My experience at the Royal Adelaide Wine Show
29 September, 2017 - Emily Hay
Behind the medals - life in the back room of the Royal Adelaide Wine Show
I expected glasses, thousands of glasses to polish. And a room full of elite judges who would treat us stewards like, well, servants. The wine show version of Downton Abbey. One of these things lived up to my expectations. The other did not.
If my experience at the Royal Adelaide Wine Show is indicative of the future of the wine industry as a whole then we’re in a pretty lovely place, folks. While the polishing of literally thousands of Riedels a day (there was talk of a glass dryer - such a tease!) wasn’t exactly the way I’d choose to spend any other Sunday, meeting the other stewards, exchanging stories & banter was actually pretty fun. Then there was the wine... !
The stewards are an eclectic mix of industry types, students, hospitality & events crew & wine lovers. Some here for a day or two, others you could consider life members, including Brad, who still walks around with a spring in his step all day - after 30 years! He’s pretty proud of his contribution here, ever so casually mentioning that ‘Brad’ and ‘backbone’ go well together in a sentence - cheeky, yes, but perhaps not completely undeserved. Chief Steward Cameron has poured his fair share of wines too, his calm, professional and kind manner settling everyone’s nerves (mine!) as you walk onto the floor for the first time, masked bottles in hand, paranoid about being the one who stuffs it all up... (didn’t happen - phew!) The seasoned team here are so welcoming by the end of the day nerves are completely forgotten and you’re all a big family - complete with Mum & Dad types, hilarious cousins, crazy uncles - and an annoying kid brother - but a loveable bunch all the same.
As for the elite ‘upstairs’ set of judges? Well. Nope. Couldn’t find them. Admittedly it’s not like we could actually stop and chat with them all (with 40+ wines in a single bracket to assess, breaking their concentration is just not cool!) but there was always a friendly smile, a nod when your eyes met. They *gasp* seemed to actually appreciate us! Possibly because many of them would have been where we are now, arms weary from the constant polishing and hefting of heavy trays and bottles... (wineries take note: use a heavy bottle and the stewards will hate you for it. But then, it’s all masked, so we don’t know who you are, I guess you’re in the clear!)
As for the wine? The mere glimpse of the ‘bottle shop’ was overwhelming. Over 2600 entries from across Australia. The sheer logistics of this are incredible - hats off to Chalien, Bryan and the Royal Adelaide Show Team, you make it look damn easy.
Shiraz and Riesling continued to dominate the entries again this year, which came as no surprise. Initial reports are the 17 Rieslings are looking very good, as are the 16 Shiraz. What I was surprised at was the low number of entries in the Grenache class. This may well be because I am a Barossa girl and the most hotly contended class in the Barossa Wine Show tends to be Grenache (Bethany Grenache took out Wine of Show in this year’s competition). Winemakers, can you fill me in here? With 104 entries this year Rosé was the biggest growing category (viva le Revolution!) and of course the prettiest of the brackets- all our phones were out for that one. Over lunch prior to this bracket a group of judges were commenting about just how much colour can influence our perception. As I write the results aren’t out yet - I’ll be very interested to see how much colour has played into the results. The snippets of conversation I picked up from the judges spoke volumes on the collaborative nature of wine judging. With 5 judges all looking at the same wines, and with how personal the perception of taste is, there are bound to be differing opinions. From the glimpses I had the panel discussions were certainly about challenging each others' perceptions and palates, but all with a sense of camaraderie. At the end of it all, it’s about the wine, and rewarding excellence where it is found.
The most encouraging part of this whole experience? Just how personally invested so many people are in the wine industry. How welcoming these people are. How encouraging they are to new people entering the industry - for a career, or as a consumer. The warmth and generosity of these people bode well for the future - I can’t wait to see what it brings. Would I do it all again next year? Absolutely!... if they’ll have me.
Oh - Marcel & Olaf - remember me when you’re planning that next dinner party! (keep an eye on these two PHD students guys - they’re set to go places!)
Emily Hay, Wine Media Cadet.