Should You Buy Wines Based on Competition Medals? Dr. Winnie Bowman, Cape Wine Master, Has Thoughts



What is a Cape Wine Master? Should you buy wines based on medals won from competitions? What does the future of wine recommendations look like?

In this episode of the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast, I’m chatting with international wine and spirit judge, Dr. Winnie Bowman.

You can find the wines we discussed here.


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  • Why did Winnie transition out of her previous careers and into the wine industry?
  • What is a Cape Wine Master, and how is it different from a Master of Wine?
  • How costly is it to become a Cape Wine Master?
  • What are some of Winnie’s earliest memories of wine?
  • Which types of sweet wines is South Africa known for?
  • What are some challenges faced by women working to make a name for themselves in the wine industry?
  • How did a vertical tasting in Rome feature in Winnie’s best moment of her wine career so far?
  • How did Super Tuscan winemakers defy traditional wine regulations and come out on top?
  • What interesting notes did Winnie notice in tasting 50 years of Sassicaia wines?
  • How does tasting technique help you avoid palate fatigue?
  • What have been some of the most interesting wine competitions to judge?
  • Which hard-to-find grapes has Winnie encountered while judging wine competitions?
  • How do wine competitions and the medals they award impact consumer decisions?


Key Takeaways

  • I was interested to learn what a Cape Wine Master is and how that differs from Master of Wine.
  • Winnie also had some great insights into whether we should buy wines based on medals won from competitions and how those competitions themselves are run.
  • I loved her story about tasting through 50 years of the cult Tuscan wine Sassicaia and that 1950s vintage still had power and grace – it wasn’t tired.


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About Dr. Winnie Bowman

Dr. Winnie Bowman is a physiotherapist, biomedical scientist and holds a PhD in Education, specializing in Didactics. She is an international wine and spirit judge as well as a Cape Master. Winnie writes about wine, teaches, presents corporate tastings and appears regularly on radio and television wine shows.




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Dr. Winnie Bowman (00:00):
That’s what’s interesting for me about competitions is that I taste different flavours. It expands my own tasting memory for when I taste South African varieties. It also reminds me of the quality of our wines and whether we are actually on a par with the world.

Natalie MacLean (00:19):
You don’t wear the same perfume every day or you accommodate to it sort of cellar palate. You’re trying different flavours, scents, aromas.

Do you have a thirst to learn about wine? Do you love stories about wonderfully obsessive people, hauntingly beautiful places and amusingly awkward social situations? Well, that’s the blend here on the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast. I’m your host, Natalie MacLean. And each week I share with you unfiltered conversations with celebrities in the wine world, as well as confessions from my own tipsy journey as I write my third book on this subject. I’m so glad you’re here. Now pass me that bottle please and let’s get started.

Welcome to episode 244. What is a Cape Wine Master? Should you buy wines based on medals won from competitions? And what would it be like to taste through 50 vintages of the super cult Tuscan Sassicaia? And what would a vintage from the 1950s taste like today? In this episode, you’ll hear the stories and tips that answer those questions in my chat with Dr. Winnie Bowman, an international wine and spirit judge as well as Cape Wine Master.

In my new book, Wine Witch on Fire: Rising from the Ashes of Divorce, Defamation, and Drinking Too Much,  I write that I love wine because every vintage and every bottle is different. Unlike the packaged foods such as Crisco, Pringles, and DuncanHeinz that I used to market at Proctor and Gamble, wine is an agricultural product celebrated for its diversity and unpredictability. For me, it’s like going to a ballet versus watching an edited version on television that live in the moment. Risk is thrilling. A dancer could fall flat on her face or soar weightless in the air. Wine is more an experience than a thing in the way it accesses memories and emotions. I can float from place to place in my mind on a magic carpet of scent. I also love wine because it’s fleeting, not like a painting that’ll exist for centuries. This glass of wine in front of me has one chance, one moment.Do you ever feel that way about wine? Let me know.

Here’s a review from Rebecca Rosenberg from Sonoma, California. “I just finished reading Natalie MacLean’s new book Wine Witch on Fire and felt compelled to write a review.” Her review, by the way, is posted on Amazon. “This book is a memoir about Natalie’s journey through divorce, defamation, and drinking too much. It is a raw and honest account of her experiences. And it is clear that she has written it with the intention of helping others who are going through similar challenges. I found the book to be both inspiring and heartbreaking. It was inspiring to see how Natalie was able to overcome such difficult circumstances and emerged stronger on the other side. It was heartbreaking to read about the pain and suffering she experienced. However, the book is not all doom and gloom. Natalie also shares her insights on how to find hope and healing in the midst of darkness. She writes about the importance of finding your tribe, of forgiving yourself, and of never giving up your dreams. I highly recommend Wine Witch on Fire to anyone who’s struggling with adversity. It is a powerful and moving story that will stay with you long after you finish reading it. Five stars”. Thank you so much, Rebecca.

