May 5, 2017 saw the world celebrate our most famous wine variety.
Gibson, winemaker at Trinity Hill and owner of Bilancia Wines replaces Michael Brajkovich MW and is welcomed back into the Air New Zealand Wine Award’s fold after a number of years away.
Back in the mid 2000’s, Gibson was a regular senior judge at the awards, so is well versed in the importance of these awards to the New Zealand wine industry. He has also seen first-hand the evolution of New Zealand wine, in terms of style and variety.
“Probably the main thing that has changed over the years is the ratios of different wine styles. Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir used to be very small – now they are each large classes. The Bilancia Reserve Pinot Gris won the first gold medal for any Pinot Gris at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards back in 1999, as well as the trophy for Other Whites class. Now Pinot Gris is a class of its own and there are over 160 wines entered – that’s a big change in 18 years.”
While Sauvignon Blanc has always been a large and strong class, Gibson says some of the alternative varieties that were beginning to emerge have declined in numbers.
“A variety like Viognier, which almost justified having a class of its own in the past has now become quite a small class. Viognier is judged amongst other alternative and emerging grape varieties on the scene like Gruner Veltliner, Albarino, which may or may not be fair.”
While unwilling to make major changes to what is already deemed a very good formula, Gibson has already made his mark on the 2017 show. Gone is the 20-point judging scale and in its place will be the 100-point scale.
“This gets us in line with international wine shows. Australia has largely already gone that way, and I think it is a more effective way of judging - it is faster and more efficient. In addition, a number of our markets demand review points out of a 100. While wine judging is not an exact science, I do think the 20-point scale has become quite clumsy.”
The other change is the removal of Elite Gold medals. After talking to a number of wineries and members of the industry, it became apparent that this category was no longer relevant.
“Elite Gold meant that Gold medals had almost become Gold light,” Gibson says, “so they weren’t getting the kudos and recognition they deserved.”
In future years, he is hoping that a Wines of Provenance class can be added, to celebrate and reward age-worthy wines. “I see that as a missing cog in the current system.”
This year’s judging will take place in Auckland between October 16 and 18. With Gibson as Chair, there will be five panels – each has three senior judges and two associates. Included in those senior judges are three from overseas; Elaine Chukan Brown from the US, Sarah Knowles from the UK and PJ Charteris, a New Zealander who makes wine in both Central Otago and Australia. The importance of these international judges cannot be under-estimated Gibson says.
“One of the strengths of the Air New Zealand Wine Awards is that we bring in potential global ambassadors to see the evolution we talk about. Whilst Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir are our big message, we also want these judges to go back with the rest of the New Zealand wine story. Also, we don’t just want a very good wine judge; we want a very good wine judge who has the ability to be an ambassador for New Zealand wine.”
Having judged wines for nigh on two decades, Gibson says the role helps him keep his finger on the pulse.
“I wouldn’t say there is a linear relationship that means being a judge will make you a better winemaker, but it allows you to keep up with fashion, evolution, new varieties and wine trends, as well as what is happening in the market. In addition, there are always those amazing wines that, when you taste them, are inspirational and aspirational. That is always a good thing.”
While many on the outside looking in may believe being a wine show judge is all fun and games, Gibson says it can be “fairly grueling.” There are, however, some benefits aside from getting to taste some of the best wines this country has to offer.
“The networking side is a massive gain. At this year’s Air New Zealand Wine Awards, those involved will be networking with 50 quite diverse people, all from different aspects of the wine industry, In addition, for someone like me, as I get older, I get to know the younger people coming into the industry which I might never get the opportunity to do otherwise.
“It is a celebration of wine. And, apart from the wine show, the dinner and the getting together is a celebration of our industry.”
The Air New Zealand Wine Awards Gold Medals will be announced on November 1. The Awards dinner will be held on November 25 at the Pettigrew Green Arena in Hawke’s Bay.
The tastings of regional Trophy, Gold and Silver medal winners will be held in Marlborough November 29, Central Otago November 30 and Auckland December 1.