That’s why it’s important to champion our finest wine retailers. These are testing times and so the resourcefulness and resilience of the country’s best wine sellers is important to celebrate. If this ever ceases to be a defining feature of our wine landscape then the best wines will simply sell elsewhere and the UK will risk losing its status as a key global wine hub. And that would be a disaster.
We are five judges on the Decanter Retailer Awards panel – myself, Andy Howard MW, Matt Walls, Laura Clay and Peter Ranscombe.
As we steadily plough our way through hundreds of entries, assessing, visiting, tasting, scoring and re-scoring over months before heatedly debating in our intensive judging conclave, we all feel a keen sense of duty, and desire to support the UK wine trade and encourage those doing a brilliant job against the odds.
Making the final decisions on shortlists, runners-up and winners is never easy. It takes a good deal of time, thought and discussion. Sometimes it gets heated, and we have to take a break. But it’s always very democratic – we all need to endorse the final results. We like to champion smaller retailers where we can. We place a lot of emphasis on what has happened over the last year, these being annual awards, so the results are as current and relevant as possible.
We ask retailers to send in mini-videos to make their case and give a sense of personality. A particularly memorable line from one such video this year was delivered by a merchant standing in a top London restaurant: ‘If you can’t enjoy lobster bhaji and Corsican Vermentino, you’re tired of life.’
It’s one way to sell the stuff, I suppose.
I’ve been asked how we judges stay objective. It’s never really been an issue. We’re chosen for our knowledge and impartiality and, ultimately, it’s easy because you simply take the viewpoint of someone who loves and regularly buys wine, which we all are.
Which retailer is doing the best job? Who’s most deserving? Which one would we honestly recommend to our wine-loving friends? That’s the bottom line, and it’s served us very well over the years. The results speak for themselves.
As chair, I’m lucky enough to take centre stage at the awards ceremony and congratulate people in person. The best part of the job is seeing the thrill on winners’ faces – partly because of the prestige but also the satisfaction of hard work validated and recognition that this can boost their teams and business.
Of course, there are always those who are disappointed (the worst part of the job). But there’s always next year, a new set of challenges to overcome, a host of different opportunities to seize.
So here’s to wine, and being ahead of the game. Let’s celebrate the UK’s best wine retailers as best we can.