If you’ve read the book, I’d love to hear from you at [email protected]. If you haven’t got your copy yet and would like to support it and this podcast, please order it from any online book retailer no matter where you live. Every little bit helps spread this message. I’ll put a link in the show notes to all retailers worldwide at Okay, on with the show.

Dr. Winnie Bowman is a physiotherapist, biomedical scientist, and she also holds a PhD in education specializing in didactics. She is an international wine and spirits judge as well as a Cape Wine Master. Winnie writes about wine, teaches, and presents corporate tastings, and appears regularly on radio and television shows. And she joins me now from her home in Camps Bay, South Africa. Welcome, Winnie. It’s so great to have you here with us.

Dr. Winnie Bowman (05:17):
Thanks, Natalie. And very pleased you asked about the weather because it’s actually flipping freezing here in Cape Town at the moment.

Natalie MacLean


Dr. Winnie Bowman

Well, people always think that it doesn’t get cold in South Africa, but it does.

Natalie MacLean (05:29):
It does. And so what do you define as freezing? What is cold?

Dr. Winnie Bowman (05:32):
Freezing for me is around about 10.

Natalie MacLean (05:34):
10 degrees Celsius?

Dr. Winnie Bowman (05:35):

Natalie MacLean (05:36):
Yes. Okay.

Dr. Winnie Bowman (05:38):
So I’m like layered up here,

Natalie MacLean (05:40):
Well, that is chilly, even for Canada, the grape white north. So yeah, you do get chilled. That also helps your wines and we’ll get into that because it’s not just one big heat basket there.

Dr. Winnie Bowman (05:53):
No, no, no.

Natalie MacLean (05:55):
All right. So before we dive into your wine career, Winnie, tell us why you didn’t continue to pursue a career in one of several fields in which you’re trained. You’re qualified as a physiotherapist, biomedical scientist as I said, and an academic. So why didn’t you keep going with those careers?

Dr. Winnie Bowman (06:13):
Well, the physiotherapy part was quite easy. As I said to you, it’s quite cold here now, but we don’t really have much snow except in the high lying areas. So only when I was working in London did I have my first skiing trip at about the age of 23 or 24. And when one watches TV and you see all these professionals doing all these wonderful sort of tricks and beautiful balance, et cetera, et cetera, I fancied myself on the slopes and I took one hell of a tumble. I think I saw the world going past me about 50 times when I reached the bottom. And I can just tell you that I was wearing a one piece suit and I had snow in there where you would not expect snow ever. So with this, thank goodness, the only very bad injury I had was a dislocated shoulder which I came back to Cape Town and had it operated on.

And because my arm was in a sling for so long, nobody actually realized that I’d also dislocated my thumb. And when I started working again, it became a problem. So by that time, I’d already decided that I wanted to do some more studies because I am the eternal student. And in London, I worked at the Musicians and Keyboard Clinic, which where we treated quite a lot of patients with repetitive strain injury and tendons and hands and whatever. So it was almost a natural progression for me to go into the world of ergonomics, which was then a part of my biomedical science degree. And then I got into biomechanics and loved it and started working in ergonomics. But it wasn’t really really what I wanted to do. And funnily enough, I had quite a few jobs in the wine industry like assessing the workspaces, the methods, et cetera, and giving advice to wine producers.

Natalie MacLean (08:08):
Just coincidentally?

Dr. Winnie Bowman (08:09):
Yes, coincidentally.

Natalie MacLean (08:10):
Your clients happen to be in wine.

Dr. Winnie Bowman (08:13):
I was drinking wine, and my husband and I always used to travel to wine inspired or wine rich country should I say, in areas. And then during the time as well, I was busy doing work for the Physiotherapy Society in accrediting private practices and medical practices. And again, fortuitously, I met somebody who was assisting me in nailing down the South African equivalent of products that were used in Australia because we used the Australian program. And she said, oh my this is a wonderful piece of work, why don’t you just write it up as a PhD? And I said, okay, then.

And much to the dismay of my husband thinking I’m now going to be sitting in front of a desk for another five years, I started the PhD and my main supervisor took a job in another country. And she said to me, I’m not sitting around here waiting for you to finish this thing for hours and days and years. Shake a leg and get it over and done with. So I did that, and then I wasn’t using any of it because I was pregnant at the time. And because I was a bit of an older mother, I was also a –  I wouldn’t say a helicopter mother – I was more of a sort of hovering spaceship of my child.

Natalie MacLean (09:29):
Bigger aircraft.

Dr. Winnie Bowman (09:33):
The poor thing never had a chance because around every corner I could just see somewhere where he could kill himself. So I was really just babysitting. And then we went to one of our favorite restaurants one day, and the sommelier at the restaurant said, hello Dr. Bowman, CWM And I said, oh, what is CWM? And he said, Cape Wine Master. And I said, oh, no, I’m not a Cape Wine master. And he said, oh but you should actually be.

