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It’s Show Time – Wine Judging Competition Season

By August 8, 2011No Comments

The next three months is an intensive time for wine shows. The advent of new competitions has mercifully spread out the timing of the judgings a little, giving regular wine show judges a bit of a break between them to rest and for restoration of one’s palate. The Royal Easter Show Wine Awards is traditionally conducted in February, which provides a different timing perspective on the wines from the previous vintage, which no doubt benefit from another half year in bottle. This year the Spiegelau International Wine Competition (taking over from the now defunct Liquorland International Wine Competition) was judged much earlier, in June, which again allows this timing differentiation from the other shows.

From 15-17 August, the N.Z. International Wine Show will be judged. Then 21-23 August the Bragato Wine Awards. Less than a fortnight later, over 1-2 September the new Marlborough Wine Show will be conducted. A little break, then the Hawke’s Bay A&P Wine Awards will be conducted on 18 October, with the grand finale, the Air N.Z. Wine Awards on 25-27 October. While it may seem a busy schedule for the wine show judges involved, with constant, mind-boggling line-ups of wine glasses and hectic travel to different venues, consider how bewildering these shows and their results are for the general wine drinker.

Wine judging competitions were originally designed to ‘improve the breed’ in an agricultural sense in New Zealand and Australia especially, by giving feedback to the wine grower and producer on how their wines fared, in the context of their peers. This has certainly proven to improve the quality of our wines in the past 30-plus years that has seen our wine industry grow from grass-roots beginnings to the multi-billion dollar business it is today. On its way, wine show results have been a boon for the producer, reseller and consumer as a guide as to the best wines available. The plethora of wine shows and their showcasing of huge numbers of gold medal and trophy-winning wines has made it difficult for the consumer to understand and more dangerously, believe in these results as being credible.

This situation is more poignant in Australia where there are many more competitions, which have vastly greater number of wines entered for judging. Consumers, judges and wine producers alike in Australia are now questioning the relevance of the larger shows, whether the results carry meaning for them, in terms of critical feedback for ‘improving the breed’, and for the wine drinker, if the top awards are indeed meaningful when it comes to drinking the wines in the context they were designed for. Melbourne writer and judge Nick Stock in his blog article ‘Big Australian Wine Shows’ of 2 August covers his domestic judging situation well. There he discusses the costs to the industry and how the larger shows seem to have come to be self-perpetuating for their own sake as a business as well as from tradition. (It can be accessed by clicking here.)

I believe that unless we take care, a similar outcome may occur in New Zealand. At present our wine shows are much smaller in the number of entries, and the organisation and logistics are second to none. Our ‘premier’ show, the Air N.Z. Wine Awards is highly respected and seems to perform well in providing feedback to the exhibitors. New Zealand Winegrowers has ramped up the marketing of the results over the last few years to keep pace with other shows that do this function very well. The N.Z. International Wine Show is the largest in terms of numbers of wines judged, and it is a gruelling affair with time pressures for the personnel involved. At present, this is not nearly as high-powered as any of the serious Australian shows. But these two events are prone to suffer the problems besetting the large Australian shows if standards are not maintained.

The advent and rise of regional wine shows’ has been a breath of fresh air to the wine show scene. Smaller, and with greater focus on understanding the styles, as well as catering to the needs of that particular region, these events are gaining in credibility and acceptance by the producer, marketer and buyer alike. The Australians have led the way with these, and New Zealand is following suite, now having regional shows for Hawke’s Bay, Gisborne and Marlborough. Canterbury has had intermittent competitions, and Nelson had its own show two decades ago; maybe it is time to resurrect ‘Show Time Canterbury’ and ‘Taste Nelson’? And certainly Central Otago should have its own regional show. The size of the vignoble and distinctive wines styles warrant it.

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