Tag Archives: ethics

What has happened to Woolworths? Misleads consumers, no link between TV shows and stores!

Woolworths LogoI have no idea who heads up Woolworths’ Marketing department, but it seems that the retailer has lost the plot!  Once the darling of all, seen to be above reproach in the quality of the products it sells and the lengths that Woolworths will go to find the most organic and animal-friendly produce for its customers, it is being lambasted for copying other brands, for importing tomatoes, peas and more, and for making misleading claims about its products. In addition, it seems to have lost the link between its expensive sponsorship of TV food programmes and its stores!

Let’s start with ‘Hayden Quinn: South Africa’, a programme which has been running on SABC3 for the past 9 weeks, a travelogue of our beautiful country, and documentation of Woolworths’ sourcing of sustainable and ethical produce, or so it is presented.  We have been exposed to Woolworths suppliers of tomatoes in Stellenbosch, organic wines made in Franschhoek, apples and pears grown in Grabouw, SASSI-friendly fish sourcing, and theHayden Quinn SA 8 Sunflowers Nortehrn Cape trestle table Hayden plus 2 pasture-fed lamb from the Karoo.  Criticism has been leveled about the use of an Australian surfer who came third in MasterChef Australia in 2011, as the tour guide to our country and the guide to its sustainable food and wine treasure chest, a self-confessed ‘cooker’ and not a chef!  The dishes in the eight episodes to date have been as basic as salads, pizzas, and sandwiches, with a mussel pot and an Eton Mess too.  In some episodes the Woolworths punt has been so strong (i.e. the tomato growing) that it has become irritating, but of late the strong Woolworths promotion has been toned down. Surprising is the low-key advertising for Woolworths in its half-hour episodes, and is nothing as mouthwatering as the Woolworths’ commercials we have seen on MasterChef SA Seasons 1 and 2.  Nedbank is the other Continue reading →

Print versus internet news: what is the future of reporting?

Franschhoek Literary Festival 'It's News to Me' panel Whale Cottage PortfolioAt the Franschhoek Literary Festival I attended a one-hour panel discussion on ‘It’s news to me’, with heavy-weight panelists weighted to print media, a well-attended session.   Ironically the complete communication failure in Franschhoek yesterday meant that no one could Tweet or share via any other form of Social Media what the eminent panel had to say about press freedom.

Ray Hartley was the panel chairman, and works in the Times Media Group, having previously been the editor of the Sunday Times.  He resigned from the position, took a sabbatical, and now has a senior position in the Group.  Much of the panel discussion focused on press freedom, ethics, and the depth of research of journalist’s stories, which were felt to be getting thinner on accuracy and content, much of the material of newspapers coming from Twitter and Reuters feeds. Hartley impressed with his humility and good chairing of the panel. He raised a laugh when he welcomed all the attendees who clearly didn’t get into the sold-out session addressed by Archbishop Tutu.   The topic clearly was of interest, with the Franschhoek High School hall being full.

Janet Heard is a journalist wunderkind, her father Tony having been a well-known and highly regarded editor of the Cape Times.  In 2010 she went to Harvard on a prestigious Nieman Journalism fellowship, and said she returned from the USA surprised about how much transformation had taken place in the newsroom at Independent Newspapers in the time that she was away.  She resigned as deputy editor of the Cape Times earlier this year, and has been appointed as parliamentary editor of all the Media 24 titles.  Heard praised South Africa’s media as being robust with good media voices asking Continue reading →

New York Times questions ethics of travel blogging, focus on Cape Town Tourism campaign!

Travel bloggingOne of the last pats on the back which former Cape Town Tourism CEO Mariette du Toit-Helmbold and PR and Communications Manager Skye Grove gave themselves before leaving the tourism organisation at the end of July was the coverage by the New York Times of the international travel bloggers’ week-long visit to Cape Town a year ago, proudly reTweeting the article.  It appears that they did not read the (long) content of the article, it delicately questioning the ethics of travel blogging by travel bloggers in general, and by those bloggers who visited Cape Town.

