the Platter’s wine evaluation. Further changes are hinted at, such as the ‘language and tone‘ used in the Guide, adding more technical data about the wines evaluated online, devising more Apps, developing an online digital magazine, and opening the Platter’s top wines to a public tasting, as do wine competitions, and separating the tasting from the Awards event.

Annoying to many restaurant and accommodation owners is the announcement by Platter’s that all non-wine listings in the Guide will be moved to the Platter’s website, and will no longer appear in the Platter’s Guide.  No reason is given, and contradicts an e-mail from Rossouw, which supports the value of having restaurant and accommodation listings in the Guide: ‘Wine travellers are well known for their love of good food. And after a day in the wine lands, there is nothing better than a comfortable bed close to the vines. That is why Platter’s lists top-quality food and stay-over options in the Cape wine lands – to complement local and foreign visitors’ wine country experience’.  Continued listing on the Platter’s website is justified to hospitality establishments on the basis of its 34 year history,  its use by local and international wine lovers, the trust placed in the Guide, and its 7000 visits per month, not defining if they are Pageviews or Unique Pageviews, and not a large number at all! Only 490 Platter’s online ‘visitors‘ go to the Accommodation pages, while 350 go to the Platter’s Restaurant pages per month, not a good performance at all, and not likely to attract any hospitality establishments to advertise on the Platter’s site if they cannot advertise in the Guide as well, despite the reduced online-only cost of R855 per annum.  A total of 40000 copies of the Guide was printed in 2013, making the cost to advertise on the Platter’s website very high when the combination Guide and website advertising cost last year was just over R1000 with VAT included!

Rossouw expresses his and his team’s confidence in the Platter’s Guide, ‘its primary role is to be a carefully considered and well-researched opinion on South African wines’.  While most of the planned changes will add to the value and credibility of the wine guide, which has suffered continued criticism, the exclusion of its hospitality listings will be a disservice to the Guide purchaser wishing to eat and sleep in the Winelands.  The wine industry is fickle, and while Platter’s remains the most trusted benchmark against which all local wines are evaluated, it also is looking for new ways in which to market and evaluate its products. Ultimately, wine brands may evaluate whether or not they should appear in the Platter’s Guide in future, like two wine retailers allegedly have just done!

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

2 replies on “Platter’s Publisher JP Rossouw introduces changes to top wine guide: will wine lovers and wine estates be happy?”

  1. Sarel Joubert says:

    Although I personally think Pendock is a cancerous growth on the SA wine writing landscape’s bum, he has a point about the Platter guide and the changes. They have purged – whether on purpose or by default – some of South Africa’s best palates. I see Michael Fridjhon, James Pietersen and Christian Eedes being amongst those. It hardly inspires confidence in the Platter brand when the best people do not taste for it.

    • Thank you for sharing your views on Pendick Sarel.

      There appear to be many egos in the wine judging scene locally, and conflict of interests, and they may explain some of the resignations of the judges. Most of the Platter’s judges need to make money beyond their Platter’s work, and they may not be remunerated enough for what must be a massive task of evaluating more than 7000 wines (about 400 each). Perhaps those three judges can make more money with less time commitment elsewhere.

      The 2014 edition lists 19 regular tasters, so losing these three is not such a large proportion. JP Rossouw had indicated that they were wanting to enlarge the tasting panel, but no progress on this change has been shared to date.

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