by: Rene Reece

The annual Quest for the Best wine Awards is possibly one of the greatest highlights on the OMInsure Wellington Wine Route calendar. This year’s highly-regarded wine award ceremony was held on the 6th of September at Diemersfontein Wine Estate in Wellington.

Now in its 9th year, this event has become a highly-regarded and widely-appreciated award ceremony, in which all wine producers from the Wellington region are invited to enter their wines – with no restrictions to cultivar or type, or quantity of wines entered, but on the condition that all wines entered contain no less than 85% produce from grapes grown within the Wellington region.

The constitution of the wine-judgement and award-evaluation panel consists of a group of connoisseur judges from various related professions. This year the panel included: Bennie Howard (Cape Wine Master & Judge), Mark Norrish (GM Ultra Liquors), Pieter-Niel Rossouw (Head Winemaker, Darling Cellars), Danielle Le Roux (Winemaker, Asara Wine Estate), Abe Beukes (Winemaker, Yonder Hill) and Cyril Meidinger (Int. Wine Sales Executive, Robinson Sinclair). The competition welcomed entries from 13 wine estates, with a total of 74 wines being judged. The judging of the wines are done by way of a blind tasting – whereby no producers, bottles or labels are revealed, and each wine is presented to the judges in a glass marked only with a category number.

One of the additional and very valuable benefits of this award ceremony and its structure is to attain a broad-spectrum overview from top wine professionals outside of the Wellington region and to provide a non-biased evaluation and feedback on their experience and opinion of the wines produced in this region. Therefore, there are no specific category- class winners within these awards, and instead only a selection of the overall top-twelve scoring wines are awarded. In theory, this method of judgement could quite literally deliver a leading cultivar or wine-specific class, but this is yet to happen.

The Wellington wine region is blessed with tremendous terroir, soil types, climate conditions and other beneficial factors that contribute to viniculture. However, for many years, wine producers of the area have questioned whether there is a specific cultivar that they should be focussing on instead of the diversity of varietals currently coming from the area. Although there appears to be tremendous quality and potential within the Chenin Blanc and Pinotage produced, many other wine varietals are also bringing home impressive awards and accolades each year. And hence the question continues to surface – should Wellington focus on strong cultivars or can Wellington really deliver an array of excellent wines?

In the feedback session, (prior to the actual award announcements) judges gave their feedback on the various wine classes judged and also their opinion of the regions wine production as a whole. At this opportunity, producers, winemakers and marketing teams are invited to engage in a question & answer session directly with the panel. As expected, again the question on diversity vs specific varietals was posed to the panel, to which Mark Norrish possibly put to bed for good when he said: “I’ve never had so many good wines in a panel tasting as I did today”. A massive compliment that each producer present was certainly happy and honoured to hear. Furthermore, he replied: “I would also advocate that Wellington goes with it’s diversity, focus on what you specialise in, but do not limit yourselves to that.” Bennie Howard added to that that Wellington has over the last year gained tremendous attention for its Chenin Blanc and Pinotage, but also echoed Mark’s opinion in that the region has the ability to extend its offerings.

Clearly the method in which these wines are evaluated, and the awards concluded not only shine the lime light on the regions top wines, but also provide great value in respect of which cultivars are performing strongest and which cultivars the producers of Wellington may like to focus on in future.

This year, the TOP 12 Award winners included:

In addition, and for the first time in the history of these awards, the Quest for the Best Awards included a new award category, giving recognition to Tasting room service excellence as well as top wine route ambassadors of the region. The winning tasting room experience went to Bosman Family Vineyards, followed by Welbedacht (Schalk Burger & Sons) and Linton Park Wines in joint second place. Ten tasting room representatives where awarded certificates for their service excellence and the Trophy for the Top OMInsure Wellington Wine Route Ambassador went to Charlene Ferreira of Bosman Family Vineyards.

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