Trans-Tasman Pinot Showdown – Melbourne Food & Wine Festival 2013


A glitch in Trans-Tasman relations: Trevor Chappell rolls it down to Brian McKechnie

MCG – February 1st, 1981

Comparative wine tastings are most-often prefaced with the disclaimer “this is not a competition” and I most-often agree. But there’s a looming wine event on the horizon that, no matter how gracious it may all seem on the surface, there lurks below a deep-seated sense of competition, a grudge.

And having warmed up with more than my fair share of great Australian and New Zelaand pinot noir already this year, I’m counting the sleeps until this event which I’m lucky enough to be umpiring at the 2013 Melbourne Food & Wine Festival Aqua Panna Global Wine Experience.

Looking at the list of 2010 vintage pinots to be poured, it’s impossible to make the call as to what will transpire in this masked taste-off. My form says there are at least ten wines that are capable of taking out line honours and so the reality is it’s going to be a classic case of who shows best on the day.

Pair these wines with the insights of panelists Michael Dhillon and Nick Farr from Australia and those of Blair Walter and Nick Mills of New Zealand and you have the makings of arguably the greatest Australia/New Zealand pinot noir masterclass ever mounted.

Who do you think will triumph?    More info here.

The Wine List:

  • 2010 By Farr Sangreal, Australia
  • 2010 Bindi Block 5, Australia
  • 2010 Ata Rangi, New Zealand
  • 2010 Felton Road Block 5, New Zealand
  • 2010 Curly Flat The Curly, Australia
  • 2010 Freycinet, Australia
  • 2010 Mount Mary, Australia
  • 2010 Burn Cottage Vineyard, New Zealand
  • 2010 Rippon Tinker’s Field, New Zealand
  • 2010 Main Ridge Half Acre, Australia
  • 2010 Craggy Range Te Muna, New Zealand
  • 2010 Ashton Hills, Australia
  • 2010 Escarpment Te Rehua, New Zealand
  • 2010 Bell Hill, New Zealand
  • 2010 Bass Phillip Reserve, Australia

Whose Pinot Reins Supreme? Saturday 9th March, 11:30am-2:00pm

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A most rocking wine fair: Rootstock Sydney, February 2013


Full house at Rootstock Sydney, Sunday February 17th, 2013

Euphoria. That’s what hit hard on arrival at the Italian Forum yesterday in Sydney’s Leichardt at the inaugural Rootstock wine festival. When organizer Giorgio de Maria first told me about it I knew it would rip, but I hadn’t suspected it would be the seething, crowded and energetic success that it was to be.

People came from far and near. I’d come from Melbourne via the Hunter Valley, Mike Weersing and Nick Mills came over the ditch and winemakers from Italy and Slovenia wedged their wares between the likes of the Barossa and Bendigo. A few lucky locals walked from round the corner.

Masterclasses packed full and, as great as most presenters were, it just didn’t feel like a masterclass kind of day for me. I wanted to take it free form, swim through the crowd, rub shoulders with heaps of people I knew and lots I’d never met – I wanted skin contact and lots of it!

The food market in the court was as valuable a break out space as you could ever wish for, catching all the wide-eyed wine crew spilling out when things got too intense, a place to get some air, stop conversing and stick something solid in your mouth. The fried chicken from Hartsyard was a huge winner and Kylie Kwong sold out of her gear as fast as she set up.

I revisited that chicken at the Hartsyard restaurant later in the night, amazing stuff. All four serves of it.

Sample coffee was a bang on and busy tent. A very tired, sorry exhausted, co-organisor Mike Bennie was propped against the machine late in the day, boosting his spirits for the final assault on soil.

The statement t-shirts were out in full force, as were the scarves and the odd carefully chosen “I work artisan-like in the field” hats. Beards were everywhere, like, everywhere. Apparently if you’re serving craft beer you just gotta have a beard, or a twirly moustache. I prefer my bro’s moustache, big rude Tom Selleck bushy thing it is – I love it almost as much as he does.

But the star attraction of the day was Fulvio Bressan. He chewed an Italian cigar and said very little, let the wine speak for itself. Not sure many people asked many questions. Blokes in camouflage fatigues chewing cigars tend to have that effect on people. Put him in a line up of arms dealers and jungle-dwelling drug lords and he’d own it. His wines are very good. That’s why he can dress like that. I found him kind of suave.


