Postgraduate viticulture students put their wine-judging skills to the test recently during a campus visit from Lincoln University alumnus Oliver Masters..
As a New Zealand winemaker and leading wine show judge, Mr Masters holds a Postgraduate Diploma in Viticulture and Oenology from Lincoln, which he gained in 1989.
He enrolled in the diploma after completing an Honours degree in Biotechnology at Massey University and realising he wanted to pursue winemaking.
Drawing on 30 years of expertise, he gave the postgraduate students an in-depth seminar on the development of wine shows in New Zealand since the early 1990s, when he began his judging career.
“A good way to get involved in the show system and see how it works in practice is to begin working in the back room as a steward,” he said. “You might do that for two or three years and then progress to the front room as a judge.”
Judging panels tend to be made up of winemakers, Masters of Wine and media and those in the wine and hospitality industries and shows exist for promotion and sales purposes, to show excellence, and to help improve the industry.
“If you see your own wine judged against others, you can see where your wine fits in and gain an unbiased opinion,” Mr Masters said.
Panels consist of a panel leader plus two senior judges and possibly one or two associate (or trainee) judges.
“Wines come out blind and each panel member tastes them then come to a consensus.”
Following the seminar, students and staff took part in a mock wine show, with Mr Masters as the chair of judges, Faculty Dean Roland Harrison and Lincoln University Vineyard Manager Bernard Newman as senior judges, and the rest of the attendees as associate judges.
The group tasted four different Pinot Noirs and were given criteria to assess, including appearance, aroma, taste, and overall impression.
Mr Masters told the group to avoid paying attention to other people’s decisions, and watch out for palate fatigue, their own biases and being influenced by the colour of the wine.
“When assessing wine, you’re effectively doing a SWOT analysis and you’re really looking for a well-balanced, elegant wine, regardless of the style,” he said.
It was a great way for the group to enjoy first-hand the experience of judging wines.
Mr Masters is also one of the industry partners involved in a five-year MBIE Research Endeavour Programme, investigating whether there is any truth to the assumption that high-yielding Pinot Noir vineyards do not produce high quality wines.
Lincoln University plays a key role in this programme, with Associate Professor Roland Harrison as science lead and other Lincoln researchers actively contributing.
Other organisations involved in the programme include the Bragato Research Institute, Plant & Food Research, and the University of Auckland.
The recent publication, ‘Perception of quality and complexity in wine and their links to varietal typicality: An investigation involving Pinot Noir wine and professional tasters’, first-authored by Lincoln University’s Dr Wendy Parr and co-authored by Mr Masters and other partner research institutes, exemplifies the enduring collaborative approach between Lincoln research and industry partners.