In a guest post from Wakefield Chief Winemaker Adam Eggins, we explore the driving forces that contributed to Wakefield Wines being announced as the most awarded winery in the world for 2017- the first time this has been achieved by any Australian winery.
The World Ranking of Wines and Spirits (WRW&S) is the premier international association that ranks and reports annually on wines and spirits competing in award shows and competitions around the globe.
In 1996 the WRW&S was created to encourage and reward those who performed consistently at International Wine Competitions. To be considered for inclusion in the ranking the competition must accept entries from at least five countries, guaranteeing an international focus on competition and excellence.
The 2017 rankings, considered 80 prestigious international competitions which were conducted in over 30 countries around the world. In these competitions, more than 700,000 wines were evaluated, the most the organisation has ever evaluated. Up against this extreme level of international competition where wineries from around the world were focused on showing their very best wines Wakefield has come out on top and been named the world’s most awarded winery. We’ve also nabbed the top spot for most awarded wine in the world - our Jaraman Shiraz 2014.
How we have managed to do this?
Adam Eggins (Wakefield Wines Chief Winemaker): Many people and events have influenced our journey in wine. We would like to recognise and thank some of the key people and explain the learnings and understanding we have experienced along the way.
Mitchell Taylor gave me a little personal advice soon after joining the winery. I may have asked Mitchell something like ‘what do you want to achieve in our journey in wine?’ Mitchell’s words struck me and I tell myself them often: 'Be an international winemaker: See, feel and understand the world of wine, for then we can truly build an international brand.'
A few years later at a conference I heard a legendary leader in wine, Michael Hill Smith, describing his journey into achieving his Master of Wine qualification. Michael said: ‘For three years, I deliberately avoided drinking Australian wine because I wanted to understand international wine.’
From that point on my love and desire to understand international wine styles has flourished.
An odd event happened around a similar time; one of our greatest wines was judged domestically and received a horrific score. Now, all wineries and their wines receive bad scores here and there, but this score was for one of our greatest efforts in wine. What had happened?
After a few weeks of deep reflection, often considering ‘am I in the right profession,’ an amazing thing happened. The same wine took out two major trophies in the UK - Best Cabernet in the IWSC London and Best Single Vineyard Wine in the same event.
What just happened? What is going on? What does it all mean?
A few years later at an industry event, another great leader in Australian wine gave me some advice. That wonderful gentleman was Bill Hardy. I was given a tip off that Bill had a secret bottle of very special chardonnay hiding behind the bar for interested parties, so I summoned up the nerve, went and introduced myself, and asked to taste the mysterious Chardonnay. I thanked Bill and was about to leave when Bill said: ‘You need to get your wines into the Tokyo International Wine Challenge’. Bill continued: ‘Do it and they will be rewarded’.
Two years later Wakefield Wines was named International Red Winemaker of the Year at that very show in Tokyo. And then a thought occurred to me: ‘Why would Bill Hardy do that?’ The only answer I could find was to help fly the flag for Australian Wine overseas.
From that moment on we focused on proving ourselves and the quality of our wines at international wine shows. There is one thing better than winning a trophy in Perth, Brisbane, Melbourne or Sydney and that is to win international trophies in Paris, Germany, the Rhone Valley, Belgium, Vienna, Hong Kong, Chile, Mendoza, New Zealand, Canada, America…the list goes on.
The World Ranking of Wines & Spirits is a culmination of these efforts and there are some important highlights from the 2017 report worth mentioning:
Beyond being named the most awarded winery in the world, Wakefield was recognised for the most awarded wines in the Merlot, Chardonnay and Shiraz categories. This is a fantastic achievement, not only have we been successful with Shiraz, a star varietal of the region, but with two varieties commonly not associated with the Clare Valley.
Some have said ‘you can’t make chardonnay in the Clare Valley’, but that’s an old saying. It has taken us years to get close to our own ‘chardonnay masterpiece’, about 15 to be honest. It has involved replanting our vineyards with better clones, redesigning the winery process to not crush, but delicately press the fruit, and to change our barrel suppliers to dedicated chardonnay specialists in Louis Latour.
Louis Latour deserves special mention because they are one of the few barrel makers on earth that sells wine for a living. They live and breathe Burgundy, so where better to ask for guidance on how to improve chardonnay?
Now to merlot. A French friend in St Emillon calls merlot ‘the fickle one, the most fickle grape on earth’. Debate has raged about what merlot is meant to be in Australia – some say ‘we have the wrong clones in the country’ or ‘it’s all rubbish’.
If you read or taste widely about what great merlot is and if you are lucky enough to visit St Emillon and taste the right bank with three consulting oenologists and an MW, you will see that Merlot can be a mouth filling, generous, rich but ultimately delicate, supple masterpiece. Merlot is a plant, it doesn’t know what country it is growing in.
All you have to do then is find the keys to follow the ‘merlot masterpiece’. It has taken us years of experimenting with ‘the fickle one’ but our Estate Merlot has been rated the most awarded merlot in the 2017 WRW&S varietal category.
Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon are the life blood of Wakefield Wines and it is gratifying to see them score so strongly across the varietal categories. Five wines in the top ten for both varieties and our Jaraman Shiraz 2014 being the most awarded wine in the world.
Where to from here?
Our real mission is to learn and grow and to fly the flag for Australian wine around the world.
There is still a lot of opportunity in WRW&S categories for Australian producers. Up for grabs is riesling, sauvignon blanc, pinot gris, tempranillo, malbec, pinot noir…the list goes on. Personally I have to get to Argentina and get my head around those Argentinian Cabernet’s.
How do we feel as a team achieving this ranking in 2017?
To be honest, quite humbled!
The South Australian Premier has a mission to promote and take great food and wine from South Australia to the world. That is actually what we have been focusing on by flying the flag for Australian wine trying to reach events that other countries have been dominating and compete on their turf with their rules with their judges against all competitors.
We haven’t actually been focusing on WRW&S but somehow we have managed to find each other and it is a very happy, humbling win for Wakefield Wines. Our entire team should be very, very proud. I am very proud of everyone who is a part of Wakefield Wines and more importantly I am proud of the Taylor family who are living their vision.
Someone said ‘you have just out competed the competition’ and in part that is true. But competing is easy. It has taken more than just competing to achieve what we have today – and that includes a deep understanding of our wines, dedication to consistency and depth across our portfolio to win at those competitions and in the World Ranking of Wines & Spirits 2017.
The World Ranking of Wines & Spirits 2017
View the World Ranking of Wines & Spirits Report 2017 here for a definitive ranking of the world's most awarded wineries, wines and wine regions compiled by the World Association of Wine Writers and Journalists.