Dario Princic, General Fulvio Bressan and Giorgio de Maria

The orange wine bar was more orange than I was ready for. I arrived to find Max Allen swooning against it and I had to make a few passes, shark like, to get adjusted. Jacq Turner eventually just served it up cloudy to me. That first taste was Gravner on the stroke of midday, basking in the rude plastic orange glow. Benchmark set. That bar looked cool yesterday, possibly for the first time ever.

Banjo Harris Plane took it to the next level later in the afternoon. Orange Elton John glasses and shirtless, he dished out cloudy doses of skinned up goodness. It was a very Sydney moment. It got the people going.


Banjo dishing out skin contact from the Orange Wine Bar

Wines on tasting at Rootstock were eclectic and served by winemakers, volunteers, sommeliers, girlfriends and mates with earnest, good-natured attitude. People queued to get upstairs to taste, the roar was strong and crowd surfing was very nearly a reality.

The best wine I tried? Radikon Jakot was about as perfect as that genre gets. Princic as good as ever and Tom Shobbrook’s textural Il Fiore was a sublime take on sauvignon. A truly haunting wine.

But my highlight of the day came from Slovenia and Grace Estate. They poured several vintages and formats of a yellow wine given a decent spell of skin contact and showing strength, precision and striking character, all balanced and lithe, it made a beautiful drink. The grape was Rebula, or Ribolla Gialla, as it is more widely known. The variety really didn’t matter though, the wine had impact and spunk and was truly unique.


Ivi & Edvard Svetlik with their beautiful Rebula Grace

Beer and debriefing in the lobby was solid, followed by a cleansing Chablis back at brother Tim’s place. Feeling refreshed, we then set off in search of more of that fried chicken, finding margaritas, Champagne and a few hits of Rye along the way.

Rootstock was a ripping event, warmly embraced by all, it shows there’s a huge demand for this kind of thing. It was not that different to other wine fairs, but just different enough and in the right areas. All the ingredients were put into play and it was the exponential sum of them all (including the number, type and attitude of people it attracted) that made it soar. It all bodes well. Wine got a little cooler yesterday and more fun. I liked it a lot. When and where can we do it again?

**Rootstock Sydney was wrangled together by Giorgio de Maria, James Hird and Mike Bennie – three of Sydney’s finest. Thanks lads, wine owes you one, probably more!

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Where The Wild Things Are


All mataro / mourvèdre / monastrell dinner menu at Melbourne’s delightfully quirky and cosy Libertine:

On arrival – 2011 Bespoke Bros. Rosé


Wild boar noisette, Waldorf garni & riesling


2010 Hewitson Baby Bush Mourvèdre

2011 Ruggabellus Fluus

Pigeon pie, slippery jacks & gravel


2010 Bespoke Bros. Monastrell Syrah

2010 Ruggabellus Efferus

Wild-shot venison – cooked & raw with winter flavours


2010 Hewitson Old Garden Mourvèdre

2006 Hewitson Old Garden Mourvèdre


Sorbet Course (no sorbet) – 2008 Henschke Hill of Faith Mataro

Hare civet, pine mushroom & mataro jus


2010 Penfolds Cellar Reserve Kalimna Block 25 Mataro

2010 Caillard Mataro

Roast quince, ganache & forest floor


2006 Castaño Monastrell ‘Dulce’


Coffee, tea and petit fours

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Chardonnay – easy as ABC



What the f#ck would a couple of westies like Kath and Kim know about chardonnay? I mean really, it’s not the sort of wine they even ought to be drinking. Chardonnay’s not for bogans. They can’t even pronounce it, let alone afford it.

Wrong, well, mostly. But that’s exactly the kind of attitude that helped lead the supposed revolt against chardonnay that culminated in what would have to be the single biggest wine phenomenon to ever sweep Australia – sauvignon blanc. Primarily from Marlborough, New Zealand, though some notably excellent examples from the Adelaide Hills (properly good chardonnay country).

It’s chardonnay’s own fault really, or the winemakers that made it, and perhaps a bit of zeitgeist thrown in for good measure. Chardonnay was first realised in Australia in the late 1960’s, but it really surged to popularity in the 1980’s.