Natalie MacLean (10:03):
Why did he assume that?

Dr. Winnie Bowman (10:05):
Well, because this is one of the places where we always used to take our own special wines and shared it with him, and he was tasting things that he wouldn’t otherwise have tasted. And many of those wines actually made it onto the wine list in the end. So when we were sitting down at the table, my husband said you know you are also flipping board, why don’t you go and do wine? And I said, well you know me  it’s all or nothing. I mean, I’m going to go like the whole hog. So the cards just fell right. And I needed to do three courses before you can apply to be a Cape Wine Master. And the courses is five years.

Natalie MacLean

Oh, wow.

Dr. Winnie Bowman

And it’s quite a thing because it’s like four theory exams, four tasting exams, a dissertation, and a presentation, which of course is the worst thing, a presentation to other fellow Cape Wine Masters. And of course, that is the nerve wracking one.

Natalie MacLean (10:59):
I’ll bet. And how is it different from the Master of Wine? It sounds like an intense five year program.

Dr. Winnie Bowman (11:05):
It is very intense, but it’s probably more focused on the South African wine industry. Although a lot of it is the tastings, particularly are designed around the international Master of Wine kind of tastings. But one of our four tastings is brandy, which they don’t do. And that’s a historical thing, I think that one of the big producers of brandy in the past had sponsored the Cape Wine Academy which is where all the introductory courses take place. And so they included that as a sort of thank you or nod to the brandy industry. So that is actually quite a big part of the course because there’s an exam paper also on distillation and brandy and of course distillations of all kinds. Whiskey, rum, vodka all over the world that is included in that exam. And then of course, the tasting.

Natalie MacLean (11:54):
There as few Cape Wine Masters as there are a few Masters of Wine. It has a difficult pass rate?

Dr. Winnie Bowman (12:01):
It has a very difficult pass rate. At the moment, I think we are standing at about 105 that have passed over 40 years.

Natalie MacLean (12:09):
Yeah. So small.

Dr. Winnie Bowman (12:11):
And there have been over 1,500 people applying to do the course. So there is a high fallout rate because it is quite intense and it always was something that is over such a long period, people become despondent or they just don’t pass. It’s a funny thing to say, but I mean although one can teach yourself to taste wine well, it’s not always that easy to do it in exam circumstances.

Natalie MacLean (12:37):
Sure. It’s probably nerve wracking. And so specific.

Dr. Winnie Bowman


Natalie MacLean.

I’m sure that has an impact even on your senses.

Dr. Winnie Bowman (12:45):
Especially when you think you’ve nailed it in your tasting practice. You arrive at the table and there are four wines in front of you think, oh, my word, all I can say is it’s red.

Natalie MacLean (12:57):
Yeah, sure.

Dr. Winnie Bowman (12:57):
And we have to really focus to get into what it really is.

Natalie MacLean (13:01):
Absolutely. I mean, when we’re nervous, we shrivel into our, well they call it the old brain. Some people still call it the reptile brain. But that is not an expansive way of thinking at the executive front of the brain. So I’m sure it’s so difficult. My goodness. And some people say, I’ve heard Masters of Wine talk about it costing well over $10,000. Not just in the course fees, but all the wines they tasted. I mean, can you guesstimate how much you spent just trying to get this designation?

Dr. Winnie Bowman (13:30):
Yes. I would say probably roundabout that figure, although mine was now a little bit a while ago. And of course international wines as I imagine everywhere else is much more expensive here than our local wines. So it’s much more difficult. And in those days, of course, they weren’t Coravins or things to preserve the wines with. So whenever we tasted wines together in our group, we had to finish the bottle. You couldn’t actually keep it for a couple of weeks to try and really nail the wine. So that was quite a difficult thing.

But having said that, I qualified in 2008. And at that time, we didn’t have such a very big international footprint of wines in South Africa, so we could basically practice with what was here. But of course, with exams they imported wines to put in exams. So it was quite tough. But of course, I think it’s tougher today because there are so many more wines that taste the same. And I mean, as we know, global warming and stuff like that has changed the styles of many wines around the world. And if you think of people who used to over oak wines that now pull back on the oak, so now it becomes much more close to something from another country. So it’s very difficult sometimes to place wines in a specific country.

Natalie MacLean (14:46):
Wow. But at least you got started tasting early. Apparently you were four years old when you started tasting wine, so you had lots of experience. Tell us about that.