We were very critical of the attention which Cape Town Tourism paid its visiting bloggers in July last year, which was preceded by a #LoveCapeTown campaign on Twitter, Capetonians being asked to recommend interesting places for the four bloggers to visit during their week-long stay.  However, the campaign was deceptive, in that the itinerary Continue reading →

Breach of employment contract: an open letter to our ex-Manager Charmaine Maritz

Dear Charmaine

Your walk-out from our employment at Whale Cottage Camps Bay twelve days ago without resignation, on the day that you saw the salary in your bank account, is the worst blow to any employer, especially given the good relationship we enjoyed in the eight months in which you worked for us.  We appointed you when your previous employment at the White Lodge Guest House in Constantia had run out (they are shocked at your claim that they reneged on a contract, as there was none) due to the severity of the recession last winter.  We took a chance on you, despite the financial pressure on our business at that time, and you were an excellent receptionist, with the potential to grow into the rest of your job description of Manager.

As you left without notice, despite our meeting appointment for the day of your sudden departure, we have chosen to communicate to you via this blogpost how we view your behaviour, not deserved given how well we looked after you, with a salary increase after six months, giving you three days off to attend a family wedding in Queenstown when we were fully booked and couldn’t spare you but found a locum for you, and regular invitations to you, your family, and your boyfriend to the theatre and restaurants. You regularly expressed to us and to others how much you enjoyed your job. In retrospect, little signs of a recent change in your behaviour – your breaking of our rules, taking an afternoon off when we had guests checking in, wanting to delegate your duties to two unreliable housekeepers while you went to the wedding, and more – were evident.

You can imagine our shock when a guest house colleague in Camps Bay called a week prior to your walk-out to tell us that he had received your application for a job, as must have most hotels in Cape Town, and in which you dishonestly called yourself our ‘General Manager’. When you sent out your CV to more than 100 hotels last winter, no one except ourselves responded. We appointed you immediately.  At no time did you express any dissatisfaction or desire to grow your spectrum of tasks, which we would have happily delegated to you. On the day before your departure you asked me for copies of your salary slips, and lied as to the reason why you needed them.  We had thought that you were the most honest staff member until that day, and given the information from our guest house colleague, this request was a further confirmation about your job search.  We asked someone to call you on the pretense of inviting you to a job interview, and you announced that you had accepted a job that day at a hotel in Claremont.

Given this information, we met with you at the end of that day, and read through the employment contract with you, specifically the clause relating to the calendar month’s notice that you had agreed to, and we confirmed by additional contract in the meeting, which you signed, that your last day of employment would be 30 April, as per the contract.  Under pressure and in tears you told us that you were starting at your new employer three days later.  We discussed that you had made a mistake in accepting the new job on this date, and that you would have to tell them that you could only start on 1 May, and we even offered to try and find a replacement for you at the end of March to assist you, at our own expense.  We highlighted to you your dishonesty in lying to us, and your secretiveness in sending out the application for all hotels to see (not sending the application by blind copy), and in not honouring your employment contract.  You told us that the reason for the job search was the pressure from your boyfriend Ian Little, who had to drive you to and back from work every day as you do not drive, due to the increasing cost of the petrol between Plumstead and Camps Bay.  We promised to discuss with you the next day how we could enlarge your range of duties, for more pay, to cover the increased petrol costs.  You did not even have a letter of resignation to give us, and you promised to contact the new employer about the delay in starting with them.  The next morning you saw the salary payment, and dropped to the level of a housekeeper by sending us a text message saying that you had dropped your keys at the guest house and had left our employment (we were fully booked and you left the guest house management to the housekeepers, without even saying goodbye to them), giving yourself the weekend off, and causing chaos at the guest house, the staff bursting into tears when we had to tell them that you had absconded from our employment without notice, resignation, and farewell.  Only later that morning you sent an e-mail with a letter of immediate resignation, in breach of your employment contract.