In a case of right place/right time, it became the wine that embodied the excesses of the 80’s; big, swarthy, rich and oh-so-over-the-top. You drank not one but five bottles at lunch, paid on the company card and kicked back with a Cuban in your post blowjob haze of ecstatic excess and pretended not to care as interest rates surged up through 20%.

The crash was spectacular. One day we woke up and chardonnay was on the nose, a yellow buttery wreck on the side of the road. Too oaky, too rich and too sickly – just plain over the top. Conspicuous was out of favour. The simple answer was to stop the oak, stop working it up in the winery and get it out nice and fresh, no wood, just the fruit.

The thing is, chardonnay needs all that grooming and layering to get across the line. It’s a pretty subtle wine when unadulterated, quite austere and easy to miss. Sauvignon blanc, the exact opposite, offered up lots of zesty, fresh and easily-identified passion fruit and the rest is all there in the cash register scan data.

Chardonnay grape prices tumbled, inventories grew and grew, and chardonnay makers really had to ask themselves whether it was worth even going on. We had the chardonnay recession we had to have, even though Keating always did drink Burgundy.

And like most consumables, wine is a cyclic thing that blows around on the winds of fashion. The market for chardonnay is now happily recovering, and recovering with pace and excitement. This very blog post day was celebrated as world chardonnay day via a network of social media once again, talking to a whole new generation of wine drinkers about a whole new and darn exciting generation of wines.

The wines leading this charge back to favour and fashion are very different to those muffin-topped golden beauties of the 80’s and 90’s. They’re sleek, refined, zesty and scintillating. Winemakers have done plenty of work to change their game and there’s a steady stream of impressive and exciting wines.

For one, chardonnay grapes are being grown and sourced in the right places and that means cool places like the Adelaide Hills, like Tasmania, the Macedon Ranges, Upper Yarra Valley and Tumbarumba. Grapes are being picked much fresher. Winemakers have re-configured the tools and techniques and are working all the magic into the wines with seamless edges.

They’re impressive but not too showy. They’re powerful wines, more in the citrus and nectarine spectrum than the big pineapple, peach and mango styles of warmer areas and bygone years. Oak is woven into the fruit, along with fine flinty complexity, supportive and balanced.

It’s fair to say that great chardonnay can’t be delivered as cheaply as many other great wines (like riesling), it’s a sheer numbers game. A lot more work goes into making a great chardonnay than most wines. But there are many winemakers delivering powerful, crisp and exciting chardonnay around the $20 mark and that’s not too much to ask. The fact is that nowhere in the world, is great chardonnay made at bargain prices. It’s just the nature of the beast.

So all you members of the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) club, it’s time to hand in your card, snip it up, toss it in the bin and think again. And to all you sauvignon blanc and pinot grigio drinkers – get on top, be cool and drink chardonnay.

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Room to Read Charity Gala with Jancis Robinson MW OBE

A wineLENS production filmed in Sydney at a phenomenal event for the Room to Read charity. CEO and founder John Wood captivated the audience to raise more than AUD$1 million with long-term supporter Jancis Robinson selecting and presenting a stunning list of wines including the 2003 Dom Perignon. A fantastic array of bottles were auctioned in addition to those consumed!

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170th Birthday Celebration at Oliver’s Taranga

Here’s a link to my latest video – shot on location as Oliver’s Taranga celebrated 170 years in the McLaren Vale dirt. A great family story, guest appearances and plenty of laughs. Good times – enjoy!

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Cape Mentelle Cabernet Tasting

Roll call for the 2011 Cape Mentelle Cabernet Tasting

October  21st, 2011

It was a perfect sunny Sydney day down on the Hickson Road wharf, where Cape Mentelle assembled 20 carefully selected cabernet wines, all from the 2008 vintage, for one of their cabernet extravaganzas.

The first of these events was staged in 1982 to assist in educating the winemaking team and also showcase the wine amongst benchmarks for the public and media.

I’ve attended a couple of the more recent versions and the opportunity to taste wines of this caliber with a typically astute group discussion is one to relish.

Served blind in three brackets, the tasting demonstrated cabernet’s prowess in various styles: St. Estephe, Saint-Julien, Pauillac, Graves, Napa Valley, Tuscany, Coonawarra, Yarra Valley, Clare Valley and, of course, Margaret River.

The best wines really showcased the ability of cabernet sauvignon to present power with elegance. When it’s on form, cabernet is a thing to truly marvel at – a true class act.

