The Hot 100 has broken a lot of ground in its shortish history; just ask the previous winners.
Last year, the 2012 Lofty Valley Steeped Single Vineyard Pinot Noir from vigneron Dr Brian Gilbert was dux. With a wine made from grapes grown near Summertown and vinified by Brendon Keys, the little-known label was a surprise winner, not least for its proprietor.
Gilbert says that the win had dramatic effects, especially in gaining the attention of previously indifferent restaurateurs. “It did put me on the map – there was immediate interest in the wine, and I went from not selling much to selling quite a bit,” Gilbert says.
“And no-one argued about the price.” With the heightened profile, Gilbert was able to acquire a distributor, and now sells his wines into Sydney and Melbourne. “It made my brand a bit more serious. Having won the Hot 100 automatically gave it credibility.”
If he could change anything about the competition’s format, Gilbert says he would like to see a three-way joint first prize, so that a red wine, a white wine and a fortified or sparkling could enjoy the status of Hot 100 winner: “I’d like to spread the love”.
Anton Van Klopper, the wild man of Basket Range, took first place in 2012 with his Noir de Florette, a multi-varietal red blend that came in magnums. Its victory thrust the Lucy Margaux label into the limelight and also alerted many drinkers to ‘natural’ winemaking, the international movement which aims to create wines free of additives or filtration. Van Klopper was “surprised and elated” by the win.
“My wines are left of centre, but we have aimed to make them strangely gulpable,” he says. “The Noir de Florette winning gives hope to all the winemakers trying to push new boundaries in wine, and gives drinkers with an open mind a journey to the new.” Eric and Jenny Semmler of 919 Wines near Berri provided another unanticipated twist in 2011. Their winning wine was a Pale Dry Apera, a fortified that prior to the restraining edicts of the European Community would have been known as a fino sherry.
Eric Semmler said the win contributed to 919’s brand building, marketing and sales, as well as the Riverland’s reputation. He sees the Hot 100 as an incubator: “It provides a forum for the judging of creative and new styles which can then find their relevance within the Australian wine industry”.
Yalumba, one of the few 19th century wine companies still in original family hands, did the double in 2009 and 2010. The first win was for their immensely stylish 2008 Adelaide Hills FDW [7c] Chardonnay; the year after it was the 2008 Virgilius, the company’s top-flight Eden Valley Viognier, a variety that winemaker Louisa Rose pioneered in Australia. In 2008 first prize went to Peter Schell, the deep-thinking Kiwi immigrant of Spinifex Wines, for his 2006 Indigene. His savoury and complex Shiraz Mataro completely subverted the Parkerised image of Barossa reds as jammy, overbearing monsters.
It was Stephen (SC) Pannell, now one of the state’s best-known small winemakers, who in 2007 won the inaugural Hot 100 with a 2005 Shiraz Grenache. It was only his second year as a solo concern. Pannell said in giving the main prize to a blend, the show demonstrated its alternative credentials from the start: it simply wouldn’t have happened in the major show system. “The Australian wine scene is fluid and dynamic, and full of new varieties.
We don’t need wine shows that are all about re-establishing French dogma,” Pannell says. He has high hopes that the Hot 100 will continue its role of being “gutsy and controversial”.
“All wine shows should be more like it.”