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On Tasting
The Future of Capital City Wine Shows
Friday, 5th December, 2008  - David Farmer
Gregory Blaxland

Apart from obvious marketing opportunities what is the role that our large Capital City Wine Shows now play? Stage one which perhaps covered the period 1950 to 1990 played an enormous role in improving the quality of Australian wines. The depth and professionalism of the industry today is such that having wines assessed by 'wine judges' is greatly diminished or even irrelevant as there are now a great number of competent experts outside the show system and if in doubt about your wine quality there are many consultants that can be employed. I'll return to this theme another time.

In Australia the Agricultural Society of N.S.W. held its first show in 1823 which perhaps included wine assessment. In 1826 Gregory Blaxland was awarded a medal for the best sample of Australian wine. From 1869 wines were regularly shown. The Royal Melbourne Wine Show, part of the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria, has held shows since 1884. Many Australian wines were successfully presented at U.K. and European Exhibitions through the latter half of the nineteenth century.

Post 1945 the world wine business began to change, slowly at first and then with great speed. As wine consumption grew in Australia, the U.K., North America and elsewhere a large industry developed to supply information about wine to the expanding numbers of wine drinkers. For example the important U.K. wine magazine Decanter was first published in 1975. In Australia the now defunct, The Wine and Spirit Buyers Guide appeared in the late 1970's (?) and was followed by Winestate in 1981. Both journals reviewed and graded wines.

Newspapers saw reader interest in wine and food columns with the first regular wine columnist in Australia being Len Evans, 'Cellarmaster Says', in The Bulletin from 1962. Many newspapers now have regular wine features and recommend wines weekly and often have a yearly round-up of say, the top 100 wines.

Individual winery events such as the Cape Mentelle International Cabernet Tasting, started in 1980 (?) have been followed by a number of others, such as those for pinot noir, riesling and shiraz, and all offer rigorous assessments, comparing local with overseas wines. A privately owned Sydney International Wine Challenge also offers another appraisal of wines and is strongly consumer focussed.

Important developments internationally have seen the dramatic sales impact on Australian wine from reviews in U.S. magazines such as Wine Spectator and the Wine Advocate among many others. In the U.K. two important broad ranging tastings are the Decanter World Wine Awards and the International Wine Challenge associated with the Wine and Spirit magazine. Also, founded in 1969 is the International Wine and Spirit Competition, now associated with the trade publication Harpers (since 2006), with these three competitions each receiving thousands of entries. As well there are numerous other competitions which take Australian entries and for a long time Wolf Blass made great use of the awards he gathered in Ljubljana.

Today, or stage two, wine shows have expanded to all the State Capitals and have been joined by numerous regional and local shows. While these shows are non-commercial the results are widely and successfully used to promote award winning wines. What though can they do that is not now covered by the large variety of commercially motivated judging competitions, magazine reviews and opinion columns? While the capital city shows may not want to hear it the regional and more local shows still provide an entry level for small growers to have wines compared to the standards of other local wines and benefit from the appraisal.

The glorious past of our city based show system is now starting to be crowded out by many other tasting events and unless great imagination is used risk being pushed into senility. It will be hard for them to avoid turning themselves into a commercial system though if this happened why would we need so many?

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