Your parents in Queenstown were devastated to hear about your dishonesty, having seen you as a trustworthy and honest daughter, even though they had seen the negative influence on your behaviour since you moved to Cape Town with your boyfriend. Your father was ready to drive to Cape Town to come and fetch you, but didn’t have enough money for the petrol.  Your new boss and co-owner Nicolene Barrow at the 5-star The Andros Boutique Hotel in Claremont was speechless when we called her and told her about your breach of our employment contract, given that you had lied to her in saying that we had given your leaving us our blessing! We are surprised that you moved for a lesser position at the same salary that we were paying, to save a few Rands in petrol. It is shocking that a colleague in the hospitality industry could be so naive and opportunistic to expect the appointment of a new member of staff with two days notice to the previous employer.  For a person who moved to Cape Town from Queenstown last year, job hopping after 3 months and then 8 months for two jobs does not look good on your CV.

At 25 years you are relatively young, but we could not believe that you are so naive as to :

*  blatantly breach our employment contract and the additional contract which you signed about your date of departure, clearly showing that you have no respect for the law of contract, and have no business ethics and honesty at all, not being trustworthy for any future employer

*   expect our co-operation for paperwork from us

*   expect any positive future references for any prospective employer, given that we are one of your four hospitality employers

*   think that we would not have warned your new employer

*   think that we have not shared our experiences with your previous employers White Lodge Guest House, and the Heritage Guest House in Queenstown.

Any prospective employer should know that they are not only appointing you but also your boyfriend, manipulating you in the background. His invitation to connect on Linked-In, to ‘coffee dates’ and dinners, and his other attempts to become my ‘friend’ were totally inappropriate and unwelcome.  Even since your departure he is communicating with us, as if he is your manager or representative.  We did not appoint him.

Wanting to share the outcome of our subsequent negotiations, in which you admitted the breach of your contract, I called The Andros Boutique Hotel yesterday, and asked to speak to Ms Barrow.  Your new colleague Steyn Venter called back aggressively on behalf of Ms Barrow, threatening legal action should your hotel’s name be mentioned in this blogpost.  What a shame that we cannot share with her the final outcome of our negotiations with you, which should be of interest to her as your current employer.

You will pay the price of your dishonesty for many years to come, and you probably already regret your selfish and short-sighted action, which has cost you your reputation and a lot of money in paying out our contract, money which could have got you to Camps Bay for a number of years yet!

We are sharing this letter with the hospitality industry, not only as a warning about any potential future employment of you, but also to share with hospitality employers the rights that they have to have their employment contract honoured, even if it is financially after a departure, which we are happy to share with them privately.  It is also a reminder to hospitality employers that all staff are legally obliged to give and work out their notice, and there is a moral obligation to do so too, given that no business can operate with a sudden departure of a staff member without a hand-over and the replacement of that staff member, as we all know!

We salute our labour advisor Gerald Jacobs for his excellent advice, and the luck of finding locum Lily Lello, who came to our rescue two days later, allowing us to honour our guest bookings in Franschhoek, and to continue operating our Whale Cottage Camps Bay, both operations which could have been jeopardised by your walk-out.

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

My blog is important, because I have an opinion!

On Tuesday a blogpost on FoodBlog.Cape Town, entitled “My opinion is important because I am a blogger”, caught my eye, and was reTweeted by a number of bloggers.  On reading the blogpost a number of times, it appeared to focus on the ethics of both restaurants and bloggers in respect of free meals, and pleaded for blogs to be respected as a viable source of information.  Tongue-in-cheek, we have turned the title around in this blogpost!

