Berkmann, Whisky Exchange and 67 Pall Mall named “Lockdown Legends” at IWSC Awards

The IWSC named two brilliant communicators and celebrated three Lockdown Legends (and some magnificent wallpaper) in a year that has proved the most challenging in living memory

Words by Adam Lechmere

Joel Harrison, amongst the gyropalettes at Ridgeview, announces another winner

There wasn’t a prize for finest backdrop at tonight’s YouTube broadcast of the 2020 IWSC Awards Ceremony, but if there had been, Alex Hunt MW would have taken it.

The buying director for Berkmann Wine Cellars accepted his company’s gong – one of three special “Lockdown Legends” awards introduced for 2020 – against a splendid background of handpainted Chinese art in the chinoiserie decorative style of wallpaper.

Hunt was one of 20 garlanded wine and spirits producers, writers and other professionals who had recorded acceptance speeches in their sitting rooms, wine cellars, distilleries and shops – from Australia to Finland, California to Salzburg.

The IWSC Awards were celebrated in a 40-minute film on YouTube. Filmed at Ridgeview Wine Estate (whose CEO Tamara Roberts is the 2020 IWSC President) the awards were presented by wine and spirits writers David Kermode and Joel Harrison in the vineyards and cellars of the estate. They both wore black tie, accessorised where necessary by wellington boots.

"Absolutely thrilled": Alex Hunt (and wallpaper)

First up was Berkmann Wine Cellars, singled out for launching Help4Hospitality, a direct-to-customer platform which supported the hospitality sector by donating an astonishing £75,000 (12.5% of its online sales) to Hospitality in Action and the Drinks Trust. Other Berkmann initiatives, such as online cookery classes, also caught the judges’ attention. Hunt said the distributor – which switched from supplying restaurants to consumers during lockdown – was “absolutely thrilled to win this award for what was an unexpected and unprecedented adventure,” and he thanked “all the people who bought from this unknown entity, and in so doing supporting our beloved hospitality industry.” The Help4Hospitality initiative has been revived for England’s second lockdown.

"Without bars and restaurants, we are nothing": Dawn Davies

Next, Dawn Davies MW – against a backdrop of wall-to-wall spirits and wearing a tee-shirt with the legend “Agave you my heart” – accepted the Spirits Lockdown Legend award on behalf of the Whisky Exchange, where she is head buyer. The retailer of some 9,000 whiskies and fine spirits was recognised for effectively moving its excellent whisky show online, hosting over 200 tastings. An obviously delighted Davies paid tribute to her team, and exhorted everyone to “please go out and support your local bars and restaurants – because without them we are nothing.”

Beamed into a living room near you: Ronan Sayburn and Grant Ashton of 67 Pall Mall

The last Lockdown Legend went to London’s renowned wine club, 67 Pall Mall, for being a pioneer of the virtual tasting. Almost from the beginning of the spring lockdown, the St James’s club was hosting online events, perfecting the method of getting samples (everything from first growth Bordeaux to the finest Napa wines) to customers worldwide. Since then the club has hosted over 600 events and sent out 7,000 sample packs, and has also launched a TV channel. As director of wine Ronan Sayburn MS said, “We found a way to bring the world’s greatest wines and winemakers into the living rooms of the wine-loving public.”

My work championing diversity and inclusion in the whisky industry will continue next year and beyond

Two other major awards were announced – Wine Communicator of the Year and Spirits Communicator of the Year. These long-standing awards are given to individuals who go above and beyond to share their skills and knowledge with a wider audience. And this year – as Joel Harrison said, “Those skills have been under the spotlight like never before.”

Spirits Communicator of the Year went to Becky Paskin, whisky journalist, presenter, consultant and Keeper of the Quaich. Paskin was one of a formidable shortlist – rum consultant Ian Burrell, spirits commentator Neil Ridley, whisky ambassador Billy Abbott and the Three Drinkers broadcast trio.

Paskin (who followed Hunt’s lead by filming herself against a background of fine patterned wallpaper) said she was “humbled” by the award. She considered as recognition for “my work championing diversity and inclusion in the whisky industry, and that work will continue next year and beyond.”

Becky Paskin and Elaine Chukan Brown are the IWSC Spirits Communicator and IWSC Wine Communicator of the Year

The final award of the evening went to Elaine Chukan Brown, a prolific California-based wine commentator who writes for and Wine & Spirits Magazine, as well as Decanter, World of Fine Wine and the Robb Report. Chukan Brown competed against a shortlist every bit as daunting as Paskin’s – writers and critics Anne Krebiehl MW and Nina Caplan, and star sommelier Melissa Monosoff MS.

“This is an incredible honour,” she said from her garden in Sonoma. ”As an indigenous woman from Alaska, to be recognised internationally is an even greater honour. May my work be of service to the wine industry.” Both writers will contribute regular articles to Club Oenologique over the coming year as part of their award.

Watch the IWSC Awards Ceremony 2020 here: