Let’s drink to the winners

The winners of the 2012 Louis Roederer Champagne International Wine Writers’ Awards have been announced

Now it can be told... The winners of the 2012 Louis Roederer Champagne International Wine Writers’ Awards have been announced. First, let’s make one thing clear: I’m not writing about them for any back-slapping satisfaction within the comparatively small group of people who communicate about wine.

The reason for this column is that what the winners, and the other finalists, achieve is nowhere near as well known as it should be among the wider wine-drinking community. So here’s a small contribution to spreading the word.

And this year I can give you a particular perspective on these, the most important wine-communication awards in the world. In the many years I’ve been writing on wine, I had never before seen behind the scenes in the Roederers, or for that matter their predecessor awards, sponsored by another champagne house, Lanson.

Now, as one of the five 2012 judges I’ve considered more than 450 separate pieces of work, from some 120 individuals, in nine categories from artistry to books, from international wine columnist to blogger. There were videos, conventional printed columns, paintings, coffee-table books and wordy tomes, radio broadcasts, fact-dense websites, provocative blogs, in all a plethora of styles of communication. Entries must be in English, but they came from all round the world.

It was a huge – and sometimes humbling – education, and if you have the slightest interest in understanding a little more about wine you should look at the winners’ work.

Here’s a start, with the most visual of the awards, artistry. Colin Hampden-White trained as a quantity surveyor but soon turned to what he really wanted to do: photography. Wine photography, though, is still a comparatively new direction and he acknowledges that he was very privileged indeed that the subjects of the 21 portraits of renowned wine people in Burgundy and Champagne, from which his winning portfolio came, agreed to spend so much time with him. They should be delighted that they did, as the results are deeply, revealing beautiful.

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More of Colin’s work will be exhibited at the Marylebone Hotel, Welbeck Street, from tomorrow (Oct 5) until the end of the year.

He had plenty of rivals for the golden Roederer statuette, however – there were other stunning images. One my favourites was a gnarled godello vine, the grandfather of an ancient Spanish vineyard, captured in brilliant light by Jon Wyand.

Of other winners, Evan Dawson deservedly carried off the book prize for Summer in a Glass (Sterling Epicure), a compelling story of the leading personalities in the fastest-growing wine region in the United States. No, not California or Oregon, but the Finger Lakes in upstate New York, where riesling in particular flourishes. It might also be the fastest-growing region for wine books – John G. Hartsock’s Seasons of a Finger Lakes Winery (Cornell University Press) was another on the all-American shortlist.

Dawson’s skill is to create a vivid picture of people, place and wines with little more than a simple end-paper map to illustrate his words – impressive. Finger Lakes wines are rare in the UK, but Sue Chambers, once of Bibendum in Primrose Hill, offers a selection at https://wineequals.com/.

More good wine reading comes in Voodoo Vintners, Katherine Cole’s account of biodynamic growing on Oregon (Oregon State University Press) and the detailed story of phylloxera in Dying on the Vine by George Gale (University of California Press).

The books category also allowed me to discover Gerald Asher’s elegant writing (Andrew Jefford, a winner again this year, as online wine writer, is the UK’s equivalent). Some of Asher’s best writing is reprinted in A Carafe of Red and A Vineyard in My Glass (both University of California Press).

There’s no space left to focus on other winners, but they are all listed at www.theroedererawards.com/previous.html. Look, read, enjoy.