Spit or swallow?

Before I say anything else, let me say that I am a big fan of the work that the folks at 406 Media House are doing through their various sites. When the emergence of top class, innovative online wine ideas has been rather slow in South Africa, the quality of their offerings stands in stark contrast. This post is not intended as an attack on them.

One of the sites that they run is Spit or Swallow, a provocatively named database of South African cellar doors where punters can discuss their experiences and rate the farm and their wine tasting service. I have been following the site for while and have mentioned them in a previous post on this site. I have been interested to see the fluctuations and shuffling in the top 10 which is proudly displayed on the site’s homepage.

The Spit or Swallow site has quickly become one of the most visited South African wine related sites. With this, a spot on their ‘Best rated farms’ list becomes more valuable. I was telling a friend of mine about the site last week and he pulled it up on his shiny new MacBook Pro (yes I am jealous). Going through the list he started randomly rating farms and we were quite quickly reshaping the top ten. You can anonymously rate any South African cellar door if you allocate anything from 3 to 8 points and pretty soon our little cellar of choice was on the home page. It has subsequently fallen off the radar again.

Looking at the increasingly narrow band that differentiates the cellars I would take a confident guess that a lot of the ratings on the site are coming from farms and employees / friends themselves. Giving 3s to anyone ahead of you and 8s to your farm also results in narrowing the points difference, so that as I look at the site now, the top 10 is separated by only 0.07 points. The narrowing in range of difference is naturally going to occur as more and more ratings are logged over time, but looking at the immediate shift in the overall score of the rated farms it would seem that this is not quite yet the case.

The site does prevent you re-rating the farms from the same computer but that is fairly easy to get around.

Now of course I accept that no site is foolproof and I think that Spit or Swallow is great. But it does make you wonder about the authenticity of some of ratings and the reviews, some of which sound like they are straight from a press release. (“Groot Kak at Constantia” would not be one of these!) This is nothing new, but I think that this site provides a great opportunity for an honest and consumer driven review system for South African wine tourism, free from paid listings and PR waffle that is on most others. I only hope that it is not going to be hijacked by desperate cellars! It also reminds us of how competitive wine tourism has become. There are so many good cellar doors around competing for their slice of the tourism pie.

It’s a battlefield out there, whether you choose to spit or swallow.

2 Responses to “Spit or swallow?”

  1. Hi Chris

    Thanks for the mention and of cause for adding another wine related blog to the South Africa’s (growing) wine blogosphere .

    Now for the subject at hand. Spit or Swallow is still relatively new and it took us almost a year to establish it as a lasting online entity. Obviously when you start stats driven sites, volume is very important and if you’re not doing something mainstream this might take some time. We did not have much of a precedent to work with and have to roll with the punched. For example: Some one rates a small winefarm on SOS 10/10 which used to put them immediately at number one. To prevent this we now exclude farm with less then 10 votes from the Top 10 lists.

    The big thing here is that farms and wineflies should not see Spit or Swallow as a competition billboard, but more of a communication tool between the farms and the flies. (wine farm visitors). Some wineries have realized this way-back and implement and promote SoS on their newsletters, payslips and may more. They’ve currently build-up enough volume (votes) which allow them too still score high even if one twat decided to rate them low.

    On the prevention side, we do block users ip’s who abuse the system and we review the votes on a daily basis for abnormal activities. And yes we can see you and we will block your ass! (example of block page:

    We also develop a complete API for the system which is already build into various websites and iphone apps.

    I can also disclose that so far SOS received 9406 Votes (+/- 17 votes per farm) with a globals average rating of 6.82.

    2406 Reviews were logged. All reviews are manually process.

    Last thing: Spit or Swallow is a community website and as long as we all contribute wisely and fairly we can all gain some valuable information from it.


  2. Chris says:

    Thanks for the comprehensive reply Jan. It’s encouraging to hear that your site continues to grow. I reckon the farms who are able to make the most of anything will – and good on them! It is too competitive out there for producers to ignore potential tools. As you say, time will allow the field to level itself out, and I for one will continue to encourage visitors to the Cape to use your site.