In her blogpost, Kayli highlighted the poor image she feels bloggers have, with the strong statement ‘People hate bloggers’, and ‘People are bloggist’ (meant to imply anti-blogging).  She does not explain her view, nor does she give examples of such negative sentiments.  I have only seen one article that was anti-bloggers, written by Mandy de Waal in Mail & Guardian about a year ago, and  was an attack against food bloggers, and the threat that they pose to the traditional food writers in mainstream media, especially magazines. The reality is that blogs are gaining in popularity, with ordinary citizens from around the country and even internationally reading blogs, and participating in the dialogue on blogs through Comments.

We have previously written that the output of food bloggers appears to be on the decline, well-known local bloggers such as Andy Fenner (JamieWho), David Cope (‘The Foodie’), and even the polemic Spill blog publishing blogposts less frequently compared to when they started.  However, blog readership must be on the up, as more and more readers get hooked on the views of their favourite bloggers. The lack of statistics about blog reading and publishing makes it impossible to quantify the size of the blog market, relative to readily available figures about mainstream media circulation and readership.  Each blogger can read his/her readership on Google Analytics, but cannot compare this with that of other blogs.

Kayli attacks restaurants for offering free meals to bloggers, in the hope that a positive review will be written.  She told the unbelievable story of a restaurant to which she was invited, and that she had to endure the presence of the manager throughout the meal, who encouraged her to eat more and more, and then had the ‘pleasure’ of having the bill presented to her!  There must have been a serious communication problem for something so unreasonable to have happened.  One wonders why Kayli did not dispute the payment, and why she did not ‘name and shame’ the restaurant concerned.  Sharing the details of this incident, which sounds far-fetched, has no value if the perpetrator is not mentioned.  Is this a criticism one can level against the majority of bloggers – that they are trying to be too nice, and thereby compromise their own ethics by glancing over the flaws of the restaurant experience?  If ‘honest reviews’ are written for the public, as Kayli claims in her blogpost, then she must be true to the honesty she emphasises. ‘Honesty’ does not mean that faults should not be mentioned – in fact not mentioning them would be dishonest to the reader!

No blogger is obliged to write about a product or service they have experienced, as much as a mainstream media journalist is under no such obligation.   A restaurant invitation is no guarantee of any, or even of positive, coverage.  Many bloggers don’t want to offend their hosts, and would rather not write a review, than have to criticise the meal or service.  Every blogger is under the obligation to disclose the free meal, and it is likely that the blog reader will evaluate the information about the restaurant differently to the restaurant review of a meal that was paid for by the blogger.  Ultimately an anonymous visit to the restaurant is the best way to write a review, but taking photographs of one’s food and asking lots of questions can give the game away.

Kayli also mentions ‘hot-shot’ bloggers, who she says are loved, have been around for a long time, and inspire others, but then attacks them for implying that they are better because they have worked in restaurants or have trained as chefs.   I have never seen any such criticism from bloggers, and perhaps Kayli, who describes herself as a younger and newer blogger, may be over-sensitive on this issue.

Bloggers need restaurant news to feed their blogs, while restaurants (usually) benefit from reviews that are written about them. The restaurant-goer Googling a restaurant has one of five options in being informed about the restaurant:

*  Reading a short write-up on Eat Out, usually high up on Google’s page one for the restaurant

*  Similarly, reading a short write-up on Food24

*  A review by Rossouw’s Restaurants‘ owner JP Rossouw, but increasingly one picks up readers’ reviews via Google because of a special security sign-in procedure, not being conducive to JP’s own reviews being read.

*   The restaurants’ own websites, which rarely feature on the first page of Google, because they don’t have one (mainly being listed on Dining Out), or because they don’t update their websites regularly, to obtain a SEO benefit (via their own blog, for example).

*   The remaining five – six reviews on the first page of Google will be by bloggers, and would not feature on Google’s first page if they are not read regularly.  Obviously a first page Google review will ensure more frequent readership than those on subsequent pages, which means that bloggers need to get to write the reviews first, or have a huge readership to ensure that their reviews land and stay on page one.  I have never heard anyone discount a restaurant review written by a blogger, because the writer is a blogger.

