A fortnight on from its awards banquet at the Guildhall in London, the International Wine & Spirit competition is open for entries again for next year’s event as it announces a series of changes to its judging process and line-up of key judges, including the news that Steven Spurrier is to be honorary chair of the IWSC. Richard Siddle looks into what other big steps the IWSC is taking to shake up and improve further how it awards and picks out its winning wines and spirits.
The collaboration with Steven Spurrier is just one of the headline changes that have been announced as part of a shake-up of the judging process for the International Wine & Spirits Competition.
Things don’t stay still at the IWSC for very long these days. Under the stewardship of Christelle Guibert, who took on the newly created position of chief executive officer for fine wines and spirits earlier in the year, it is going through a series of radical changes designed to make the competition the most relevant and business focused wine and spirit awards.
Aware that wine and spirit producers are now faced with even more choice when it comes to entering awards, Guibert has been keen to look at ways in which the IWSC’s judging process can be tightened up to offer far more feedback and transparency about how the different products do in the judging. An opportunity for producers to look at the process as more of a way of getting high level feedback and consultancy from some of the leading professional wine and spirits buyers in the UK, as it is hoping to get a Gold, Silver or Bronze medal.
It is why since joining the IWSC in June 2018 from helping to run the Decanter World Wine Awards, Guibert has introduced a number of new judges who are involved in commercially buying wine and spirits. A process she wants to take on to the next stage for the 2020 competition by announcing more wine business judges.
It has also been announced that Steven Spurrier is to become the IWSC’s honorary chair, as part of a wider collaboration with Spurrier’s Académie du Vin Library, a new publishing platform for wine writers.
One of Guibert’s key changes was to introduce an overall wine judging committee that would oversee the competition and ensure benchmarks are being set for how each wine is being assessed. Committee members in 2020 will be assigned to specific judging panels and the names of the judges will be shared with the producers, along with their personal feedback, to give added value to those entering.
The committee that was introduced last year will all return in 2020 and include: Alex Hunt MW, John Hoskins MW, Dirceu Junior Vianna MW and Mick O’Connell MW. They are being joined this year by Sarah Heller MW, wine editor for Tatler Asia, host of TV’s the ‘Wine Masters’ and partner and buyer for the Almásy Collection.
Guibert explains why she was so keen to have a judging committee in place: “Our new structure was tried and tested in 2019 and is now in fighting form for 2020. The IWSC’s judges number the most experienced wine professionals on every continent and any wine producer can be 100% confident that their wine will be assessed by the best. You can enter the IWSC confident that your wine will be given the international exposure it deserves”.
As part of its judging programme for 2020, the IWSC has made a serious of pledges to producers and suppliers that:
- guarantees their wine will be tasted and assessed by key decision-makers and influencers recruited from every sector of the international wine trade.
- its experts will assess not only the wines within their specialist areas, but also get to see and taste all the wines in the competition. This gives them an opportunity to taste wines across all regions and to discover new lines.
- they can state which channels of the trade the entered wines are meant to be sold in and be ensured that only judges with experience of those markets will be on the judging panels.
- each of the judges and experts on each panel (be it sommeliers or on- and off-trade buyers,) are provided with full details of the wines being tasted to ensure they are relevant to their target market.
The IWSC is now into its 50th year and hopes its new, refined and targeted judging process will help more wine suppliers and producers find listings in their target areas of the trade.
“Whether you’re looking for new distribution channels, local or global exposure, product benchmarking, greater brand awareness or simply expert feedback, IWSC is there for you,” said Guibert.
Spurrier’s new Académie du Vin Library is named after the ‘Académie du Vin” wine appreciation courses that he first ran during his days as a wine merchant in Paris in the early 1970s. Its a joint venture co-founded by Spurrier and by Simon McMurtrie, a former publisher at Mitchell Beazley and ex-chief executive of Laithwaite’s Wine. The Conversion Group which owns the IWSC is also an investor.
Launched in April 2019, the Library has re-published Michael Broadbent’s seminal Wine Tasting, first published in 1968 as well as launching two new titles, Fiona Morrison MW’s 10 Great Wine Families, and Sherry: Maligned, Misunderstood, Magnificent! by Ben Howkins and In Vino Veritas a Christmas compendium of fine wine writing past and present.