The strength of the 2008 vintage in Margaret River was also asserted beyond any shadow of a doubt. It has delivered cabernet-based wines of strength, power, intensity and elegance – more composed and ‘classically’ structured than the adjacent 2007 and 2009 vintages.

Make no mistake, Margaret River is the most successful source of full-bodied red cabernet wine from the 2008 vintage in Australia.

My notes on all 20 wines are here below. Where blend composition was available I have added it after the note. My stand-out wines of the tasting, in no particular order

Cape Mentelle

Juniper Estate

Houghton Gladstones

Moss Wood


La Mission Haut-Brion

Leoville Las Cases

Chateau Lafite-Rothschild

But, as Cape Mentelle Estate Director Robert Mann reminded us before we started in, “it’s not a competition – we are here to enjoy it!” And enjoy it we certainly did.


1: Mount Mary Quintet – Yarra Valley, Australia

Mid bright red/purple, some nice meaty barrel ferment aromas here, a little red berry and cherry, hints of tobacco and cedar – smells very fresh and modern but not overdone. An elegant style. The palate’s tart and tangy with plenty of red fruit and redcurrant flavour, some acid bite, snappy fruits and a gentle squeeze of tannin. Very much mid-weight. (cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, malbec, merlot, petit verdot)

2: Vasse Felix Heytesbury – Margaret River, Australia

A deeper wine with a richer nose and riper fruit, more spice and cinnamon, more showy, with a leafy nuance too. The fruit is looking ripe, some good cherry and cassis, roasting herbs and eucalypt. The palate’s sturdy and solid, very deep tannins, very ripe and juicy, long flavours and very muscular yet not aggressive. Smooth strong tannin, deep black cherry stone finish. (71% cabernet sauvignon, the remainder malbec and petit verdot)

3: Yeringberg  – Yarra Valley, Australia

Handy depth and ripeness, gently subdued toasty oak, this looks more briary with red and blue fruits, some eucalypt and red currant. A mix of red fruits on the palate, smooth-sheeted tannin and a lithe juicy style to it, actually quite elegant and showing good balance, weight and power. Tannins are more to the outer, nutty finish.

4: Leeuwin Estate – Margaret River, Australia

A decidedly herbal thread to this wine, a more resinous oak presence on the nose, the fruit is in the red berry spectrum with leafy complexity. The palate’s poised and even with good power and length, plenty of vanillin oak flavour throughout, and a sapid, juicy appeal. A vibrant wine with power and elegance, finishing fresh. (91% cabernet sauvignon, 9% malbec)

5: La Mission Haut-Brion – Graves, France

A much more swanky Bordeaux-style nose with meaty ferment-derived complexity, a wealth of baking spices and deeply ripe fruits on show. This is more deliberately styled and worked, showing coffee, mocha, ripe cassis and cherry, some chocolate and leaves. Lovely power in the mouth – slightly meaty reduction, quite strong on ripe blue and purple fruits, some herb and leaf flavour, sheets of tannin run long and even, very nicely balanced. The oak is bedded in nicely – very young and set to age nicely. (51% cabernet sauvignon, 43% merlot, 6% cabernet franc)

6: Balnaves The Tally – Coonawarra, Australia

A darker wine in the glass, the fruit is through to plums and black fruits, the oak is fresh but in the cola-like spectrum, very ripe and forthright, quite minty too, with wild herbs. More of the cola oak flavour on the palate, with plenty of cassis and smooth tannins, very even, long and nutty through the finish. The texture suggests long maceration. Needs time. (96% cabernet sauvignon, 4% petit verdot)

7: Shafer One Point Five – Napa Valley, USA

Very dark colour here, quite lifted, very high toned oak, red fruits, glossy and plenty of ‘lipstick’ has been applied, a little chocolate and red fruits. The palate has berry and mocha flavour, rich on high toast oak, dark chocolate, ripe red fruits and a quite rich, big ball of tannin, more one dimension, lacks definition. (98% cabernet sauvignon, 1% each of petit verdot & malbec)


8: Juniper Estate – Margaret River, Australia

Very impressive depth and poise here, good ripeness and swanky toasty oak, some baking spice, leaves, cassis and red cherry, great complexity and layered aromas, a little meaty ferment-derived complexity and a dusty oak edge. The palate’s ripe, even and smooth – very glossy rich fruits, supple tannins and almost compote plum and red fruit flavours, cherry, cassis, raspberry and liquorice, long and layered. Composed and elegant wine with good power and length. (91% cabernet sauvignon, remainder made up of malbec, cabernet franc and petit verdot)