Ultimately bloggers will only have their blogs read if they remain relevant and interesting to their readers. Bloggers blog because they love to write.  Blogging takes up a lot of personal time.  The dedicated and regular bloggers will be those that will retain their readers, as will be the bloggers who have an opinion, and are not afraid to express it, even if they know that they may never return to a specific restaurant because of their opinion!

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

Bitchy bashing of bloggers: response to Mail & Guardian!

Food bloggers furiously re-Tweeted a link to a Mail & Guardian story on Friday, entitled rather meaninglessly “Going to the Blogs”, and posted angry comments on the newspaper’s site, yet no blogger has stood up to defend the reputation of bloggers attacked in the article!  Not everyone in Cape Town was happy with the article, written by print journalist Mandy de Waal, who has no experience of and interest in the food/restaurant industry, and who appears to have been a once-a-month blogger, who last blogged a year ago on her two blogs MandydeWaal and MandyLives!com.

De Waal is best known for her political and business stories that she writes for Mail & Guardian and the Daily Maverick blog.  What she did not disclose in her article is that she is a friend of Rosanne Buchanan, editor of Food & Home Entertaining magazine.  Clearly Buchanan was the inspiration for the article, in being quoted extensively, and she shared with De Waal her experience at a recent lunch to launch the new winter menu of Reuben’s at the One&Only Cape Town, which was attended by bloggers and print journalists. Surprisingly for a journalist, who should get a balanced view for the story she is writing, no print journalist other than Buchanan was interviewed by De Waal for the article!

De Waal shows her anti-blogging bias throughout the article, with the following loaded utterances:

*   “Bitter tension between established food writers and the new food media…” – This does not apply in South Africa, and obviously only is the point of view of Buchanan, who De Waal quotes (unnamed) as saying sneeringly (De Waal’s word) “I truly resent being lumped in with them. They are treated like the media but they have absolutely no ethics. Why are we giving voice to these freebie-mongers who cause such damage?”.  What a loaded and discriminatory statement, obviously indicating that Buchanan’s publication could be under threat, and may go the same way as WINE magazine, which is closing down in September!

*   “Instant publishing and social networks dealt the industry (unnamed, but probably the publishing industry) a cruel, culling blow”.  Any print publisher who did not see the growth and resultant threat of blogging and on-line publishing deserves the inevitable.

*  Gourmet (magazine in the USA) brought epicure to the people – but only some people.  Bloggers took it to everyone else, robbing food elitism of its elitism”– another loaded statement, and completely off the mark!  The trend is far away from food elitism, given the recession.  There is nothing to stop bloggers from writing at the same standard or better than their print colleagues.

*   “Perhaps it’s what bloggers write that’s so difficult to digest”, and she quotes an excerpt out of a Real Restaurant Revelations blog review of the Warwick’s tapas lunch Persian love cake – its inclusion in her article is not meant as a compliment to the blogger, one senses!

*    “To publish, bloggers only need a free meal, a computer and the will to write.  Journalists have to contend with crabby editors, deadlines, ethics, research, a declining market and … miserable pay. Small wonder they’re annoyed at having to rub shoulders with bloggers at elite restaurant openings”!  This statement reflects that Buchanan and De Waal have no idea what blogging is about.  Most bloggers do not get their meals for free.  Most have a day job, and blog for fun, sharing their passion for food and writing with their readers.  They burn the midnight oil to stay up to date in publishing their posts.  Most do not accept advertising on their blogs, so there is no financial benefit in it for them at all.

*   Buchanan magnanimously sees a role for bloggers only in posting ‘comments on food or publishing online recipes’.  When De Waal called me and spoke broadly about Food Blogging, I had to explain to her that in my opinion a food blogger is predominantly a recipe writer, and I gave here some examples, such as Cooksister and Scrumptious blogs.  What she was focussing on was Restaurant reviewing, and that is why her article included a reference to AA Gill. Clearly, Buchanan sees no role for bloggers as reviewers.

