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Independent English Wine Awards, (IEWA) 2018

Independent English Wine Awards, (IEWA) 2018

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Background
After a few weeks’ delay due to unprecedented snowstorms, on 17th March 2018, judging for the second annual Independent English Wine Awards, (IEWA) took place at the historic Rummer hotel in Bristol.

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The IEWA was established by Bristol-based Alex Taylor with the aim of helping raise awareness about and celebrating this country’s fantastic wine industry. Whilst there are a multitude of wine competitions, the IEWA is the only truly independent, consumer-focused national competition. This is highlighted by the diversity of the judging panel which includes winemakers, journalists and industry experts alongside buyers, merchants and expert consumers.

 I made a friend!

I made a friend!

“They know about wine and they know about people.”

This year 51 producers entered the IEWA, submitting 88 wines – increases of 60% and 40% on 2017.
13 Gold medals
28 Silver medals
31 Bronze medals

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The medals awarded were a near-even split between sparkling and still styles, which makes a strong statement about the strength of both categories. It was brilliant to see a wide range of styles and grape varieties being entered, showcasing the diversity and quality of the English wine industry.

My Involvement
Last year I approached Alex and asked to be a judge. I had read about the inaugural judging on social media and got a sense that this was an initiative with integrity, heart and soul right from the start. Fortunately, Alex agreed to let me judge and it was fantastic to be involved in the competition’s first step. It was even better to be invited back for the second year!

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This year Alex kindly invited me to be a Panel Chair – this meant I led a panel of judges, guiding the tasting, giving insight into vintages and varieties and encouraging discussion. I thoroughly enjoyed this position and had an interesting, enjoyable morning with my fellow judges.

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Judging Process
It seems it’s never too early to innovate in Bristol. Although only in year two, Alex has worked tirelessly to improve the method and structure of the IEWA’s judging process, taking on board comments and feedback from both judges and producers. It is thrilling to see the competition developing so logically and organically in such a short space of time.

To explain, the judging is undertaken via blind tasting with the only information revealed to the panels being the vintage and grape variety/ies of the samples.

Scoring was submitted electronically via our smartphones. Evolving from last year, the system now reflects the judges’ overall impressions and thoughts about each wine more completely, rather than using a purely number-driven format. This is vital as wine tasting is so human and subjective and not a natural fit with maths!

While it is relatively easy to come to a consensus of whether a wine is of good quality, (based on flavour, integration, balance, complexity, length etc) the intricacies of each judge’s palate and their own experiences provide the discussion points around which each medal deliberation was based.

To clarify, the judges didn’t have to agree as a panel – the individual scores were then centrally collated and analysed to ascertain the final medal position.

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“We don’t judge paintings or music by numbers, but somehow we’re expected to for wine." - Liam Steevenson MW

One of the key elements I encouraged my panel to consider is “what would you like a wine to offer more of, to award it a higher medal?”. These considerations help to justify the medal and I think give a useful blueprint for providing producers with feedback.

The IEWA provide feedback to every producer.

The honesty and integrity of the IEWA goes beyond the judging session. Whilst it is fantastic if a wine wins a medal, it is almost more important to understand why if it hasn’t. Alex collates the judges’ notes and gives feedback to every producer. I believe this elevates the role of the IEWA as a competition as it forms a deeper connection with the English wine industry and is actively promoting, encouraging and guiding growth, quality and open conversation. Wine creates the best conversations!

 Photo Credit:  Great British Wine

Photo Credit: Great British Wine

One of the most exciting parts of being a Panel Chair is that the four of us, (myself, Liam Steevenson MW, Ben Hulland of Huxbear Vineyard and Champagne Buyer Alex Schuster) re-tasted the gold medal wines to double-check their gold status and to award the ‘trophy’ for best sparkling wine and best still wine.

Trophy Sparkling Wine – Langham Wine Estate Rosé 2014
Trophy Still Wine – Stopham Estate Pinot Gris 2015

What About Wales?
Due to its name, the IEWA isn’t able to accept entries from Welsh producers because of EU labelling regulations – it would be misleading to display a sticker featuring the word “English” on a product not from England.

I’m assured that the name of the competition wasn’t arrived at lightly and a range of options and variants were considered.

The main message to be conveyed is one of simplicity and frankness
which consumers can easily recognise and relate to.

I feel it is important to address this as personally, I do not wish anyone to assume that Welsh wines were entered, but simply were not of a high enough quality to gain any medals. Wales does produce sensational wine too! I think Wales needs its own independent wine competition. Obviously, I’d be happy to judge…

Social Media
The IEWA focuses on promoting the English wine industry beyond the immediate trade environment. As an independent myself with one foot in the trade and one in the consumer sector, I’m thrilled to see the level of engagement Alex achieves through his use of engaging, visually-driven social media.

The IEWA creates images and short video clips
to aid the producers in promoting their products.

 Photo Credit:  The IEWA

Photo Credit: The IEWA

Many competitions do not follow through with this level of support and simply expect the medal sticker to promote the wine on its own. It is testament to Alex’s enthusiasm, commitment to the industry and vision for how engaging the digital comms space around English wine could be, that he works with some really talented visual creators to craft content for medal winning producers to share. This works – the buzz around results was lovely to see and get involved in once again.

Founder Alex – and consequently the IEWA as a whole – seems to lead with interesting ideas, great execution and a sense of humour, making it engaging, approachable and a joy to participate in.

Gold Medals – Sparkling Wine
Trophy – Langham Wine Estate Rosé 2014
Astley Vineyard Kerner 2014
Cottonworth Rosé 2014
Hattingley Valley Rosé 2014
Jenkyn Place Classic Cuvée 2014
Laverstoke Park Brut 2010
Wiston Estate Blanc de Blancs NV

Gold Medals – Still Wine
Trophy – Stopham Estate Pinot Gris 2015
Gifford Hall Bacchus 2016
Hidden Spring Bacchus 2016
Lyme Bay Pinot Noir 2016
New Hall Bacchus Fumé 2016
Tuffon Hall Pinot Boir Rosé 2016

To view the full results, please visit www.iewa.uk

Twitter: @theIEWA
Instagram: theIEWA
Facebook: /theIEWA

Conclusion
Thank you to everyone who entered the IEWA this year, enabling us to have a diverse, fascinating and enjoyable competition with the awards deserving a huge amount of celebration. I’m positive the quality of English wine will continue to exceed our expectations and am filled with faith that people like Alex and his initiatives are championing the industry, opening its arms to the wider consumer and giving us all the opportunity to share delicious wines, moments and conversations.

Cheers!

Vlog - IEWA 2018

Vlog - IEWA 2018

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Vlog - Bitter Union