How to become a wine judge

A chairman of judges, sometimes with the assistance of one or more co-chairs, has overall control of judging policy and procedure. (Photo: Marlborough Wine Show)

Judging 150-180 wines a day for several days in a row is hard work. It’s also a great learning experience and chance to rub shoulders with other judges who feel as passionate about wine as you do. Did I mention that you need to be passionate about wine?

Each judging panel consists of three judges and one or two associate judges. One of the judges is a panel leader.

By my count, there are six major wine shows in this country. Five of them use the services of Shona White to organise the so-called backroom. Shona also plays a part in the selection of judges, associate judges and stewards.

Aspiring judges first need to serve an apprenticeship as a steward. Stewards unpack and label sample bottles, which are later served “blind” to the judges. There is a large imaginary brick wall between the judging room and the back room to protect the identity of wines from the judges and the results from the stewards.

When a vacancy occurs, and if the steward shows promise, they may graduate to become an associate judge. An associate judge performs the same function as a judge except there scores don’t count. Competent associate judges may be invited to become a judge.

Each judging panel consists of (usually) three judges and one or two associate judges. One of the judges is a panel leader. A chairman of judges, sometimes with the assistance of one or more co-chairs, has overall control of judging policy and procedure.

New Zealand Wine of the Year Awards

This show replaces both the Air New Zealand Wine Awards and the Bragato Wine Awards and will take place for the first time in early October this year. The show is run by NZ Winegrowers and is usually judged in Auckland. Associate judges can serve for two years only before being promoted to senior judge status or being stood down. Senior judges can judge for a maximum of three years only but may return to judging after a break of one year or more.

Royal Easter Show Wine Awards

New Zealand’s oldest existing wine competition is judged in Auckland in mid-February. One feature of the show is to indicate high, medium and low-price categories to introduce the concept of value.

Hawke’s Bay A&P Bayleys Wine Awards

A regional show that largely uses local judges and stewards and is judged in September each year. The local EIT provides wine students to act as stewards and gain wine show experience.

New World Wine Awards

Run by the New World supermarket group, who provide their own staff with wine show experience by offering them steward and associate judging positions. Mostly limited to wines under NZD $25, although there are some exceptions. Judged at the end of July.

Marlborough Wine Show

A regional show held in Marlborough in October each year and run by Marlborough Winegrowers. It’s a useful training ground for local wine producers with few vacancies offered to outsiders.

New Zealand International Wine show

A large wine competition that attracts entries from the international wine community. Held in Auckland in September each year. Run by Kingsley Wood of First Glass Wines in Takapuna. Stewards are mostly a long-serving and very loyal crew with few vacancies.

To apply for a steward or judging position in all the above shows, except the NZ International Wine Show, send a CV with a brief background of wine judging experience and qualifications to Shona White at wineshowqueen@gmail.com. Applications for a position on the NZ Wine of the Year Awards should also copy Angela Willis at angela@gmail.com

To apply for a position on the New Zealand International Wine Show send a CV to Kingsley Wood firstglass@clear.net.nz in February or March next year.

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