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SU wine experts nudge Sauvignon Blanc competition into the technological era
Author: Engela Duvenage
Published: 02/10/2020

It's faster than judging on paper. It eliminates possible typing errors with the entering of scores. Because less paper is used, a competition's carbon footprint shrinks. It is also possible to create an aroma profile of each wine relatively quickly after completion of judging – something which in the past was often neglected by competitions due to the time and cost involved.

So says Dr Jeanne Brand, who leads the Department of Viticulture and Oenology's sensory laboratory, about the advantages there is for wine competitions to change over from a paper based judging system to the use of dedicated software and tablets.

Dr Brand and wine consultant Dr Carien Coetzee of Basic Wine and Sauvignon Blanc South Africa this year helped to make it possible for the SA Sauvignon Blanc Association of South Africa to for the first time be mainly dependent on technology during their 9th annual Top 10 competition.

To ensure that there were no glitches, Dr Brand last year had already tested the new method during the 2019 competition in tandem with the paper option. The development was made possible with funding from Winetech.

This year it was used exclusively to judge 149 Sauvignon Blanc wines from 96 producers during a three-day session at Uitkyk wine estate in Stellenbosch. As a bonus it also helped to ensure that the safety protocols around Covid-19 were in place during the judging period.

“I found it easy to use and I think going digital is inevitable," one of this year's judges, wine writer Fiona McDonald, said in a press release from Sauvignon Blanc SA. “I have previously judged at international wine competitions on tablets, with very sophisticated and purposeful systems. The Sauvignon Blanc system is exciting because it is much more focused; the options that are available to identify the character of the wine are used to collect data on Sauvignon Blanc as a variety. The Sauvignon Blanc system therefore expands knowledge about the grape."

“As a younger person who is focused on technology, judging via tablet was a much more comfortable process than on paper. The sensory option gave me more time to focus on tasting the wine, rather than making notes. It is a wonderful innovation for all future tastings. The fact that we use less paper also keeps our carbon footprint low," another judge, winemaker Rudger van Wyk, said.

“What distinguishes it further, is the fact that additional data could be collected on wine profiles. This will be shared with members during Sauvignon Blanc SA's technical seminar," adds Dr Winifred Bowman, Cape Wine Master and panel convener, who was closely involved with the introduction of the tablet innovation.

“The software behind it can be used for any wine competition," says Dr Brand, who also recently assisted with refining the judging protocols which are part of the annual Shiraz competition.

She says that Stellenbosch University has been using the Compusense software on which the judging program is based, for more than ten years. The Canadian product was initially only used by the Department of Food Science for sensory tasting of foods. In time it was also put through its steps by the Department of Viticulture and Oenology as part of the activities of their research-based sensory panels, and also when industry-related tastings were presented.

“It was developed as a sensory tool for anyone who compiles surveys of sensory profiles, for anything from wine to perfume and nutritional foods," Dr Brand explains the rationale behind the Compusense software.

“The advantage is that the data which we collect in the process is also available for research as part of our licencing agreement and terms of use," she says.

She reckons that technology indeed makes it possible to say “the world is your panel."

“The difficulty lies in coordinating the shipping of wine which is to be tasted. If the logistics behind it can be sorted adequately, it would be possible to put together tasting panels of people across the world, and therefore it will not be necessary to rely on panels having to come together in one room," she says.

  • The Sauvignon Blanc SA Top 10 winners will be announced at a virtual awards ceremony on 14 October 2020 at The annual Sauvignon Blanc SA Technical Seminar will be presented as vlogs on the Sauvignon Blanc SA website during November with speakers focusing on technical aspects, including information collected in the judging process of the Top 10.​