*   Buchanan continues: “But is their sudden and authoritative voice, which is too often vindictive or ingratiating, that has become an issue.  Although I think everyone is entitled to an opinion, it is integrity and professionalism that is at stake”.  She could not be further off the mark – it is print journalists that publish a photograph with a short write-up about a restaurant, supplied by the PR agency, and is never critical.  Bloggers who write reviews with honesty, as they have experienced the restaurant, have far greater integrity than magazines do.  Honesty in blog reviews shows up the bla bla freebie magazine write-ups.

*   Buchanan has a further blast at bloggers, saying her publication has been around for 20 years, and that bloggers cannot have her level of ‘understanding of the food industry’– Buchanan and De Waal clearly have no understanding that bloggers are not 18-year olds without a past, but are writers that have (or had) careers in and a passion for food.

*   Contentious is De Waal’s broad swipe at bloggers’ ethics (“Then there’s that trifle called the truth”), but more fairly does so too at ‘leisure journalism’.

*    “But some do rise above the sticky sweetness”, she writes, when restaurant reviewer JP Rossouw disparagingly refers to blogs that can be ‘playful and fun’, but ‘what is essentially candyfloss’!  De Waal writes that Rossouw said that he started a blog nine years ago, but there was no blogging that long ago.  He is quoted as arrogantly looking down on bloggers, in saying that he has stopped blogging because “I felt the ethics that bloggers were following were dubious.  Bloggers love going to launches, restaurant openings and having free luxury experiences but, unlike experienced food journalists, who understand the industry, do significant research and are modulated by ethics and experience, blogging becomes much like ambulance-chasing” Rossouw was hauled over the coals by bloggers for a controversial review he wrote about La Mouette last year, and changed his blog to a website thereafter, with registered screening of commenters. This may explain his disparagement of bloggers.

*  “In an ocean of quantity, only the few, the differentiated and the excellent will eventually rise to the top” is the closing sentence of the article.  De Waal does not understand that this is not a race or a competition for bloggers.  The only measurement bloggers have of their success is unique readership, but if they do not accept advertising then it is just an academic measure.  Making the Top 10 in a category of the SA Blog awards would be another measure of success for some.

I told De Waal about the blogging bitchiness in Cape Town, and told her what price I pay for my honesty in reviewing, resulting in a disparaging Twitter campaign, which she read while we were chatting, and was horrified about.  She captures some of this bitchiness in quoting her conversations with Andy Fenner of the Jamie Who blog, and Clare “Mack” McKeon-McLoughlin of Spill blog:

    *   Fenner points a finger (or is it his knife?) at who only can be McKeon-McLoughlin when he says “There is definitely conflict with online media because certain bloggers see themselves as ‘Erin Brockovich’ types who want to be first with the scoop.  There is this constant battle about who breaks the story first, and it can get catty and malicious”! 

    *   McKeon-McLoughlin refused to have her name mentioned in the article ‘if the blogger’s name appeared in this piece, or if an interview with the blogger was included in this article’, clearly a reference to myself, given her calls to PR agencies to tell them to not invite me to their functions, and her threat to them to not attend functions if I attend.  De Waal describes her as a ‘former BBC journalist’, but this does not come up when one Googles her real name – she was a chat show hostess on Irish TV station RTÈ.  She and her husband Eamon McLoughlin are part of the team driving the malicious Twitter campaign.  A wine blogger put McKeon-McLoughlin in her place with a post he published in response to the article.   While she claims to only write the truth, she is often cited by fellow bloggers as one who never declares her numerous free meals and bottles of wine on her blog!  

