Corey Hall rates the gold medal his Harwood Hall Marlborough sauvignon blanc won at the New World Wine Awards way ahead of the fact the same wine sells at posh London hotels for up to £65 ($133).
"It's an absolute game-changer for us, no question," says Hall who is acutely aware of the irony of his award-winning wine being available on New World supermarket shelves for under $25 as one of the wine awards' Top 50 wines (which all have that price ceiling as a condition of entry ).
Game-changing because although Harwood Hall has a firm reputation overseas – they are in the Dorchester and Ritz in London plus outlets in Singapore and Australia – they had yet to crack the problem of finding an effective New Zealand distributor for their wine.
"Now, after winning the gold and getting into the Top 50, our wine is on the shelves of 135 New World stores around New Zealand," he says. "What's not to like?"
It's been a long slog for Hall, wife Megan and partner Digger Hennessy after Hall and Megan set up their own wine business in 2005, partnering with Digger and Debra in Marlborough to produce Harwood Hall wines.
"I was working for Matua Valley as a winemaker when I decided to start up my own business and I thought I would be able to sell at least as much as I was doing at Matua Valley. It shows how wrong you can be – distribution is the key and that was all sewn up by other companies. It was a bit of a reality check.
"Meg was on maternity leave when I made that decision and we had a six-month-old baby. I came home the day I decided to leave and she asked me how my request for a promotion had gone. I said: 'Stuff that, baby, we're opening our own business.'
"I think she was breastfeeding at the time and she went a bit pale. She then rang her boss and resigned, saying that she knew I couldn't organise a raffle so she'd have to step in and run things. "
Harwood Hall is based in Auckland and Marlborough, with Hennessy – who has winemaking credentials forged at Matua Valley, Shingle Peak and Mt Riley—living where the grapes are.
Their range also includes rose, pinot gris, syrah, Hawkes Bay chardonnay and they are just about to release their first Gimblett Gravels merlot/cabernet sauvignon.
"We have won others [awards] but the big thing about the New World Wine Awards is that there is a lot more than a bit of publicity. These awards point interested people towards the place to buy the wines. We know about the quality of our wines; it has always been about getting them in front of people."
The awards are hugely followed nationally, with champion and gold medal wines often snapped up quickly. Last year more than 345,000 of the Top 50 wines, worth nearly $5m, sold out within six weeks of the results.
The independent judging panel consists of 17 wine experts from New Zealand and overseas, under the chairmanship of highly experienced judge Jim Harré.
Tasting thousands of wines – even though it sounds blissful – requires order and discipline. Harré has adjudicated at big international wine shows like Decanter, London, Japan, China, San Francisco and Australia (plus New Zealand's major awards) says 120 wines in a day is his preference – although that increases slightly as the judges refine their selections.
The New World award tastings were held over three days – and no one judge tries all the wines. They split into panels of three, tasting and nominating their top choices after discussion and, sometimes, debate.
"If we have say, 200 pinots to judge, the wines will be broken down into maybe 50 for each panel – and each panel puts forward the top scoring wines," says Harré.
"You've got to have a break and I make sure I do wines in blocks of 10. At the end of 10, I always use soda water [to cleanse his palate]. Everyone's different – some use dry crackers, others use water – and I make sure I drink a lot of water during the day as well."
The panels discuss and agree on their top choices – with the chair acting as referee if consensus cannot be reached (though it usually is). Then the top wines are re-tasted and voted on to find the champions.
Harré says: "The New World Wine Awards has a 16-year track record of connecting wine lovers with the best quality affordable wines. Whether you are looking for a great bottle of your favourite varietal or would like to try something new, these gold medal-winning wines are the perfect starting point."
Champion Wines, New World Wine Awards 2018
• Sauvignon Blanc - Vidal Estate Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2018
• Pinot Gris - Rapaura Springs Reserve Marlborough Pinot Gris 2018
• Aromatic - Mount Brown Estates North Canterbury Riesling 2018
• Chardonnay - Wither Hills Marlborough Chardonnay 2017
• Sparkling - Morton Estate Black Label Brut
• Rosé - Madam Sass Central Otago Pinot Noir Rosé 2018
• Pinot Noir - Shaky Bridge Pioneer Series Central Otago Pinot Noir 2017
• Single Varietal Red - Grant Burge Cameron Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 2016
• Red Blend - Mo Sisters Red Blend 2016
• Shiraz & Syrah - Zonte's Footstep Chocolate Factory McLaren Vale Shiraz 2016
For Top 50 Gold medal wines: www.newworld.co.nz/wineawards