For 28 consecutive days in August, 116 expert wine judges, including 37 Masters of Wine and nine Master Sommeliers, took part in Decanter World Wine Awards 2020 judging month to blind taste and evaluate 16,518 wines from 56 countries.
During a pandemic – with social distancing regulations, uncertainty, anxiety and the continual possibility of change – planning and holding the world’s largest wine competition safely and successfully was a monstrous task. But the process of achieving it called for innovative thinking; the results give the wine world a positive story to tell, and offer a potential role-model for future industry events.
Normally held at London’s ExCel exhibition centre – turned into a hospital at the height of lockdown in the UK – the DWWA judging was relocated across three floors of the Decanter offices in Canary Wharf, ensuring absolute control of a safe environment for judging.
‘Agility was key as we worked through a number of backup plans simultaneously,’ says Victoria Stanage, Decanter’s head of events & awards. ‘With the daunting prospect of another lockdown looming in the background, planning ahead relied on a lot of speculation and assumption of what was to come, especially when it came to travel and gatherings.’
Securing a space to allow for social distancing, while maintaining the environment necessary to adhere to the standards and integrity of the competition, was just part of the planning process. Ensuring complete safety of the judges, employees and those involved in the running of the awards was priority.
On this, DWWA Co-Chair Andrew Jefford says: ‘I can guarantee that tasting now, here in this building, it’s the safest place you can be in London, and that really speaks a lot for the organisational abilities of the team working behind it.’
With hopes to pave the way for more industry events to return safely, some of the safety measures put into place included temperature checks on the door, PPE for all judges and staff, bespoke disposable spittoons, proximity tags worn on lanyards that vibrate when less than two metres from another person, hand-sanitising stations and isolated tasting areas with designated facilities.
‘The competition has been terrific,’ says Co-Chair Sarah Jane Evans MW. ‘If you think about it, it’s four months since any of us really went anywhere or did anything, and I think we all arrived with a certain amount of nervousness about how we were going to get here, what it was going to be like, but it’s an absolute, perfect biosphere. The organisation is second to none.’
Peter Richards MW, Regional Chair for Chile adds: ‘Trying to do any event in these crazy coronavirus times is a challenge, but I think the Decanter team really has risen to this. It’s a wonder to see.’
‘Was it all going to happen?’ asks Jefford. ‘There was a big question mark over that. For me, it’s a wonderful thing that the DWWA was able to happen this year. I think it’s a point of focus for a lot of the wine trade around the world, really. It is the biggest competition of all, so the fact that we’ve been able to keep going and to make it happen, I think has given everybody heart, and I hope will put us on a good footing to go forwards into the autumn and next spring.’
Evans adds: ‘It feels like a way for the wine trade to begin pulling itself together. People have been through very hard times, so it’s been very good to share ideas and thoughts. But above all, we’re just back focused on picking out the great wines, and having a good time doing it.’
Now successfully out the other side, with so many award-winning wines to celebrate, Rebecca Gibb MW, DWWA 2020 Regional Chair for New Zealand, comments: ‘I think that the DWWA has provided a sense of normality in a very unpredictable and strange year. ‘It’s been wonderful to see all the protocols being put into place and to show the wine world that, actually, you can hold a wine competition and large-scale wine tastings even in the current climate.’
Stanage adds: ‘This experience has given us all hope that our industry may not be so far from getting back on its feet again. It is more important than ever that producers are given the opportunity to have their wines tasted by some of the world’s best palates and to win a DWWA medal – a pointer to a trusted recommendation for shoppers among the overwhelming array of options on the wine shelves.’
The Decanter World Wine Awards 2020 results are available now on Decanter.com, and will be published alongside the January 2021 issue, with more details on the planning and innovation behind this year’s event.