You have to feel sorry for the beleaguered guide. For 40 years, the authority on South African wine. Now faced with the challenge of remaining economically viable, their owners have made some controversial decisions.
After reading Michael Fridjhon’s recent article on Winemag, I wanted to take a closer look at the challenges that they face, and what might be an appropriate way to overcome them. Because as Michael ultimately concedes, this is a valuable resource and our industry would be poorer without it.
So let’s begin with the obvious. Platter’s’ value to consumers has never been about scores. Or stars. Or bunches of grapes. Historically, every wine was judged out of 5. Few were awarded more than 4, while few received less than 3. The "numbers" were crude and didn’t tell us much, which was perfect because they were secondary to complete, concise and accurate editorial content.
What I’m describing doesn’t fit so snug in today’s world. Platter's is trying to shift from Test Cricket to T20. From nuance and complexity to deafening cheers, 100 point scores, instant gratification, Instagrammification and other things best left to influencers.
Yet Platter’s still has plenty of influence. It remains the authority on South African wine, a power it wields by virtue of being complete, thorough and independent.
But now it's desperate. For R175, Platter's will give you a years' worth of online access to the last 13 years’ worth of content. And if that’s insulting to you, imagine how embarrassing it must be for the experts involved in compiling it each year.
It's beginning to look a lot like that discontinued magazine, or every news publisher that has anything worthwhile to offer.
Here, have it, take it all, just give us something, please!
Their recent decisions – misguided as they may be – are the consequence of a financial imperative. With an existing business model not able to pick up the tab, they’re forced to look elsewhere for revenue. So they’re going all in on the Five Star game. Which means new rules for their Five Star tasting. It means effectively babysitting their tasters in the hope of favorable results. It means more control over who wins. And apparently, it means a lot more winners.
But it doesn’t mean that Platter’s is winning. For that, they need to have their fingers in the jar that they’ve just handed to the wineries. And if the rumors are true, that seems to be the plan. Which translates to a loss of independence, a loss of confidence, and in time, a loss of influence.
In a bid to remain relevant, this invaluable resource is giving up the thing that makes it invaluable.
They’re also going after “digital”. But here's something for free: A few years ago, I bought a digital membership. I never used it. The Internet just wasn't the place for something so pure. At least, it wasn’t then. It might be changing. But the point remains:
Platter’s Guide is a deep dive down the rabbit hole at the bottom of memory lane. It’s a glorious encyclopedia of answers. A colourful relic that brightens up the bookshelf. It’s the dog-eared AA road atlas in the back of the family Kombi.
It's not a Google Maps plug-in. But here we are. So what’s their next move?
They need to look to their audience. If someone is interested in a comprehensive guide to South African wine, then there's a good chance they've got money to spend on other things.
Don’t look so close to home. There are many ways to diversify that won’t directly damage what you sell: honesty, transparency, and credibility. With those glorious attributes, you – Diner’s Club – can invite naming partners. You can involve other credible brands. You can disregard the pressures of the new world, remain fiercely and wonderfully impartial, and play the long game.