9: Ornellaia – Bolgheri, Italy

A bigger richer nose with dark fruits, roasted hazelnuts, toasted bread, quiet graphite-like, some tarry elements too. Very ripe gravelly smooth tannins and rich toasty layers of fruit on the palate. The mocha oak flavour is strong, yet it’s all very well integrated with a long with a plush and even finish. (54% cabernet sauvignon, 27% merlot, 16% cabernet franc, 3% petit verdot)

10: Evans & Tate Redbrook – Margaret River, Australia

The nose is less fragrant, a more sombre wine, some eucalypt and a little gum leaf thread, bracken and dry bushland. The palate has bright red fruit flavours and density with elegance, tannins are fully formed and there’s a long juicy and commanding finish here. Very elemental and there’s deceptive tannin weight.

11: Wendouree Cabernet Malbec – Clare Valley, Australia

This has a more exotic fruit nose with ripe dark plum and a fragrant element too, plenty of eucalyptus oil and dried gum leafy smells, it stands alone in the line up. The palate opens to a composed dark cherry flavour thread showing a supple, even and quite densely-fruited palate, bigger tannins, slate-like sheets, more weight and quite ripe too. (80% cabernet sauvignon, 20% malbec)

12: Wynns John Riddoch – Coonawarra, Australia

Impressive dark hues and a complex and quite youthful nose, some slightly minty notes here, smells quite tightly wound, with an essence-like blackcurrant fruit spectrum. The palate fuses red and dark fruits and has a lithe and juicy appeal, very nicely fanned out tannins and a long, dense and very elemental finish – red fruits to close.

13: Cos d’Estournel – St. Estephe, France

A very toasty and meaty nose that has plenty of barrel fermentation and a savoury edge to it – classic Bordeaux – some ripe plum and cassis, dark ripe herbs and dark chocolate too – modern, well-made and very ripe. The palate’s very even and supple showing a ripeness that almost crosses the line, some slippery, skinsy, soapy texture through the finish. Very juicy and open. (85% cabernet sauvignon, 13% merlot, 2% cabernet franc)

14: Far Niente – Napa Valley, USA

A lot of mint here, with a quite sappy green bracken impression on the nose, mixed berry fruits here. Quite lithe and juicy tannins, very ripe with a little new oak spice and predominant red fruits. The palate’s supple, even and juicy, showing a warmth but a less profound structural frame. (90% cabernet sauvignon, 6% petit verdot, 4% cabernet franc


15: Houghton Gladstones – Margaret River, Australia

Charming nose with swanky oak and ripe dark berry fruits, mocha, cola and an impressive sense of depth and appealing ripe dark green herbal notes. The palate has impressive concentration and clarity, plenty of oak, plenty of dark berry fruit and a long composed tannin finish. Very fresh, lively and even.

16: Parker Coonawarra Estate First Growth – Coonawarra, Australia

This shows a different sense of ripeness, fruit spectrum and shape. Choc mint notes and darker ripe fruits, less fragrance and freshness – it is also slightly more tawny in the glass and shows some herbal and tomato paste aromas. The palate delivers blue fruits and ripe tannins that sit forward a little, doesn’t quite drive through the finish. (88% cabernet sauvignon, 7% petit verdot, 5% merlot)

17: Cape Mentelle – Margaret River, Australia

A very floral wine that’s also lighter colour and strong on bracken, wild herbs and cassis, cedary oak and some cherries too. The palate has terrific balance and depth, very elegant, even ripeness and a soulful flowing shape and structure, long ripe tannins finish well. An elegant Cape Mentelle Cabernet Sauvignon that should age very well.

18: Chateau Lafite Rothschild – Pauillac, France

Dark colour in the glass and a big serve of very toasty oak, plenty of meaty, charry barrel and ferment-derived complexity – the full array of charcuterie meats here. Classic Bordeaux nose turned up to eleven. The palate’s rich and ripe, very concentrated, very long – it has plenty of toasty oak flavour, concentrated cassis and black fruit flavours, it drives deep, ripe and juicy, finishing plush and convincing. (vineyard planted to 70% cabernet sauvignon, 25% merlot, 3% cabernet franc and 2% petit verdot – the varietal assemblage of the wine from vintage to vintage is not widely discussed)

19: Moss Wood – Margaret River, Australia

A very cedary wine with a ripe red fruit character that runs right through the wine, some cassis, the oak is very much on show, some liquorice, fennel seed and leafy nuances. This is showy and young – very unevolved. More red fruits in the mouth, a little cherry, lovely smooth fluffy tannins – deceptive elegance and concentration mixing it up through to the red fruited, pastry-like finish. Seamless.