Dr. Winnie Bowman (14:56):
I know, I know. So my father used to drink brandy mixed with Coke. And my mother only used to drink red wine. And of course we didn’t really like the red wine. But because of the sweetness of the brandy, my father always allowed us on a Sunday just to dip our pinkies into his glass, which I actually quite liked. But when my mother decided sugar wasn’t good for him, of course he had to drink it with soda water. And that was no longer so appealing. South Africa, with its wonderful climate, we make unbelievable sweet wines. And again, on a Sunday we each used to get the thimble full of Muscadel, which of course is hell of a sweet. I mean it goes up to 200 grams of sugar litre. And we had that on a Sunday for many, many years. And of course, when I went to university, I went to Stellenbosch University, which is the sort of cradle of oh I shouldn’t say that because Constantia people will kill me. But let me rather put it that way. Stellenbosch is one of the more well-known wine areas in South Africa. So as students, we used to go every weekend and try the farms and have something to eat. It was a great introduction, but it was only really when I started traveling to international wine areas that I really got the taste for it. And also, I love the comparison between French wines and South African wines or Italian wines, whatever. I have to confess, at that time, I hadn’t been to America at that time. And we have a friend with a wonderful cellar in New Haven, and that is where I sat down and had all these beautiful American wines. And of course, ice wine from Canada, which it’s now incidentally quite a big thing here in South Africa.

Natalie MacLean (16:43):
Is it really?

Dr. Winnie Bowman (16:44):
Yeah. We importing quite a few, which is interesting. Because I mean, we make very, very good sweet wines ourselves.

Natalie MacLean (16:51):
What kind of sweet wine do you make? Is it botrytis or is it a fortified sweet wine?

Dr. Winnie Bowman (16:55):
Right, so there’s a whole range. Obviously so fortified wines would be like the Muscadels which is from Muscat grapes. Then there’s also another one called Jerepigo, which is unfermented grapes and just fortified. So it’s a much fresher taste and of course, not as sophisticated as Muscadel, which can often be oaked and then fortified. And then of course we do natural sweet, which is not botrytris wines but just late picked wines. Straw wine where they either pinch the grape or take the wines off and put them on straw mats to dry out before they press.

Natalie MacLean (17:36):
Oh, like they do in Amarone in Italy.

Dr. Winnie Bowman (17:38):

Natalie MacLean (17:39):

Dr. Winnie Bowman (17:40):
And then botrytris wines, which is quite big in South Africa as well. But I mean, I love those sweet wines and it seems to me like people are drinking them less and less. So whenever I have a dinner party, I always bring out the bottle and many times people will say, oh, no, no, no, no, no sweet for me, no sweet for me until I say, just have a taste, just try it. And before you know it, of course the bottle’s empty.

Natalie MacLean (18:06):
They love it. Yes, absolutely.

Dr. Winnie Bowman (18:08):
They love it.

Natalie MacLean (18:09):
And do you bring it out at the end of the meal? Typically a sweet wine, or?

Dr. Winnie Bowman (18:13):
Depending on what I’m serving. If I’m serving something like a liver parfait or something like that, I will definitely bring out the sweet wine at the beginning of the meal. And even, especially in our hot summers, I mean before we come sit down for dinner, we are always sitting outside looking at the mountain. My house is in a very beautiful area where I can see Lion’s head and Table Mountain and the Camps Bay Beach. So there’s lots to look at. And especially on Lion’s Head, for example, people walk up the mountain in the evenings right to the top. And it’s become much more interesting since people have cell phones because you can actually see the line of lights going all the way around right to the top, and people take wine up there and picnics up there, and it’s fantastic. And especially with full moon, that’s when they really go up there. So we sit outside, have a bottle of sweet wine, and again, very often there’s a touch of resistance, but that is very soon broken by the beautiful sweetness in the glass.

Natalie MacLean (19:15):
Oh, I know. Every time I have a sweet wine, I think, oh my gosh, why don’t I drink more of this? It’s just so I know luscious, so sensual, and you think, oh no, you don’t want dessert, you don’t want to, whatever. But it’s a little goes a long way too. It’s not like you have to whole glass full.

Dr. Winnie Bowman (19:30):
Exactly. And also sometimes I just serve it as a dessert.

Natalie MacLean (19:34):
Right. Yes.

Dr. Winnie Bowman (19:35):
And it’s lovely. But we do make very, very good sweet wines here. And of course, it’s part of I suppose the very first. I mean one of my favourite wines is Vin de Constance, which I’m sure everybody knows, is an iconic wine from South Africa. And it’s just so lovely when you have a glass of it. And as you say, one always thinks I should drink more of it. And I try to. I’m draining the lake on the side.

Natalie MacLean (20:00):
Yeah. Well, I’m over here drinking Canada dry on its sweet wine. So we all do our part.

Dr. Winnie Bowman


Natalie MacLean

Winnie, before we dive into South African wines even more, tell us about perhaps the worst moment in your wine career. Kind of what happened in, I dunno, anything you’d like to touch on.