So, from the lengthy (and libellous) Mail & Guardian article we read the threat that Food & Home Entertaining faces of potential closure, and that Buchanan is an arrogant journalist who thinks that she is better than bloggers, whose work she probably has not read extensively, yet who may be readers of her magazine.  There is less of an issue between print food journalists and bloggers, than there is amongst bloggers themselves, some of whom have become so arrogant that they think that they can stand in judgement of others, seeing themselves as being superior.  It also demonstrates that journalists are not to be trusted in a telephonic interview, especially when the discussion has a hidden agenda, and the questioning is dreadfully vague, turning out to be a waste of time, when none of it was published.  One wonders why De Waal allowed herself to be bullied by McKeon-McLoughlin, in not allowing my input to be quoted, given the reputation of independence of the newspaper that she writes for!  It also indicates that the blogging community needs to collectively improve its image, if a respected writer such as De Waal can write such drivel about bloggers in such a respected newspaper! 

What De Waal does not reflect is that both new and traditional media have benefits for the restaurants that are reviewed – bloggers can write almost immediately, with an added benefit of posting comments and photographs whilst at the launch on Twitter, giving a new restaurant instant visibility, and it is therefore no surprise that most entries for restaurants on Google are from blogs, alongside listings on Eat Out and Food 24, and often achieve a higher Google ranking than the restaurant’s own website.  Googling is the way the world finds its information.  Traditional media has far better reach in terms of its audience size in readership, the average newer blogger not achieving more than 5000 – 10000 unique readers a month, but the magazine story takes three to four months to appear, its major disadvantage.  Clearly PR agencies value the benefit of a balance of both new and traditional media to obtain coverage for their restaurant clients.

POSTSCRIPT 20/7:  Respected and long-established blogger Jeanne Horak-Druiff today posted her impressive response to the Mail & Guardian article. 

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

Honesty and independence best basis of blogging, food and wine bloggers told!

Bloggers must be honest and independent to have any credibility, the Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club meeting was told by wine blogger Dion Martin at its meeting held at French Toast Wine & Tapas Bar last week.  This was echoed by food blogger and restaurant design curator Neil Stemmet.

Dion Martin writes The Travelling Vineyard Blog as a sideline, being a print-on-demand publisher in his day job.  A love for food in his family, a chef qualification he obtained via City and Guilds, a Cape Wine Academy Certificate, and a University of Stellenbosch Wine Evaluation diploma, led Dion to start his blog two years ago, so that he could document his wine experiences.  Dion mentioned that lawyer Robert Parker could be seen to have been the first blogger, in having published a weekly newspaper thirty years ago already, sharing his evaluation of the wines he had tasted.  Dion has observed an increasing ‘noise’ in food blogging, and therefore one should find a point of difference with one’s blog:  it could be humour, it could be its excellent photographs, or its ethics, in declaring when the blogger has received a complimentary product or meal.  Few bloggers disclose freebies, he said.   When he was asked how he deals with freebies, Dion said he would accept them, but would not write about a wine in isolation.  He might write a comparative review about a blind tasting he would do with the freebie wine against two others.   

Dion said that he is an avid Twitter fan (@TVDionysus), but he sees a lot of ‘soulless Tweeting”.  He warned that communication on a medium such as Twitter can be misinterpreted due to the loss in intonation, which one would have in spoken communication.  He warned Tweeters to be careful in what they say, and attendee Dusan Jelic added that one should not ‘Drink and Tweet’.   Dion has seen people on Twitter follow groupings, reflecting a herd mentality.  Twitter is a conduit to one’s blog.  Twitter has a lot of ‘noise’ too, and he filters this ‘noise’ out via TweetDeck, in reading only the Tweets of a select number of persons he follows.  Such a facility is available on HootSuite too.  He is strict in unfollowing those that do not follow him.  Dion said that he does not use Vlogging much yet, but is experimenting with it, as he recognises the value of YouTube videos in Google search optimisation.   He advised bloggers to not make the video longer than 30 seconds.   Dion does not use Facebook much, but recognises that it is powerful. 

