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What it takes to win Gold at the KPMG Sydney Royal Wine Show

Posted on : 31 August 2016

Written by: Jennie Smiedt

Shiny medals emblazoned on bottles catch our eye when we're looking for a drop to either impress or indulge friends and family. But just how easy is it to win an award in a competition like the KPMG Sydney Royal Wine Show? We spoke to Samantha Connew, KPMG Sydney Royal Wine Show Chair of Judges to find out how the medal system works and how we, the end consumers, benefit.

What system of judging does the KPMG Sydney Royal Wine Show employ?

The KPMG Sydney Royal Wine Show follows the best practice recommendations developed by the Australian Society of Viticulture and Oenology. Senior industry professionals have contributed to the development of step-by-step recommendations which were updated at the end of 2015 and captured in a 72 page document.

Best practice wine judging isn't about awarding medals like the Olympics. There isn't just one gold, silver, and bronze.  Best practice scores exhibits out of a possible 100 points. It's a system that gives exhibitors meaningful feedback they can use to improve and market their product.

For any given show, there will be multiple medals of each colour awarded. A gold standard wine is one that has been given between 95 - 100 points, a silver medal wine 90 - 94, and bronze 85 - 89.

Something else people may not be aware of, is that the judging is conducted 'blind', meaning judges don't see labels or bottles that could influence them.

Is that how other wine competitions are judged?

In Australia, pretty much every wine show follows this best practice method of judging. The show network in New South Wales is particularly strong. The Sydney Royal team communicate regularly with other show societies in the state sharing advice, knowledge and feedback.

That said I'd like to think Sydney Royal plays a leadership role in this state. As part of the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW we have a proud history dating back to 1822. So we've had plenty of practice to get it right! For us, it starts with the selection of expert judges (who are rotated annually to avoid judging fatigue). Then we create the best possible environment they can work in.

What is the best environment to judge wine in?

Space is important and the huge pavilions at Sydney Showground facilitate being able to assess wine on its merits. There's a large back of house area to ensure judges aren't exposed to labels or bottles. And everyone has individual judging benches so there are no distractions. Other factors like the correct temperatures of the room and wine; lighting and glassware are also important.

Getting it right comes down to the people managing the competition. The KPMG Sydney Royal Wine Show has the expert support of full-time permanent competition coordinators employed by the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW who make it all happen.

What does it take to be a KPMG Sydney Royal Wine Show judge?

The right training and experience is essential. Industry professionals who have completed the Len Evans Tutorial, the Advanced Wine Assessment Course run by the Australian Wine Research Institute, or have certification from The Wine & Spirit Education Trust or the Court of Master Sommeliers, will be considered. As for experience, we're looking for people who have exposure to wine on a daily basis such as winemakers, sommeliers, and industry sales and marketing professionals.

Medal-winning wines are generally more expensive. Are we funding a marketing ploy or genuinely paying for quality?

There are costs involved in entering competitions, but ultimately the price on a bottle is an indication of its quality. That old adage, 'you get what you pay for', definitely applies in the wine industry and there's plenty of scientific evidence to back it up.  That said, it is great to promote wines which we feel over deliver for the price tag, which is why we have value trophies for both red and white wines.

There's obvious commercial benefits for winemakers, but what can the end consumer gain from these competitions?

The short answer? We're drinking better wine because of them!

The Australian wine show judging system is one of the most, if not the most, robust systems in the world. It has been developed over many, many years to promote quality to consumers and provide feedback to winemakers.

A medal on a bottle from a credible Australian wine show like Sydney Royal is absolutely an indication of a high standard of quality. It's reassurance you’re buying and serving the best. Through the Australian wine show system, these competitions have helped raise the standard of production which is why you're seeing more medals in your local bottle shop. It's something every Australian can be proud of.