20: Leoville Las Cases – Saint Julien, France

Savoury meaty nose here, nice toasty oak and a swathe of rich cassis, dark cherry and blackcurrant – very nicely ripe and concentrated, some roasting herbs too, the hint of wet concrete, herbs and mineral. Complex. The palate’s lithe, juicy and rich, the acidity is a feature, tannins are smoothly honed and very even. Shows lovely depth, power and elegance – a most complete wine that will cellar immaculately. (78% cabernet sauvignon, 12% cabernet franc, 10% merlot)

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Vintage Chart? Sure. Oh, and pass the ketchup..

With all the talk of scoring wine recently, I was reminded of the most pointless association between wine and numbers, that of the vintage chart. Kermit Lynch sums it up beautifully as follows (an exerpt from: Inspiring Thirst – Vintage Selections from the Kermit Lynch Wine Brochure, 2004, Ten Speed Press ). Well worth buying the book just for the few pages he devotes to this topic:

“Trust the great winemakers, trust the great vineyards. Your wine merchant may even be trustworthy. In the long run, that vintage strip may be the least important guide to quality on your bottle of wine.”


The Kermit Lynch Vintage Chart








Cut out and save

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Preserving Home Turf – A Very Special Part of the World

Travel has many upsides and, when you travel as much as I do, the homecoming often delivers just as much delight and inspiration as the destination just visited.

I love the fresh context that travel gives. Whilst working in the northern hemisphere this year, McLaren Vale was in the news as the battle between urban sprawl and wine-growing played out.

The wines are familiar to many people, but it’s the unique combination of wine, food, history, culture, beaches and laid back quality of life that draw me back each and every year.

For those that haven’t visited, I shot a little movie to show you the place and some of the people that make it really special. Take a look around at what’s on offer and spare a thought to think just how unique and significant it all is, in a global context, and make sure you tell your friends. Enjoy!

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Big Australian Wine Shows – Taking the Bull by the Horns

Ah yes, the Pandora’s Box that is the Australian Wine Show “system”. There’s no nice way to say what I am about to say and it is by no means a complete critique of Australian wine shows – it’s a very specific matter. It is also a conversation that has been repeatedly had behind the scenes, at lunch and at dinner and around the back of the shed. I thought it might be worth widening the circle of conversation a little. We’re all mates after all.

I’ve long been involved in judging wine shows in Australia and will continue to do so this coming season. I’ve judged at many capital city shows – Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. I’m currently on the judging panel at the National Wine Show and I’ve judged at many regional shows as well as a handful of international wine judging gigs.

And I, along with anyone in possession of even barely functioning ears and eyes, have long recognised the need for change and evolution at the big end of the Australian wine show scene. I work on the “get involved and make change from within” philosophy; I simply can’t respect those that whine and whinge from the sidelines.

There has been some degree of ongoing change and evolution in most capital city wine shows in Australia. Melbourne, for example, has run a particularly impressive race to reinvention in recent years, most notably grindingly amending their flagship award, The Jimmy Watson Trophy, to become an award for bottled rather than unfinished wine. A giant step for the Royal Melbourne Wine Show but a small step for mankind. I wonder how many consumers will even notice.

But it becomes increasingly obvious that there seems to be an immovable barrier to change at many of our capital city wine shows. Despite the common sense, intelligence, expertise, drive etc. of the various capital city wine show steering committees, the judges, captains of industry and others who toss their hat in the show ring, there is an ongoing and fundamental disconnect between all of these people that champion the great cause of Australian wineries and the capital city wine show “landlords” – these being the various Royal Agricultural Societies.

The most commonly stated raison d’être for our capital city wine shows is twofold:

1)    to “improve the breed” – that wonderful private school-ish saying that means to champion great wine and encourage/teach others to follow (here here, toodle pip, bravo and there’s a good lad!).