Dion brought along a selection of Shiraz wines, for the bloggers to taste: Rusty’s Red from McGregor, made by garagiste John Hargraeves and costing about R40; Rusticus is a Shiraz and Viognier blend from Robertson, costing about R80; Le Marquis de Beau Rond Syrah received the least favourable response; Simonsvlei Toffee Chunck Syrah was also not that highly rated; the Sutherland Shiraz from Elgin, costing about R90, received the most most positive response. 

Neil Stemmet writes ‘soutenpeper’ Blog, the content all written in lower case, to represent his humility and the blog’s simplicity, and is in Afrikaans.  He focuses on the food tradition of South Africa, and his book by the same title will be published in November, and will be launched at the Food Indaba, to be held at the Cape Town International Convention Centre, and organised by Design Indaba’s Ravi Naidoo.  Neil said that he has no formal training, but he sees himself as a teacher, in wanting to leave a legacy.  He is a ‘survivor’, he says, and says that the more one gets stamped upon in a judgemental society, the more fuel one obtains. He has been the interior curator of the Towerbosch restaurant at Knorhoek, and Cuvee at Simonsig.  He received acclaim for his award-winning stand he curated for the BOS Tea House, and he did so with minimum budget, collaborating with a  number of design suppliers, each of whom brought a display case representing their outlet.  The walls were painted purple, and the food was served in large platters at the symbolic ‘altar’ table, explaining his interpretation of a reaction to religion. 

The ‘soutenpeper’ name reflects Neil’s approach to food preparation, which is adding nothing more than salt and pepper to a leg of lamb.   It starts in obtaining one’s meat from a butcher one knows, and knowing from where he sources his meat.  Neil started his food career with his restaurant Le Must in Upington, which he opened in 1985, and still owns. Here he once served Nelson Mandela.  He keeps his food ‘hearty and simple’, serving it in large platters, and it is eaten with ‘great conversations’.  Neil started ‘soutenpeper’ on WordPress, and asked for help when he got stuck in his early days of blogging.  The publishers approached him about the book after only three months of blogging. He said of his growing reputation:”The more people write about me, the more scared I get”.  He says it takes energy to live up to the coverage he receives, and he is always honest and sincere.  He speaks his mind.  He advised bloggers to write what comes to mind, to be natural in what one writes, and “to trust one’s instinct and to not force it”.  Do not shout, he advised, ‘speak quietly’.  ‘Become more humble, the more success you have.  It is not about you, but about the energy flowing through you.  Do not write for who we think we should be, but for what you are. Always share knowledge, and you will get reward from it’, he concluded.

French Toast Wine & Tapas Bar is jointly owned by Karen Visser and John Harrison, and opened last year. They generously hosted the Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club meeting next to their cosy downstairs fireplace, serving bruschetta, as well as a surprise Chocolate Fondant.

The next meetings of the Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club take place as follows:

   *   20 July : Hennie Coetzee and Maggie Mostert of Batonage Blog, at What’s On Eatery

   *   17 August:  Nikki Dumas of Swirl Blog, and Matt Allisson of I’m no Jamie Oliver Blog, at Den Anker, wines sponsored by Jordan wines

   *   21 September:  Chef Brad Ball of Bistro1682, and a wine speaker from Steenberg, at Steenberg

   *   19 October:   Roger and Dawn Jorgensen of Jorgensen’s Distillery, and Anthony Gird and Michael de Klerk from Honest Chocolate, with a chocolate and potstill brandy tasting and talk on blogging, at Haas Coffee on Rose Street. 

   *   12 November: Saturday lunch visit to new Leopard’s Leap tasting room and cookery school in Franschhoek

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com  E-mail: whalecot@iafrica.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage  @FoodWineBlogClu Food & Wine Bloggers Club now on Facebook