I hate sunshine journalism, it smacks of insincerity. By the same token, I also abhor rampant, unrelenting criticism, especially when it appears driven by an agenda that lacks any sense of objectivity; it’s destructive.
It is the latter approach Neil Pendock has, with increasing frequency and vehemence, taken in his currently-suspended Times Media blog.
There is hardly a journalist who has not felt the lashing of his tongue, me included, though not as continuously as some, such as Su Birch and WOSA and the Platter Wine Guide. He hasn’t stopped short with local journalists either; well-known and highly–regarded British writer, Tim Atkin MW, has also fallen foul of his acerbic scribblings.
I cannot imagine those who have bothered to read his blog do so for anything more than vicarious pleasure, as it’s all written for effect rather than on informed facts.
What has brought matters to a head and some of us, who have preferred to ignore Pendock, to speak out, are his allegations of untoward trickery in this year’s FNB Sauvignon Blanc Top 10 judging. In more than one diatribe (I’ve read only the initial one on his Times Media blog, and one on his own blog but I’m assured there have been others), he has accused Pieter de Waal of “inappropriate coaching of judges”. Being the ethically correct person he is, de Waal immediately tendered his resignation from SBIG – the Sauvignon Blanc Interest Group of which he is Secretary and to which he has given unstinting enthusiasm and time – and the FNB Sauvignon Blanc Top 10 competition, until such time as the truth could be established. His letter follows below. Both the auditors of the event and each of the judges have declared the competition was fairly and honestly run.
As one of the judges on the inaugural competition, as well as knowing de Waal, I have no problem in confirming his strictly professional and un-biased approach.
But like a dog with a stick that it won’t let go and continuously worries, maniacal Pendock has continued to heap insults on de Waal with no foundation.
At a time when South Africa’s wines are receiving more attention and greater acclaim abroad, an issue like this is the last thing we need; it reflects badly on wine writing as a whole here, which for me is another reason it’s necessary to speak out.
Wine writers are supposedly the conduit between producer and consumer (having a sound understanding of the wine and conveying this in an objective way to the consumer, whose interests he or she should really be taking care of) not the centre of attention, especially when all that is written is vindictive rubbish.
Pendock does not deserve a platform hosted by any reputable publisher, so I do hope Reuben Goldberg and Derek Abdinor, to whom I’m sending a link to this piece, will react positively to each of de Waal’s requests and we’ll hear no more of him on that site.
As much as I dislike going public in this way about a colleague, in this instance I have come to the conclusion the South African wine-writing scene will be so much better off sans Pendock.
Pieter de Waal’s letter to members of SBIG
You may recently have seen or heard that Neil Pendock has been attacking SBIG, myself, the Top 10 Sauvignon Blanc Competition as well as FNB from all possible angles. As I have had a number of calls from producers seeking clarity on the matter, I would herewith like to offer my side of the story directly, for you to make up your own minds as to the motivation behind the vicious and malicious attacks.
Neil Pendock and I had a very good relationship up until the end of June 2012 when I had to inform him that he had not been chosen to be on the panel for the 2012 FNB Top 10 competition. Before this I had edited one of his books (for which he paid me) and he had also done some work for SBIG (for which SBIG paid him). He had also acted as reference for a job that I had applied for.
Not being selected to be on the panel turned Neil Pendock against SBIG and South African Sauvignon Blanc in general, so much so that at the end of June 2012 I wrote to him stating that, under the circumstances, I did not feel that we could be friends anymore as I had a duty to Sauvignon Blanc and the Interest Group, while he was openly attacking both.
The final straw came on 7 October 2013 when Neil blogged that “inappropriate coaching of judges” had taken place at the 2013 FNB Top 10 Sauvignon Blanc Competition. As this is a very serious matter, I immediately tendered my resignation from SBIG and the FNB Top 10 Competition, until such time as the truth surrounding this matter could be established. All of the judges in the competition were contacted, and every one made a declaration that no inappropriate coaching had taken place. The audit report from PKF Auditors also supports the fact that the competition was run in an unbiased and objective manner.
On 10 October 2013 I wrote letters to the editor of Times LIVE, Reuben Goldberg, as well as the General Manager Digital Times Media, Derek Abdinor, in which I laid a formal complaint regarding Neil Pendock’s libelous statements on his Times LIVE blog.
On 12, 13 and 14 October Neil Pendock wrote a total of four articles on his own blog attacking me, SBIG, the Top 10 Competition as well as FNB without any facts to back up his claims.
These untruths and insults include:
1) that the ” … Sauvignon Blanc Interest Group are complaining to the Sunday Times about a recent blog pointing out the negative correlation between their FNB Top Ten and the Veritas results.”
This is not true and Neil Pendock knows it. I complained in my personal capacity to the Sunday Times about the libelous statements made against my character, implicating me in fraudulent behaviour of “match-fixing” – the only conclusion that can be drawn from reading the blog and the comments written by Neil Pendock.
2) that I asked Neil Pendock “… to judge the FNB Top Ten last year and then cancelled me at the last moment …”
My e-mail to Neil in this regard specifically stated that I would like to nominate him to be on the panel, and I enquired as to his availability to act as a judge on the panel. After it was decided not to have him on the panel, I immediately informed him of this on 20 June 2013, almost two months before the actual judging took place.
3) that FNB paid for me to be able to judge at Concours Mondial du Sauvignon earlier this year, or as he put it “Did FNB pay for the SBIG secretary to usurp my gig?”
I attended, and judged at Concours Mondial du Sauvignon, held in Blois, France, at my own expense and without any financial contribution from either SBIG or FNB.
4) “Does the SBIG have a brief to stuff up SA wine tasting? Are they a branch of WOSA? Are they funded by Chilean Sauvignon Blanc producers? It’s certainly starting to look that way.”
I don’t think I need to even respond to that as it’s quite evident that Neil Pendock has made this a very vicious and personal attack, and there’s little that I can do to change the matter.
I have asked Times Media Ltd, as a respected organisation, to distance themselves from the subjective and malicious writing of Neil Pendock. Although I have not had any indication from Times Media Ltd in this regard, there have been no new postings on Pendock Uncorked since my complaint was lodged, and Neil has reverted to his own blog to continue his vicious attacks.
I have requested the following from Times Media Ltd:
1) Mr Pendock be asked to write a formal and unconditional apology to me regarding his accusation that I inappropriately coached the judges of the 2013 FNB Top 10 Competition.
2) That Mr Pendock writes a letter of apology to FNB, as well as the judges of the 2013 FNB Top 10 Competition, for casting a cloud of doubt on their character and integrity.
3) That these apologies be published as the last ever blogpost on the Times LIVE Pendock Uncorked blog, and kept there for a period of 30 days before permanently closing down the site.
4) That Times LIVE formally distances itself from the malicious libel aimed against me, FNB and the 2013 FNB Top 10 Sauvignon Blanc Competition by Mr Pendock.
I am sure the people at Times Media would also like to hear the opinion of industry players, and I would therefore ask that you send your comments directly to them.
Reuben Goldberg – firstname.lastname@example.org
Derek Abdinor – AbdinorD@timesmedia.co.za
I thank you all for the wonderful opportunities I have been granted as secretary of the Sauvignon Blanc Interest Group (SBIG) over the past eight years, and also the organiser of the FNB Top 10 Sauvignon Blanc Competition. It has been an honour and a privilege.