2)    as a promotional vehicle to increase the popularity and sales of wine – a form of marketing, if you like.

Do our capital city wine shows really improve the breed? I don’t think so. And it’s not really their fault either. The world of wine production, and all that drives and shapes its leading edge, has evolved impressively and it’s a vastly different place in which we make and enjoy wine today than when the capital city show template was first cast in the mid-19th century.

Today, winemakers looking to improve their best efforts hire consultants, travel the world, meet the great makers, buy and taste the great examples and look to their peers, at times. Hell, they might even consult the internet.

Regional wine shows offer a very different encounter. They are the most effective wine shows in Australia when it comes to improving the breed from a grass roots level and they are intimate and nurturing of their constituent winemakers. They’re closely connected to the reality of the local wine industry. Regional wine shows also reinvest their spoils in their stakeholders and their local community. I love ‘em.

I should also make the distinction here about truly regional shows and isolate the quasi-regional wine shows that include Cowra, Griffith and Rutherglen. I struggle to understand the contemporary relevance of these wine shows that simply open their regional branding to all and sundry willing to pay up and send in. And I am certainly not alone on this. It just doesn’t make sense.

On the marketing front, it seems to be a widely held consensus (from my conversations, at least) that one decent review from a respected critic is a vastly more relevant and more valuable means of promoting wine to distributors/agents, trade and consumers – everybody you need to convince to buy your wine – than several gold medals from capital city wine shows. And I would suggest the exchange rate is now constantly and irreversibly moving against the favour of capital city wine shows.

It’s astounding then to see that most capital city wine shows don’t do a better job of getting their results out into the market, whether by investing more, doing a better job, or both.

Here, Sydney is a notable exception, making a good fist of promoting the whole wine, dairy and fine food package. It’s a common sense offering that has built some momentum in the market. There’s talk of iphone apps carrying results and producing consumer-friendly versions of catalogues, exactly the sort of initiatives that would potentially build ongoing relevance and value for wineries and consumers alike. Encouraging stuff.

But exactly why do we have capital city wine shows in this day and age and why do we need six roughly identical ones, seven if you count the National Wine Show in Canberra, which is a kind of über-capital city wine show? I bet consumers would give up some interesting points of view on this.

It seems to me the reason we have all these capital city wine shows in Australia is jointly tradition and business, quite big business. Consult the websites of the various Agricultural Societies and tally up the rough total of annual entries and you’ll see that the going rate of turnover for each capital city wine show in Australia is significant.

For example, in 2010, the Royal Melbourne Wine Show garnered around 3250 entries, each of which paid AUD$120 to be in the running, generating an income of around AUD$390,000.

Anecdotally, from a member of a capital city wine show committee who asked to remain anonymous (for fear of retribution I can only assume), the windfall from their 2010 show ran at around $180,000 after all costs.

The issue with this, and one that each and every member of Australia’s winemaking community should consider before sending their entries off to our capital city wine shows, is that it won’t be long before these events will collectively amass somewhere approaching AUD$1,000,000 after operating costs are paid and that the large proportion of this money heads off into the coffers of the various Agricultural Societies.

Given the fact that nowadays they really don’t improve the breed and are widely regarded as an increasingly obsolete marketing tool, the return on investment in capital city wine shows does not seem to stack up all that well for the Australian wine community. Isn’t it time the industry took charge and demanded dramatic and constructive changes for its own benefit. Where’s the leadership on this? Where is it coming unstuck?

Why aren’t our Agricultural Societies reinvesting the bulk of the money they make from their respective capital city wine shows back into the Australian wine community – why aren’t they investing in clever initiatives aimed at assisting winemakers in “improving the breed”? Wasn’t this their original mission? Where has the love gone?

To simply say “we do it the way it’s always been done” is to walk a slippery slope. Harvesting this money year after year and returning the bare minimum to the Australian wine community means our Agricultural Societies are potentially digging their own shallow grave.

Maybe a new and better system will come along, one that works with a strong connection and understanding of the context of today’s wine trade, one that is as outwardly focused as it is inwardly aware and one that rewards all of its stakeholders more fairly?

Is it time for a new system of exhibiting and judging Australian wine? Surely a system that delivers a great result and a fair return to all corners of the industry that supports it is the bare minimum Australian wineries, the industry and their wines deserve. A fair go for all is not too much to ask.

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