International Whine Challenge Awards
What an awful night. I am listening to Unnatural Selection by Muse at ear-bleeding volume on perpetual loop. It’s a form of rough catharsis. I don’t care what the bio calendar said, yesterday was surely my personal root day. Firstly, I was blown out by my local cab firm (“Why did you call us when you might have known we would be busy because of the tube strike?” “Why did you accept my booking, then?”) which meant that I was tap-dancing waiting for Godot whilst sweating cobs in my penguin suit. Then, arriving at the Hilton in the nick of time for an evening which developed as a grim succession of anti-climaxes wherein we were consigned to be the perpetual bridesmaids, the major-domos of mediocrity, the panting also-rans. Caring about the acquisition of baubles and accolades should be antithetical to my insouciant nature, but I ramp myself into really believing that it is not the taking part that counts but the winning and “no places for losers, cos we are the champions”. I planked up a banner headline in my mind: ’Member, Caves de Pyrene? They used to be small and trendy; people couldn’t get enough of them.” To which my imperious answer would be: Well, we are still small, my dear. It is the industry that got big” (with apologies to Sunset Boulevard).
Bitter, moi? Pint of pride, barperson!
Despite my scrabbling-nailed competitiveness I was almost resigned to lose to worthy winners (even if I don’t have to like them) but some of the results had an hallucinogenic quality as if personally designed to send me off my rocker. When Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973, the distinguished musical satirist Tom Lehrer declared, “It was at that moment that satire died”. During the last few years certain awards would have tested the credulity of youthful whippersnappers who could believe (pace the White Queen) “six impossible things before breakfast”. This year the doozy-level was epic. One company contrived to be shortlisted for a regional/country award with only six estates from the whole country in question. Short and sweet or dumb and dumber – just what were the judges thinking? As decision after decision was revealed to hysterical fanfarade my sharp intakes of breath and strangled “whas?” were rapidly succeeded by my head hitting the plate in front of me with increasing alacrity. In fact, our solitary ewe lamb of a certificate – step forward regional France, baa! – became a useful tool to thwack myself with as I tried to restrain my hopping irritability.
As Gore Vidal said in his antepanegyric: “It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail”. And by extension if you don’t succeed at all, everyone must fail. Or conversely, everyone must succeed and devalue the very notion of success.
I admit I felt alienated the moment I alighted from the taxi. The International Wine Challenge felt comfortable in the surroundings of the Grosvenor; the Hilton was gawky, squeaky and angular. Doors kept on opening into your back; the stage seemed colossally out of proportion to the room where we were dining, the introduction of the winners was hurried and confusing and the music was Guns and Roses (in their drugee phase). If I have one wish for this event in the future it is to win a trophy and to be blasted onto stage on a gale of Led Zep like the winner of the supermarket category. Wouldn’t you milk that entrance for every thudding chord?
The only silver lining in this grizzling firmament is that once again we have ducked under the radar and are free to fight a guerrilla war against establishment complacency. We have been criticised for resting on our laurels; for being too successful even for our own good. As if! We are visible and influential, but definitely not omnipresent; we are not trying to buy market share and launch glamorous eye-catching initiatives with money from big brands. Many awards were for meretricious initiatives and symbolic endeavours. During the last year we had an amazingly successful period, making a profit in the midst of recession, introducing 150 or so new wines onto our list and taking on a bevy of brilliant growers. By working with the best sommeliers and wine-buyers we continued to help shape the way people drink and hopefully think about wine, whilst in Terroirs, which is still the first UK natural wine bar, we provided a showcase for all those dynamic, thrilling, unusual wines that so many people wouldn’t even touch. Terroirs exemplifies the simplicity of our philosophy: good wine, good food – no gimmicks. We work ethically as far as possible sourcing wine from small estates, the majority of which are organic; we try to treat all our staff as part of an extended family. We’re not in the business to make a lot of money for venture capitalists and shareholders; we want people to have a good time, enjoy their job and feel valued. It is the people you work with for whom you want to win awards, as gratitude for their loyal endeavours. Modesty aside I can’t think of a better company to work for.
The One Ewe Lamb
Regional France Wine Merchant of the Year
South East Wine Merchant
Wine List of the Year
UK On-Trade Merchant of the Year