Dr. Winnie Bowman (20:20):
You know, Natalie.  I think, well, I haven’t actually had really very bad moments. And I think the reason for that is that I probably joined at a later age when people weren’t maybe taking me a little bit more serious because I was older. And I think that’s maybe why I’ve never had any problems. But I do know of younger girls, especially entering the wine industry. And it’s very hard, I think  to make a name for yourself and be taken seriously. Because I remember an incident of a friend of mine who posted a picture of herself in the vineyard busy helping somebody to prune the grapes, and somebody posted back, oh, lovely bunches. And it was so terrible because she phoned me in tears. And it’s so sad that we still have to deal with that. And it took quite a lot of talking to her to say just look past it because you know who you are and we all have to do that. And maybe I just come across a little bit more strict or something that.

Natalie MacLean (21:21):
You’re also Dr. Bowman, so that’s another credential in your favour. Don’t cross Dr. Bowman.

Dr. Winnie Bowman (21:29):
Don’t make me cross. No.

Natalie MacLean (21:32):
Alright, then take us to your best moment of your wine career so far.

Dr. Winnie Bowman (21:36):
Oh my. There’ve been so many, but the best moment for me was a vertical tasting of 50 years of Sassicaia in Rome in the palace or apartment of one of the Popes, the one where they shot the movie Room With A View. Are you familiar with that movie?

Natalie MacLean (21:54):
Yes. Yes. How did you manage to get in there?

Dr. Winnie Bowman (21:58):
Well, it was actually such a coincidence because the Gambero Rosso magazine from Italy, they do these road shows with their winning wines every year, and they’d never actually been to Africa. And then two friends of mine in London from one from Nigeria and one from Zambia went to one of their road shows in London, and they made sure that they met up with the organizer and said, why don’t we do one in Africa? And they were actually thinking more Zambia or Nigeria. And then she said, oh, lovely yes, we’ll go to Cape Town.

Dr. Winnie Bowman (22:33):
For some other reason, we connected and I helped them organize the local part of it. And then when they were here, the organizer said to me, we are having this celebration of 30 years or 40 years or something of the Gambero Rosso magazine, and we are doing a very special tasting, and would you like to come?

Well, I went only with my handbag and I was gone. So it was fantastic, but 14 of us. And the only dampener was that the owner of Sassicaia had actually spoken to them before and said he’s got this range of 50 wines, which will never be tasted again because one or two of the vintages only had two bottles left. And they said, well, why don’t we do it together with our celebrations. And it was arranged like that. And shame, a week or two before the tasting, he fell in the vineyard and knocked his head on a rock and ended up in hospital. And that was actually the first time that his daughter Priscilla conducted a tasting. And I mean, what a tasting to start your tasting career off with by absolutely presenting 50 years of Sassicaia.

Natalie MacLean (23:41):
And just for perhaps the few people who might not know, this is one of Italy’s most coveted wines. They call them Turbo Tuscans or Cult Tuscans. Super Tuscans. And it’s just iconic. It even has its own appellation now, DOC Domain , I’m not even going to pronounce it, but these bottles go for what? 500 or more bottle when they’re released something crazy.

Dr. Winne Bowman

Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

Natalie MacLean

So you’re tasting 50 vintages, what did you say?

Dr. Winnie Bowman (24:07):
50 vintages. 50 vintages of that. It was something that I will never forget. I still look at the photographs and I still have to pinch myself to say that I was really there. And it was really fantastic. And also what it showed me, because they called Super Tuscans because of course they contain Cabernet Sauvignon, which is not part of the appellation of Tuscany, so they couldn’t call them by the appellation. They just had to be Wine of Italy, which is sort of a no-no in international wine circles.

Natalie MacLean (24:41):
It’s like being relegated as a country wine, a cheap little country wine.

Dr. Winnie Bowman


Natalie MacLean

They didn’t have an official designation, prestigious one.

Dr. Winnie Bowman (24:48):
And they obviously stuck it to the establishment by making these wines the most expensive in Italy, number one. And of course, as you now say, they are cult wines and they’re sought after all over the world. And good for them because I think that’s wonderful to just stick to your guns and do something that you think can work in your area and go for it.

Natalie MacLean (25:09):
Sure, absolutely. And how did you notice, I mean the wines I mean they’re beautifully built so to speak, beautifully made. So they’re going to last, they’re going to be ageable. They have that natural acidity that a many Italian wines have. But what did you notice in the way they aged? Was there anything particular to them or to Italian wines that you noticed as they age? What happens versus other wines, other regions?

Dr. Winnie Bowman (25:35):
Well, the interesting thing is about those wines is that from the oldest one, you could taste that they were old. But they were certainly not tired or gone. Those were wines that were obviously very beautifully stored in their own cellars and poured very specifically. I mean, they had a Master Sommelier opening the bottles and checking the bottles and pouring the bottles. It was all sort of military precision in terms of running the tasting. But the wines were remarkably fresh and beautiful. And of course, we know that Cabernet Sauvignon can age for many decades. And also, I think because I was in Spain last week and I tasted some old Rioja wines, which I felt and it reminded me actually of the Sassicaia tasting because we tasted in 1956 Marqués de Riscal wine, which was quite a special treat for us last week. And I thought back to that tasting, And I just thought, I felt that those wines were much better preserved and much better perhaps served.

