Behind the Scenes @ Five Nations Wine Challenge

Commencing in February each year the judges consider their choices, compile their lists and send them to CEO Judith Kennedy in the Sydney head office. Five lists, 550 wines, numerous companies, email addresses, web sites, vintages to check and the paper war begins. Home page image: Tony Venn.  Deals are made with transport companies and all the wine arrives at OzeWine in Botany where it rests, waiting for the big week. A master list of 16 classes is completed. The glasses are ordered. Staff lists checked. The meals planned. Four judges leave their home countries.

At the venue the six stewards, marshaled by their chief Tony Venn, unpack the bottles and meticulously check and label them against the master lists. Tony is Assistant Sommelier at Sydney’s Rockpool on George St.  and he takes his role as Head Steward at this show very seriously. “I’m proud to say that the show works like a well oiled machine. From a stewarding point of view, the right wine must be poured into the right glass. Preparation leading up to that point needs to be accurate, resulting in a smooth running show with no errors”.

The five Judges arrive early and ready for a coffee before tasting in excess of 170 wines a day. The little office in the judging room has two lap tops, one iPad, a printer and a mountain of paper. Ross Anderson manages the paper war at this stage. His regular day job as owner of a premium retail wine web site has prepared him for the task of listings, sequencing, categorising, pouring order, judging sheets and results related to a complicated system of aggregate scoring. Anderson gradually builds a final spreadsheet in his Excel template that delivers all the critical information – Wine of Show, Country of Show, Red and White Wine of Show, Double Gold and Gold medals… and now time for another coffee!

Ross is attracted to this show because the vast majority of the wines from South America and South Africa otherwise never come into Australia. “Here the wines gain unique exposure and we get the opportunity to taste what has been selected by each country’s leading wine authority.”

Kennedy manages quality control and communication between the judges and the back room. Michael Fridjhon delivers the results class by class and by day three when the judges have left they are none the wiser as to who has won what. Then the clean up begins. Kennedy’s Personal Assistant Tania De Ceglie packs the wines for the big tasting events to be held to celebrate each and every entry. You see…every wine has won the proud distinction of having been selected by some of the best judges in the world as the best in their class in their country.

The lights go out in the judging rooms and the results are communicated to the publishers of this results book. Media releases are written, judges comment sheets are transcribed, bottle images are collected and the trophy dinners in three countries are planned. More wine is shipped for the dinners, air freight to Asia is booked, menus are planned, trophies are arranged, tickets are sold, dates are firmed up for next year and the paper war goes on. Image: Ross Anderson.