Platter OpenForum – a milestone event.

Just came back from attending the interesting Platter OpenForum re the road ahead for the most important wine guide in South Africa. The owners and publishers of the Platter guide set up an forum which was attended by well over 200 interested parties – most of them winery owners or winemakers/wine marketeers.

We are fortunate to have such a great South African wine guide available, but there are always folks left unhappy with the outcomes every year.

The editor, Philip van Zyl explained in detail how the current Platter process works. He also gave some good insight into their view of the changes that would improve the Platter guide going forward. Their process is based on a sighted tasting by a single judge. To his credit Philip did not try to debate the merits of sighted vs blind tastings, but rather explained their context and the specific instructions to the judges they work with.

There is enough evidence out there to show that both formats have their pitfalls. Standford University published the results of a key study re the impact of price on a wine’s perception last year. Another four year study by retired Humboldt State professor Robert Hodgson( mentioned by Philip), looked at the effectiveness & accuracy of tasting panels in California and showed that even blind tastings were not perfect due to the human fallibility factor.

I personally agree with some of the audience comments raised re moving to a 2 person tasting team per winery vs the current single taster. Tastes vary and with one person you may hit the jackpot or strike out. I also think Philip’s suggestion to do more of the tastings at the winery, with the winemaker and/or owner present, is a good one given the overall context they are aiming for.

An interesting example of the contrasts comes from a local winery who scored less than 80 out of 100 for all of their wines in a major US publication’s blind tasting, but got 4 or 4.5 stars for the same wines in Platter. How in the world can that be ?? The truth probably lies somewhere in between!

My personal view and belief is that the consumer’s view is most important. Why not look at how one gets their votes in and counted ? If you look at the travel world, it is clear that many tourists prefer their peer’s reviews on the highly successful vs that of a journalist who spent some time their on a freebie.

Maybe it is time for :-)

Philip did reveal that making the Platter information available on the likes of iPhones, Blackberries and similar 3G devices, was coming soon. The US based Wine Spectator recently started offering mobile access to their wine review database too. This is really great news for a few reasons:

  • You won’t have to lug the 600 page book with you all over and look like a real wine nerd in the process!
  • It will definitely make it a lot easier to start gathering consumer ratings – look up a wine on your PDA, drink it and rate it! Consumers do this for many other products and services today, so is not a new concept and it makes a lot of sense.
  • Global access – more South African wines are consumed overseas than in SA nowdays – this will make the Platter guide info available to so many more people and I am sure there is a good revenue model to support the digital media move

Once you have all the Platter info online (including consumer ratings & possibly other competition results), you could expand it to some new directions. Eg. a restaurant (or someone else) could upload a winelist and the consumer could review it in context of the Platter info, peer ratings etc.

Embracing the digital world is a brave and very important step for the Platter guide and I look forward to see how it evolves over the coming years!

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