Fri 10 Jun 2016

Wine Champions 2016: Blood, Sweat and Scores!

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Freddy Bulmer gives us an insight into the process behind our biggest Wine Champions blind-tasting sessions yet…

Sadly, the Wine Champions offer doesn’t organise itself and it takes an awful lot of hard work to arrange the programme and the subsequent tastings in a way that ensures a fair competition and a process which runs smoothly.

Jo Locke MW

Jo Locke MW

If the offer is a stage show, featuring a cast of vinous actors, then you must also have a scriptwriter, producer and director behind the scenes in order to provide our members, or audience, with the show. For every charming leading man or woman, there are a handful of stage-hands!

The bulk of preparation for the Wine Champions offer, released later this month, starts the December beforehand but the tastings are put in the diary months in advance to ensure they tie in with the buyers’ busy schedules. Once the dates are set, the pre-selections begin.

Each buyer scrupulously tastes through their own range, in order to eliminate wines that they don’t think are quite at their prime yet. Once this is done, they have a deadline by which they need to enter the list of wines that they would like to be included in the relevant tasting. Depending on the theme of the tasting, the majority of the wines may come from our own cellars or as samples direct from the producers. The lists of wines from each of the buyers must be collated before each of the tastings, allowing enough time for wines to be ordered up from our cellars or to arrive from all corners of the world.

Sebastian Payne MW

Sebastian Payne MW

Next, tasting sheets must be created, along with crib sheets which list the wines, to be given to the judges after each tasting. The sheets have the wines arranged by price, with no other information other than the theme of the tasting and the price bracket.

The day before the tasting, the wines are collected from the Showroom collections area and moved to the tasting room at the other end of our HQ. There they must be checked off against the list, arranged in tasting order and bagged up, numbered and have their foil tops removed. An exercise which can take rather a long time when you have 90+ wines to go through!

Following each tasting the clean-up begins immediately. This is because we often have tastings on consecutive days, so everything must be repeated in time for the next morning.

This year was a record campaign. While this shows that our range is always growing and taking on more and more interesting wines, it also means that a record amount of work had to take place from the team.

18 tastings took place this year, with three in December and then the rest through the second half of January through to March.

This means that the above process had to be carried out 18 times, in order to successfully taste the 784 wines submitted by the buyers.

Was it all worth it? Absolutely! Not only do the wines provide plenty of reward for the hard work (the success of the European 2015 vintage provided us with a huge amount of pleasure) but watching the selection come together after each tasting has also been thoroughly rewarding.

Marcel Orford-Williams

Marcel Orford-Williams

We are all extremely excited to reveal this year’s Wine Champions to you in just a couple of weeks’ time.

Come December, it will be time to start all over again. For now, I am very pleased that this campaign is over and I can have a nice cup of tea…

Freddy Bulmer
Trainee Buyer

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