And I think, which of course we all know, not all wines are made to age. Which is something I do know, but I don’t always follow my own knowledge because very often I do find a wine that I always think I’m keeping it for a birthday. I’m keeping in for this, I’m keeping it for that. And then when I open it, it’s corked or it’s over aged or oxidized and I’m very, very disappointed that I’d not drunk at its prime. So I think one should pay very close attention to vintage conditions and read up a little bit more, particularly if you have an older wine. And of course, the main thing for me is where it was stored. And how it was stored, because that is paramount in aging any wine.

Natalie MacLean (27:31):
Sounds like those Sassicaia were octogenarians that were still doing pilates. And they may have been old but they were.

Dr. Winnie Bowman


Natalie MacLean

What was the oldest vintage you tasted of the Sassicaia?

Dr. Winnie Bowman (27:42):
I’m trying to think now, but it was early 50’s

Natalie MacLean (27:45):
Okay. Wow. Cool.

Dr. Winnie Bowman (27:46):
And that’s amazing actually that we don’t think of the super Tuscans as being around for so long.

Natalie MacLean (27:51):
No, that’s true. We think of it still as a recent trend or phenomenon.

Dr. Winnie Bowman (27:55):
It’s a real, relatively a relatively young movement so to speak.

Natalie MacLean (28:00):
So you taste many, many wines in the competitions you judge and so on. How do you avoid palate fatigue?

Dr. Winnie Bowman (28:07):
Well some competitions, we taste a hundred wines a day, and that’s quite tough. But I always try to have a very neutral breakfast, just plain granola or something like that, and make sure that I do have a proper breakfast, because it’s the worst thing you can do is go with a tasting wine with not having any food before.

Natalie MacLean (28:26):
The wine will absorb through even your soft tissue, even if you’re not.

Dr. Winnie Bowman (28:31):
Wine even absorbs through your cheeks.

Natalie MacLean


Dr. Winnie Bowman

And when you’re judging in a competition, it is obviously my duty to judge the first wine as well as the last wine. And that they all should have the same consideration from me as a judge. And the last wine might be the best wine. But if you’ve not adhered to the rules i.e. spit very specifically and I do spit twice. And also, the other thing is to drink enough water because obviously alcohol is dehydrating. So if you never drink water or rinse your mouth with water, all you’re getting is that continuous drying of your saliva and you can’t taste properly anymore. So what I do is I rinse my mouth with water and I drink a lot of water. I drink probably, if I’m tasting 50 wines, I would drink at least a liter of water during the period of the tasting.

Natalie MacLean (29:27):
Right. Wow. That’s good advice for anyone who wants to taste more than a few wines. And of all the competitions that you’ve judged, which one has been the most interesting for you? Tell us a bit about it.

Dr. Winnie Bowman (29:38):
Oh, so I’ve judged many, many competitions. I’ve got two that I thought were quite interesting. The one was, and that was only because I never realized this, I judged a competition in America in the Finger Lakes. And I didn’t actually realize at the time that every single state in the US makes wine, including Texas. I never knew that. So that was quite interesting. And also to taste the grapes that were not Vitis Vinifira, more the Lambrusco that you do get in the States. But from a learning point of view and a technical aspect, the IWC International Wine Challenge there we taste grapes from all over the world, and I see grapes there that I’ve never seen before in my entire life. So it’s always a good learning experience when you’re tasting those grapes. Because one gets used to the things that you produce in your own country and perhaps in your comfort zone when you’re traveling internationally to taste the same things that you used to.

But in a competition, you don’t have a choice. You have to taste what’s in front of you. And for example, this year we. For the first time, I tasted wines that are new grapes like Sauvignon Gris, which is a grape that was specifically designed. It’s one of many specifically designed to be drought resistant, which of course is very important for the future of the wine industry, and disease resistant.

Natalie MacLean

Oh, wow.

Dr. Winnie Bowman

Again, because we need to be farming organically and we need to be doing as little as possible to any crops in order to sustain the soil to sustain flipping humanity.

Natalie MacLean (31:17):
Yeah, absolutely. And how did they create this grape? Was it just a cross graft, or was it genetically modified? How did they create the Sauvignon Gris.

Dr. Winnie Bowman (31:24):
I think it’s a cross graft. I’m not entirely sure. But they were very interesting. And I mean, remarkably tasted like grapes.

Natalie MacLean (31:32):
Oh, it had a grapey taste?

Dr. Winnie Bowman (31:34):
They were proper wines in their own right. Because they’re very many, for example, Koshu from Japan has a completely different flavour spectrum to wines that one would taste every day. And of course, because they’re such a small wine industry in Japan, we don’t always see those wines on the shelf to try them in other conditions than competitions. And of course, most of it’s drunk in Japan.

