“This is very different to the other awards, there is an informality and a sort of ‘joy’ about it.” That’s how the Wine Society’s Ewan Murray described last year’s awards ceremony for the People’s Choice Wine Awards which has just kicked off the entry process for this year’s competition. Now Murray had just won a boot full of awards, but it very much sums up the trade’s reaction to this new breakthrough awards. Here founder, Janet Harrison, explains why she was so keen to get everyday wine drinkers involved in her new competition.
The People’s Choice Wine Awards has very much a northern soul to it and it makes a big difference. Even the awards ceremony takes place in a comedy club, rather than a stuffy hotel ballroom. It’s very much part of the relaxed, fun, but also serious approach that Janet Harrison has brought to this competition which is now into its third year.
How did the idea for the People’s Choice Wine Awards?
I always include an ‘audience vote’ as part of The Fizz Festival, which is an annual consumer wine fair I started four years ago. It amazed me how ordinary wine drinkers picked out some fantastic wines, which reinforced my assumption that wine lovers know a great deal about wine when they taste it. The PCWA is an extension of that concept.
How have you gone about building up awareness and the profile of the awards?
The first year we appreciated that it would take a huge leap of faith for well known brands and suppliers to put their wines forward and were thrilled to have submissions from the likes of Waitrose, Asda, Codorniu, Graham Norton Wines and Bolney Wine Estates.
In the second year (2019) we had more supermarkets involved, including Iceland and Aldi as well as The Wine Society, Seckford Agencies and Rude Wines. We received almost three times the amount of submissions and over 200 applications for wine enthusiasts to become round one judges.
Why do you think the competition stands out?
Our competition really helps the consumer, due to having unique, non-generic categories. It gives more ‘meaning to the medal’ when it is clearer what the wine could be suitable for – whether that be for a meal or an occasion (we have wines appropriate for outdoor festivals for example). Experimenting with wine is exciting and should be encouraged, but in the UK we have so many varieties with so many medals, it is still confusing for the average wine drinker to know what to try next. We hope to help suppliers to market their wines more effectively and have a bit of fun in the process, using the winners badge and the fantastic images we can provide.
Also for the trade we hope this awards offers them something different. I was particularly pleased when Ewan Murray of the Wine Society said in one of our interviews: “This is very different to the other awards, there is an informality and a sort of ‘joy’ about it.”
What plans do you have for the third year of competition?
Going into our third year, we hope to increase the number of submissions (obviously) and broaden the range of companies submitting still further, to include more of the on-trade too. We’ll be showcasing the winning wines from 2019 at key consumer wine events in the North and South, such as the Manchester Wine and Fizz Festival (part of the Manchester Food and Drink festival).
These events will serve to promote the winning wines directly to consumers and grow our very important consumer database too. We are also able to offer marketing initiatives, using the unique images created by cartoonist, Tony Husband (not just stickers), to calculate the uplift in sales from in-store and online promotions and assess the true ROI for awards entries.
Are you seeing any trends from the number of wines entered?
Last year, some of our most popular categories were for ‘bigger’ wines – the BBQ and Reds for Hearty Meals were really well supported. However, the categories need to reflect what the consumers are asking for (I run consumer wine tastings as part of Cracking Wine) and am always being asked about vegan, organic and no alcohol wines, so we need to reflect that demand – hence the new categories which we think will be really popular too.
So what are those new categories then?
• Women Who Make Wine (championing female wine making talent)
• Vegan Friendly
• Mindful Drinking (low/no alcohol)
• Back to Nature (organic/biodynamic wines)
• Unsigned Talent – for those producers who don’t currently have representation in the UK.
How about the judging process?
The structure of the judging won’t change – it worked so well last year. We carefully select amateur judges for the round one panel from an online application process. We want a really diverse range of people (to reflect the UK wine buying public). The lucky winners are so excited to be part of the process and are joined by industry professionals on each table, who help guide them through the judging process and give them the basic principals on wine tasting. We also have a trade representative in each group.
It is about learning from each other, chatting, tasting, discussing, comparing purple teeth! It is a fantastic atmosphere.
We’ve also got some amazing new round two judges this year, which we are really thrilled about. These include Helena Nicklin (wine journalist and one of the Three Drinkers), Nik Darlington, founder of Red Squirrel Wines and George Bergier, a Mancunian wine legend and Master Sommelier.
They join the current list of ‘modern wine influencers’ including Amelia Singer, The Wine Show and Kate Goodman, Reserve Wines and BBC Food and Drink presenter. You can see the full list of judges here.
They are all lovely people and super-keen to get stuck in. They obviously love the concept, or they wouldn’t be part of it.
Round 2 judging is by invitation only, but we are always happy to hear from enthusiastic, positive people who’d like to help out in some way, providing they love the ethos and want to be part of our merry band.
We will be opening the competition to find new round 1 amateur judges on May 14, so watch this space.
How do you promote the winning wines?
Winners are promoted online, with details of where to buy the wine via a stockist hyperlink, on social channels and at consumer tastings as outlined above. We are happy to work with individual companies on events, where possible.
For example we are organising one with Wakefield Wines (winners of the One Man and his BBQ with St Andrews Shiraz 2016) and the sponsor of the category, Bents Garden and Home. In their BBQ, wine and beer weekender, we’ll take the wine for visitors to taste and Tony Husband is on hand with his ‘wine confessional’ area, live-cartoon-sketching on the day. We’ve lined up Reserve Wines, who have a great concession in Bents, to stock the winning wine, should people want to buy. It is a win-win and great publicity for all involved.
We have the usual winners stickers and lots of great marketing ideas which will benefit all involved. Having Judy Kendrick involved from JK Marketing turbo-boosts our marketing offering!
And the judging is now open?
It is indeed. The cost is £60 per wine. The link to enter is here. We need three bottles of each wine, and they need to be sent to the storage location noted on the website. Submissions close on September 30.
- To find out more about the awards go to its main website here.
- The Buyer is pleased to be the official media partner to The People’s Choice Awards.