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The Opinions of Others

I’ve been involved in the Australian wine show circuit since 1979. And forty-five years later I don’t doubt I’ve learned more as a wine show judge than I have on the job in the winery. It’s been a driving force of my winemaking career and helped me and many others make better wine.

The National Wine Show in Canberra that year marked my first outing as an associate wine judge. Assisting the likes of Len Evans, James Halliday, Ian McKenzie and Brian Croser. Giants of the generation who inevitably filled the senior judging roles at most capital city shows. Through their stewardship, the show system raised the bar for Australian wine quality to a world standard that ultimately fuelled the 1990’s export boom. A period of glorious global discovery of Australia’s ‘sunshine in a glass’ offering of bright, flavoursome, accessible, and impeccably well-made wines.

I remain a strong advocate for young winemakers getting involved in wine show judging. Tasting hundreds of wines with your peers expands horizons and build networks within the wine community. The collegiate environment facilitates learning, and sharing of insights and knowledge. The wine show judges’ dinner provides opportunities to try some of the world’s great wines.

Becoming a senior judge, I learned more from younger winemakers than they learned from me. Judging with contemporaries of the day and tasting new wines from new producers gave me a broader perspective and a deeper understanding of the immensely diverse and complex world of Australian wine. It kept my understanding of the subject current and made me a better winemaker, and a humbler one. Such is the outstanding pool of winemaking talent in this country. The quality of Australian wine continues to rise, and will continue to rise as a result.

Wine shows were once the best way for getting recognition for your wines. Trophies and gold medals sold wine. Wolf Blass’ PR machine blazed the way forward boasting awards from all corners of the world, including the little-known Ljubljana International Wine Show – little known of course until Wolf told everyone it was one of the world’s best! Wine media in the 70’s and 80’s was limited to the likes of Wine State Magazine and just a few select wine writers. Recently retired James Halliday’s amongst them. The articles were small, often not much more than a handful of recommendations.

The rise of the internet during the late 1990’s changed the game, and the role of wine show awards as a sales driver transitioned to the wine reviewer and the 100-point scale pioneered by US wine critic Robert Parker. Ratings over 90 points became the trigger point for consumers. Representing very good wine and helping them navigate the immense glass jungle to find the real diamonds. Be that an amazing bargain, or a stellar new release.

‘Points sell wine’ remains a global reality of the wine trade and when you’re new like Hatch Wines they help cast a brief spotlight in your direction. James Halliday and Huon Hooke both very successfully transitioned from print to the internet, and their recent reviews and accolades have been gratefully accepted. Yes they help sell wine. But they’re also a comforting reminder that I continue to make good wine. (Yes, age has made me humble.)

Hatch - May 2024

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