Life Eat & Drink Amateur winemaking comp is on fire
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Amateur winemaking comp is on fire

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Baptism of Fire competition creator Rory Kent came up with the idea to “democratize wine” by applying a bit of creative thinking to an empty space. Kent, who has been producing wine for 10 years, was approached by Circa restaurant in St Kilda, who had a basement level car park that wasn’t being used.

“They asked me if I had any ideas on what they could do with the space,” Kent says. “I immediately thought ‘let’s make some wine in an urban location.’”

This idea snowballed from simply making wine in an unusual place to letting unusual people make it – first time winemakers. Anyone could enter the competition as long as they had no prior experience.

In February, Kent and his fellow judges, author Matt Skinner and Circa’s head sommelier Sally Humble, sent out some tweets and emails looking for applications and received over 50 in the first three weeks. Luckily, they managed to score the required grapes from Mount Langi Ghiran in Victoria, a highly regarded winery with grapes of “exceptional quality” according to Kent.

They also managed to lock in well-respected industry mentors for each of the five teams: Michael Glover from Bannockburn, Matt Harrop from Shadowfax, Gilles Lapalus from Sutton Grange, Mac Forbes and William Downie.

Five teams were formed, one from Sydney and four from Melbourne. According to Kent, four of the five teams contained sommeliers but one team, Team Lapalus, had absolutely no wine trade experience whatsoever.

“Whilst all the other teams might get trade prices, these guys pay full retail,” says Kent. “These guys from outside the industry really have been showing up the other teams, they have made a really cracking wine.”

No surprise then that at last night’s awards ceremony, Team Lapalus – consisting of teachers and communications professionals – was awarded the top accolade. Their wine, a Grampians shiraz named ‘After Hours’, was the best-seller of the five at Vintage Cellars and the team took home the Baptism of Fire trophy and $3000 to spend at Vintage Cellars.

While winning the award, which is effectively a people’s choice, is undoubtedly something to be proud of, Kent says the real joy of the competition was the process itself.

“Watching people make wine you get an insight into their soul,” he says. “It’s like walking into someone’s bedroom when they’re not expecting visitors. You get to see their true self.”