In Defence of The Langhorne Creek Wine Show

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When two Jacob’s Creek wines won gold at the Langhorne Creek Wine Show, Huon Hooke criticised the judges. Nick Ryan was the chair; he defends the integrity of the show, the judges and the volunteers.

It seems these days the wine show system is like that kid at primary school with the hand-knitted jumper and smelly sandwiches, copping it from all sides for being a bit backward and out of touch.

I could spend most of the next year writing columns about criticisms of wine shows, for this journal and others, and I might get around to it if I lose my hammer and can no longer indulge my penchant for perverse pain by nailing my manhood to bretty barrel heads.

But there’s a few things I need to address in a piece Huon Hooke published on his website a while back picking on the Langhorne Creek Wine Show and, in particular, a couple of the gold medals handed out by its judges.

Mainly because I was one of them.

The Langhorne Creek Wine Show is a small regional show requiring just one panel to get through 215 entries across 29 classes.

I chaired the show with wine writer Dave Brookes and winemaker Sue Bell as the other judges.

We judged the show back in the first week of May and some months later Huon published a piece on his ‘Real Review’ website with the headline ‘Wine Show Rivers of Gold’.

In it he questioned how two wines from Jacob’s Creek – 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2016 Cabernet Merlot – could have won gold medals in the show when he would’ve given them a bronze at best.

All fair enough I guess, but if wine writers scanning wine show catalogues for a result they disagree with becomes a genre all of its own, then wine writing as a craft is in grave danger of disappearing even further up its collective arse than the deep colonic bend in which it currently resides.

I have no beef with Huon. He is a genuinely good man and a paragon of professionalism in a field not overly endowed with it.

The day he dropped me a line to say how much he enjoyed an early piece I had published was one of the proudest of my working life and the first time I genuinely thought I might not just be whistling Dixie with this wine writing caper.

But I fear the Mr Grumpy hat he’s taken to wearing in recent years might be a bit too tight and is cutting off the circulation to his normally entirely reasonable brain.

Huon has every right to disagree with the metallic hue of the medals awarded. When he tried the wine, in a different context, with a different mindset, in a different place and alongside different wines, he decided to throw numbers that would grab it a wine show Bronze.

We tasted them within a couple of classes peculiar to the Langhorne Creek Show where multi-regional blends can be entered if they contain a minimum of 25 percent Langhorne Creek fruit.

As far as I know it’s the only regional show that does this and it reflects the historical practice of winemakers domiciled in other places drawing on the Langhorne Creek fruit.

I call them the ‘Johnny Glaetzer’ classes.

Does this change the way we judge them?

Possibly. Having spent a day and a half drilling down into what constitutes quality in a regional context, perhaps the judges are vulnerable to a bit of flash and polish drawn from other sources.

All I know is, in each case, all three judges gave gold medal scores.

But the purpose of writing this is not to haggle over differing assessments of the same wines. It’s to refute a few points made in the following paragraph taken directly from Huon’s article.

“The problem is that regional wine shows often award gold medals to wines that don’t deserve them – wines that don’t win gold medals in bigger shows where the competition is keener. This could be because the judging is less stringent, or less competent, or it could be because there is subtle pressure on the judges to come up with some results that the locals can celebrate. Let’s face it, no-one wants to frock up for an awards presentation dinner in the local hall if there are no trophies awarded.”

There are several layers of bullshit that need washing from this.

I’ve never been involved in a regional wine show that simply gave medals for effort. It’s not like the Under 8’s football team trophy night where every kid gets a trophy just for trying their best.

The wines are judged through a regional prism, as they should be, but they have to be good wines first and good wines considering their regional origins, second.

The judging is just as stringent in the Regional shows as it is in the Capitals – even those regionals that I chair – and while I’ll never be surprised or offended at anyone questioning my competency, I do take offence on behalf of Bell and Brookes.

Both are among the smartest wine people I know and if being, as they both are, a Dux of the Len Evans Tutorial isn’t a measure of judging competence, then what the hell do we have the thing for?

But it’s the suggestion that the hard-working volunteers that put these things together might be gently leaning on judges so they’ve got enough silverware to hand out at an awards event that really crimps my curlies.

The Langhorne Creek people involved in the running of the wine show are incredibly diligent and scrupulous. As are those I’ve encountered in every other show I’ve judged.

But it is true I was called quietly into the makeshift office in the Memorial Hall when we failed to give a white wine gold medal across any of the classes.

Not to whinge about the brutal bastard judges, not to subtlety suggest we might want to take another crack and come up with some golds so the barrel reps could hand out the trophies they’d paid for, but simply to ask if I was comfortable picking out a couple of the better silver medal wines so guests at the presentation lunch weren’t forced to hit the reds before entrée.

Huon should know better. I’m currently trying to work out judges for next year’s show… maybe Mr Grumpy might be getting a call.

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