by Jane Faulkner, AAVWS Chief of Judges 2012 – 2018
Assyrtiko. Nero d’Avola. Pavana. Savagnin under flor and subsequently, true albarino. Picpoul. Mencia. Extended skin-contact whites plus many more styles and varieties besides. If someone had told me in 2005 all those would one day feature at the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show, I might have looked nonplussed and replied: What’s pavana?
It certainly reveals how vibrant our wine scene has become, largely thanks to the work and philosophy of the AAVWS. My official involvement began that year, as a judge, and subsequently as chief of judges before bowing out at the end of 2018. It’s been a privilege and one hell of a ride. And I can vouch its unofficial slogan rings true and louder today: it’s more than just a wine show. Let me explain.
Firstly, the chief of judges brings together the most broad-minded, skilled and appropriate bunch, tasked with assessing and rating wines within the confines of a show system. While there is no shortage of winemakers, it’s really important to include key sommeliers, retailers or importers, viticulturists and writers, especially the former two as they are at the coalface of where these wines end up – served in restaurants, bistros and bars or sold in bottle shops.
There’s rigorous and thoughtful discussion during the judging process, all contributing to the final outcome. Sure, it is a balancing act as a diverse range of judges guarantees a range of opinions and results. Yet it allows a forum for these wines to be judged more fairly, not just like with like but those assessing them have an understanding plus a decent dose of love and respect for the styles. Frankly, these so-called alternatives make for exciting drink options and conversation.
My number one priority has been to look after those judges and make sure they are in a good space – mentally and physically. Wine judging is demanding if ultimately rewarding. And just because it is about alternative varieties, hence some might regard it as novel and niche, anything awarded a gold medal must be exceptional – no different to any other show. In particular, the trophy winning wines need to be the best of the best. The show’s track record speaks for itself.
Then there’s Talk & Taste, the annual conference held straight after trophy judging on Friday afternoon. The chief of judges helps to work out the program, panellists and usually the wines to reflect the theme; on the day, it’s all about MC-ing. It’s so gratifying to look across a room full of growers, producers, sponsors and a mass of other supporters, all with a range of opinions. They are here to listen and learn, agree and disagree, to get involved, exchange ideas, to meet new friends and greet old ones.
Some regard it as a community, I reckon it’s more akin to family. That is quiddity of the AAVWS. It comprises hard-working, inclusive and talented people and what an honour to work with such a fabulous bunch – too many to mention. I will miss them particularly come the first week of November, in Mildura, the town hosting all the action. The place a buzz with excitement and it is palpable, as much as the burst of incandescent purple from the Jacarandas along Deakin Avenue. What a welcoming sight.
As always, fine-tuning along the way ensures improvement. Every year, there’s progression. Wine classes are reassessed, Talk & Taste becomes more rewarding, events grow – oh how I will pine for all the wonderful hospitality, delicious food and wine especially at Saturday’s Long Lunch, where the major winners are announced. Such a quick turn-around – mind-boggling really. I will miss catching up with everyone, including the regular punters who join in. Fancy that. Non-wine show people attending an award’s lunch. Now that’s inclusivity. That’s the AAVWS.
I wish the new chief of judges, Sophie Otton, the best of luck. She doesn’t really need it. Sophie is already in the alt-zone. She’s an experienced judge and wine professional and will be such an asset to this next phase. However, I do wish her moments of joy at finding something new, or a different take on a wine. Or simply the delight and pleasure of being a part of Australia’s most dynamic wine show. Welcome to the family, Sophie.