I mean, similarly in Switzerland, the Swiss grape varieties like Chesselas, Petite Arvine, all of those grapes you hardly see outside of Switzerland. And it’s a completely different flavour profile and taste. So that’s interesting for me about competitions is that I taste different flavours. And of course, it expands my own tasting memory for when I taste South African varieties or South African competitions against the things that I’ve tasted in international competitions, because it also reminds me of the quality of our wines and whether we are actually a par with the world.

Natalie MacLean (32:41):

Dr. Winnie Bowman (32:41):
Which for me is very important.

Natalie MacLean (32:43):

Dr. Winnie Bowman (32:44):
To recognize.

Natalie MacLean (32:46):
Well, I don’t know. The analogy might not hold up. It’s like you don’t wear the same perfume every day, or you accommodate to it sort of cellar palette or whatever. You’re trying different flavours, scents, aromas. And has anything ever unusual happened at one of those competitions?

Dr. Winnie Bowman (33:01):
Oh my yes. [Laughter]. So I remember at one competition, I was tasting with this chap. And we chatted beforehand, and you said to me, oh, you’re from South Africa? And I said, yes. And he said, well, yeah. I said, do you know many South Africans? And he says, well, my wife’s South African, that’s why I recognized your accent. And I said, oh, okay. Anyway, and he was sitting next to me, but I wasn’t really paying much attention to him. And about half an hour later or an hour later, this guy just like fell boom over off his chair. And we looked and thought, oh my gosh, what has happened to him? And with this, he bumped his spittoon over and we realized there was nothing in this spittoon.

Natalie MacLean (33:48):
Oh, he would’ve been swallowing all of it.

Dr. Winnie Bowman (33:51):
He’d been swallowing all the wine, because they all think it’s just like a little sip. a little sip, a little sip. Anyway, a couple of years later, I’m chairing my panel at another competition, and I see this chap and I say, I’m sure we’ve met before. And he said, no, no, no. I’ve never met you before. I’ve never seen you in my life before. I said, geez, I can’t remember now. I said, are you not married to a South African? He goes, yes, I’m married to a South African. How did you know? And I said, I definitely know you from somewhere. Anyway, we started tasting and lo and behold/

Natalie MacLean (34:23):
He did the same?

Dr. Winnie Bowman (34:23):
Same story. Half an hour later, boom. And I said, now I remember who you are, how I know you.

Natalie MacLean (34:30):
Of course he doesn’t remember anything because he was swallowing everything.

Dr. Winnie Bowman (34:35):
And that, of course, is a complete absolute no-no in any competition.

Natalie MacLean (34:39):
So how did he get invited to? I guess the organizers just didn’t realize what he’d done?

Dr. Winnie Bowman (34:44):
Well, the organizers don’t talk to each other. They are all running their own thing, and they’re all having their own sort of intellectual property or whatever. So they don’t.  And often people don’t check on other judges. And that’s interesting. At IWC, the International Wine Challenge, is that every day we have to write a report. Everybody on the panel has to write a report on everybody else on the panel so that they have their own database about the ability, the team playing ability, that kind of thing. And that’s very important that you have, because I mean a competition is obviously only as good as its judges.

Natalie MacLean (35:20):
That’s true. It’s like the workplace 360 evaluation when you evaluate both those who report to and those who report to you and your colleagues. Yeah. That’s a good idea.

Dr. Winnie Bowman (35:30):
And it’s not just the top down, it’s bottom up as well. So the associate has to write about me, for example, and what they thought of the day, whatever. So there’s a responsibility on everybody to actually, as I said earlier on, give every wine the proper consideration from one to last.

Natalie MacLean (35:48):
That would definitely keep the standards high at that competition. So what’s your opinion of the influence of wine competitions and the medals they award versus wine scores on consumer decisions?

Dr. Winnie Bowman (36:00):
It’s a very interesting one that, Natalie, because with social media today, there’s so much more coming from, and I don’t want to call them influencers now, but you’re friends. Because if a friend says, Sherbert, I’ve tasted this wine it’s blooming delicious, you must try it. That is such a strong recommendation to somebody that they would probably take that over a gold medal or a whatever. I still think that best in class carries quite a weight because for example, if you have say, 300 entries for Chardonnay and there’s a top Chardonnay, it has to really carry some weight. Because a panel would’ve chosen that wine and then, in the final analysis when all the top wines are tasted, that would’ve been the best wine. So that’s quite an interesting one to look out for then if you are inclined to go for the recommendations of other people.

I mean for me there are a couple of reasons I think why people enter competitions. One is to have a peer review of their wine, because that is something I often discuss with producers if they say, where does my wine sit in say, for example, in South Africa? And then I say well have you tasted your neighbour’s wines? And have you tasted your competitor’s wines? And have you tasted wines more expensive than yours or cheaper than yours, the same price? And have you tasted international examples of the same wine? Because only then can you really see where your wine fits in. And if you charging too much or too little or your label isn’t as attractive as some of the others, because that also plays an important role when people think.

