We are all having to find new ways of working to fit in with the social distancing rules, including the usually very hands on business of judging for major wine competitions. It has certainly thrown up fresh challenges to those tasked with putting such events on. Here Belinda Mercer, competition manager for the WineGB Awards, takes us behind the scenes to explain for how she and her team were able to put on this year’s awards thanks to the efforts of just three judges – Susan Barrie MW, Oz Clarke and Rebecca Palmer. We have now updated this article to include the highlights of the winners of the 2020 WineGB Awards.
The results for the WineGB Awards were announced on September 8 by judges Susie Barrie MW, Oz Clarke and Rebecca Palmer. See below for highlights of the awards and a video of the ceremony and then a behind the scenes story on how they came up with the winners.
(Click here to watch the virtual video ceremony of the WineGB Awards)
WineGB Awards Highlights
The headline takeaways from the 2020 WineGB Awards are:
- Supreme Champion: Hattingley Valley Wines.
- Winery of the Year: Wiston Estate
- 17 Trophies Awarded to Gold medal winning wines.
- 100 producers entered the Awards with 27 counties represented.
- 245 medals were awarded, of which 34 Gold, 98 Silver and 113 Bronze.
Headline Trophy Winners
Newcomer of the Year: Black Chalk Winery
Boutique Producer of the Year: Sugrue South Downs
Top Still Wine Trophy: Chapel Down for its Kit’s Coty Chardonnay 2017.
Top Sparkling Trophy and Supreme Champion Award: Hattingley Valley Wines Kings Cuvée 2014.
Lifetime Achievement Award: Stephen Skelton MW.
Best Regional Wines
Wales: White Castle Vineyard Sparkling White Wine Vintage 2017
West: Sharpham Wine Ltd Bacchus Stop Ferment 2019
Thames & Chilterns: Harrow & Hope Blanc de Noirs 2015
Midlands & North: Laneberg Wine Ltd Bacchus 2019
East Anglia: Tuffon Hall Vineyard Pinot Rosé Beatrice 2019
South East (joint winner): Ashling Park Estate Ashling Park Cuvée NV and Chapel Down Kit’s Coty Coeur de Cuvée 2014
Wessex: Hattingley Valley Wines Kings Cuvée 2014
Belinda Mercer on running the WineGB Awards with Covid-19 restrictions
How did you go about putting on the Wine GB awards during Covid-19?
It was really touch and go as to whether we ran the awards this year but we were all really keen to go ahead, as the awards showcase our amazing producers and medal winning wines. So with much discussion between WineGB, our judges and our logistics provider Sensible Wine Services, we were able to find a way forward.
Did you have to make a lot of changes?
Yes. Many. From the venue for the judging, the catering, the judging set up, competition procedure through to risk assessments at each stage – not forgeting individual portaloos for each of the judges! We needed a safe venue that had a large space to facilitate socially distanced judging by our three (usually 12) amazing judges, Susie Barrie MW, Oz Clarke OBE and Rebecca Palmer, who tasted all 281 wines.
We provided disposable spittoons and used a ‘fogger’ every night to sanitise the entire area, provided by one of our industry patrons, International Water Solutions who also provided plenty of hand sanitiser
We also had superb support from Sensible Wine Services who looked after all the wines and ensured the maximum safety standards were employed in pouring all the wines.
What were the biggest challenges you had to face putting it on?
Foremost in our minds was keeping everyone safe, so finding a venue that could host the event with an open and airy judging space was our main challenge and priority. We were so fortunate that Ashling Park Estate in West Sussex agreed to host the event and were able to provide accommodation for our judges and a fantastic judging venue in an aircraft hangar. This judging space was fantastic and we were blessed with fabulous weather all week. I’d like to extend an enormous thanks to Gail Gardner and her family at Ashling Park for making it all possible and for looking after us all so well.
Did it have an impact in terms of wines being entered?
No impact at all in terms of the actual wines entered but with a maximum judging period of five days, we did have to put a limit on the number of entries that we could allow this year.
How did you organise the judging?
The judges had a five day window to complete the judging. Crucially, we all stayed in accommodation either at or close to the judging venue, allowing for flexibility in terms of start and finish times. The days were long and we finished around 7pm on most days, sometimes later.
The three judges tasted all of the wines, and spent a tremendous amount of time assessing and discussing each and every wine. Socially distanced judging, perspex sneeze screens, disposable spittoons were all new for our judges this year, but they adjusted and got into the swing of things very quickly.
They were all really keen to judge and with only three judges this year, they were able to taste all of the wines, which they normally would not have done. We had a thorough risk assessment and detailed competition procedure in place, so that they could feel reassured (as far as one can be), during these exceptional times.
Any lessons learnt for future years in running competitions like this?
I’m hoping we won’t be in Covid-19 times next year!
What advice would you give to others about how to run a competition safely and effectively during these times?
Find an appropriate venue, take all possible safety precautions and regularly monitor everything.
How about the results of the awards – what trends if any have you seen?
There were a total of 34 Gold, 98 Silver and 113 Bronze medals awarded. We had 109 medal wins for sparkling and 136 medal wins for still wines.
Sparkling wines also dominated the top awards winning 70% of the 34 Gold medals. Classic Cuvée style wines won most Gold medals, where Chardonnay dominates. We also had a Gold medal win for a 100% Merlot Classic Method sparkling wine this year.
In the still wine category, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Bacchus were the top performing varieties. Red still wines showed very well this year, with two Golds, 15 Silvers and nine Bronzes, dominated by Pinot Noir 2018s.
And the overall results are announced on September 8?
That’s right – our Virtual Ceremony takes place on September 8 at 12 noon, featuring our three judges talking about the competition and announcing the trophy winners.
How do you go about promoting the awards, the wines and the producers?
We have produced a digital trade listing with information on all the winning wines. We run an extensive PR campaign around the awards to both trade and consumer media, highlighting the winning wines, a well as promoting via our social media channels.
What next for you in terms of events and tastings? What are you doing for the rest of the year?
We have an invitation only virtual trade and press tasting taking place on October 8 focusing on our Traditional Method wines.