Tomorrow’s IWSC awards ceremony will be like nothing we have seen, or experienced, before. Rather than put on our Sunday best and head to London’s grand Guildhall we are all invited to instead slip into something a bit more comfortable and enjoy the presentation online. The Buyer’s David Kermode – aka Mr Vinosaurus – was chosen to co-present the ceremony alongside spirits writer Joel Harrison, with the ambitious virtual ceremony directed by experienced film and documentary maker, Matt Longfellow, with a full film crew, at Ridgeview, the acclaimed English winery in East Sussex. Here Kermode gives us a tour behind the scenes of what the filming was like and what we can expect.
To follow the 2020 awards you simply have to go to the IWSC’s YouTube channel and you can watch live at 6pm GMT on November 18.
After a judging season like no other, with Covid-19 prompting a complete rethink of the process, the glittering awards dinner has become the latest casualty. The starched table cloths will stay folded away, dinner jackets left hanging for the moths, and we’ll have to live without that plate of lukewarm chicken chasseur.
The culmination of a year’s work for the IWSC, its awards dinner at London’s Guildhall is always one of the highlights of the trade calendar, a chance to recognise the hard work of the winners, as well as an opportunity for networking and having a few drinks.
With this year’s judging sessions successfully completed, as it became obvious that the pandemic would scupper the usual celebration, IWSC chief executive Christelle Guibert set about taking the event online in a way that didn’t entail 400 people sitting muted on a zoom call.
“We were determined to make it feel different, to do something new and original,” Guibert says, “we wanted this year’s awards to be engaging, sleek and sexy”.
A tall order, for a virtual ceremony, but the IWSC’s ambition knew no bounds.
Standing on ceremony
Briefly turning movie mogul to audition prospective producers, Guibert had one specific criterion: “If they came up with an idea for two presenters standing behind a podium in front of a banner, I cut the call short,” she confesses.
The resulting recruitment of Matt Longfellow, a veteran director and film editor whose credits include Pink Floyd, the Sex Pistols and Blur, made a statement that this would be no ordinary televised awards bash.
With travel restrictions, the filming location needed to be close to home, so English sparkling pioneer Ridgeview was chosen – its boss Tamara Roberts is this year’s IWSC president – with an experienced production crew of 10 descending on the South Downs for a multi-camera rig, taking in locations across the winery and outside amidst the vines.
I had judged each day for both Northern and Southern Hemisphere sessions so I felt fully immersed in this year’s process, but I was still surprised and delighted to be asked to co-present this year’s awards. After more than 25 years in television, I knew one end of the camera from the other, of course, but I still feared I might be a little rusty.
Then there was the question of who my co-presenter would be? This matters more than you might think. Sometimes, things are not what they seem…
When I was newly installed as editor of BBC Breakfast in the mid naughties, I was dispatched to New York to see what we could learn from America’s blockbusting TV breakfast shows. At one of the programmes, the multi-million dollar presenting double act, cosied up on an undersized sofa, looked like proper pedigree chums. At least they did when the camera lights were on. As soon as the video tape rolled, it became clear that far from being the bestest of buddies, this couple were trapped in a failing forced marriage, barely able to look at one another, let alone speak. The atmosphere on set was frosty enough to stall global warming in its tracks.
So what a relief to have Joel Harrison as my co-presenter. For a couple of days, the Dec to my Ant (I’m slightly taller than Joel, with a bigger forehead), he is better known as a spirits writer, commentator, a member of the IWSC spirit judging committee, and Keeper of the Quaich, whisky’s highest honour. Friendly, free of ego and well versed in front of a camera, we hit it off straight away.
The schedule was incredibly tight; Longfellow is not one for cutting corners, so virtually every sequence was shot numerous times until he felt it was perfect. The British weather did its usual, with us waiting patiently for gaps in the clouds so that the natural light would be just right. Covid compliance was paramount, with the envelopes containing the names of the winners being individually sanitised before being handed over by a production assistant sporting rubber gloves.
Then there’s the challenge of learning your lines, especially when it involves “the Consorzio Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG”. That took a few takes, I’ll admit.
Black tie and wellies might seem unconventional attire, but the vineyard was muddy, and the huge achievement of all the winners required a degree of decorum, most especially the ‘Lockdown Legends’ being honoured this year – three special awards paying homage to individuals and companies who have done exceptional things amidst the crisis of 2020.
In all, there are 21 awards, including the best producers for white, red, rosé, sparkling, fortified and sweet wines, along with gin, whisky, Scotch whisky, rum, vodka and liqueurs. Much coveted, the respective IWSC Wine and Spirit Communicators of the Year will also be announced.
“I’m very excited with the format we have developed,” says Guibert, “as well as being beautifully staged with high production values, I’m confident we will generate a buzz and provide a focal point to the industry year, enabling our sponsors to reach a far wider audience.”
Donations rather than trophies
In another break with tradition, there are no physical awards to collect. “In a normal year, we would have our beautiful trophies,” she says, “however we felt it would be appropriate to donate to The Drinks Trust instead this year, so we have given £25,000 to support individuals who have been most impacted by the effects of the pandemic”.
- The IWSC 2020 Awards, presented by David Kermode and Joel Harrison, are broadcast on the IWSC’s YouTube channel on November 18 at 6pm GMT. Simply click here to watch. You can pre register on the YouTube site to ensure speedy access on the night.
- You can follow the event on social media using the #IWSCATHOME hashtag.
- For a list of what awards will be presented click here.
- The IWSC is a partner of The Buyer. For all the coverage about this year’s awards, the shortlists and the judging then click here for our compilation of stories.