But for me, as far as competitions go, I think it’s a good benchmark. But of course you can enter your wine for one competition and get a gold medal and the next competition you get nothing. Because wine is a living thing. I mean, not two bottles are exactly the same. I mean, they evolve depends on, as I said earlier, on, how they’ve been stored, where they’ve been stored, how they’ve been handled since, from where you got the wine from to the competition, et cetera, et cetera. I mean, for example, in international competitions, wines can probably sit in a dock waiting to be released by the authorities and the red tape.  And who knows if it’s sitting in a hot in the hot sun.

Natalie MacLean (38:23):
Yeah. So the bottle conditions aren’t the same, and no two judges are the same too.

Dr. Winnie Bowman (38:29):
Well that’s the other thing. Exactly.

Natalie MacLean (38:31):

Dr. Winnie Bowman (38:32):
But I think in the future, I think more people will probably pay attention to reviews from their friends and recommendations from people who they trust, pretty much like a movie critic. I mean, if you find a movie critic who has the same taste as you,  you are much more likely to follow his recommendations than somebody who doesn’t like the same genre as you or whatever.

Natalie MacLean


Dr. Winnie Bowman

So I think wine in the future will be very much more social media driven, recommendation driven, than competition stickers.

Natalie MacLean (39:07):
There’s so many parallels with books here. Just as you talk, because I’ve just published my third one, and I’m thinking yeah it’s when a friend recommends a book to another friend that is far more powerful than a book review or even a television interview. I mean nothing beats that, especially if you know the friend has a similar taste.

Dr. Winnie Bowman (39:25):
Correct. So I think that’s what the future is going to be of wine. And of course, I mean I’m speaking a bit against myself here in the sense that I judge so many wines every year, so I might be out of a job soon. But it’s just that it’s expensive to enter competitions. It’s also difficult for people to decide where to enter their wines. Because I know, for example, some producers that say, I always do well at this competition, but poorly at this competition. So people have to fiddle out and fiddle around to find out where their wines will do the best. Because ultimately, when you enter a competition, you want to sticker for your bottle and recognition for your efforts. And that is where people have to work this all out because it competitions are expensive, and particularly international competitions where people have to send their wines and pay for the cost of the transport, et cetera, et cetera, and the import duties and all of those things that go with it.

Natalie MacLean (40:29):
Well, there you have it. I hope you enjoyed my chat with Winnie. Here are my takeaways. Number one, I was interested to learn what a Cape Wine Master is and how that differs from a Master of Wine. Winnie also had some great insights into whether we should buy wines based on medals from competitions and how those competitions themselves are run. And finally, I loved her story about tasting through 50 years of the cult Tuscan wine Sassicaia and that the 1950s vintage still had power and grace. It wasn’t tired like I would be after 50 years [laughter].

In the show notes, you’ll find the full transcript of my conversation with Winnie, links to her website, the video versions of these conversations on Facebook and YouTube live, and where you can order my book online now no matter where you live. That’s all in the show notes at Email me if you have a sip, tip, question or if you’ve read the book or are reading it at [email protected]

If you missed episode 13, go back and take a listen. I chat about blending humour and wine in South Africa with Charles Back of Fairview Wine and Goats do Roam. I’ll share a short clip with you now to whet your appetite.

Charles Back (41:43):
When the farmers have an altercation in France, what they normally do they drive into Paris with big truckloads of manure and dump it on the Champs-Élysées. So I thought let’s, being African, we’re going to be a bit more sophisticated than that. And I vacuum packed some goat droppings to take to the ambassador because they’ve got beautiful gardens, and I thought they could be fertilized with some perfect goat droppings. And I presented to him with a beautiful breed that we make at Fairview and obviously a magnum of Goats do Roam. And it all ended in a good spirit, and they stopped pursuing the trademark infringement. And today I earned the trademark Goat do Roam.

Natalie MacLean (42:21):
That is fabulous. And did the publicity help at all?

Charles Back (42:25):
I think that’s the reason why they stopped. I wish they carried on because I subsequently registered Goat Roti, which is a roasted goat. Then we also had bored doe. A doe is a female goat, so you’re very bored because she’s only permitted to grow five varieties of grape, which is terrible.

Natalie MacLean (42:47):
If you like this episode, please email or tell one friend about it this week, especially someone who’d be interested in the wines, tips, and stories we shared. You won’t want to miss next week when we continue our chat with Dr. Winnie Bowman. Thank you for taking the time to join me here. I hope something great is in your glass this week, perhaps a wine that delivers a gold medal performance in your glass.

You don’t want to miss one juicy episode of this podcast, especially the secret, full body bonus episodes that I don’t announce on social media. So subscribe for free now at Meet me here next week. Cheers.