Wine’s drive for diversity hits the big time

A glitzy dinner in London held for the inaugural Golden Vines Awards attracted some big names in support of expanding the wine world’s reach – but once the stardust settles, can the momentum last?

Words by Guy Woodward

kylie minogue performing at the golden vines awards
Kylie Minogue performed at the Golden Vines Awards held at Annabel's in London's Mayfair

A total of £1.2m was raised in support of the Gérard Basset Foundation to fund diversity and inclusion-related wine education programmes at the inaugural Golden Vines Awards in London last week (Thursday 7 October).

At a star-studded dinner at Mayfair’s private members’ club Annabel’s, the Golden Vines Awards recognised the ‘star performers of the fine wine industry’, while raising funds for the late wine stalwart’s foundation through an auction of high-end wine experiences. The event also saw the announcement of the inaugural winners of the headline Taylor’s Port Golden Vines Diversity Scholarships, worth £55,000 each for two BAME/BIPOC students studying for the Master of Wine or Master Sommelier programmes.

A total of 42 aspiring Black and ethnic minority students from 23 countries wishing to undertake the Masters of Wine (MW) and Master Sommelier (MS) programmes applied for the two scholarships covering course and examination costs, as well as loss of earnings during work placement internships organised with some of the world’s top wine domaines. The judging panel comprised Basset’s widow Nina, Rajat Parr (Sandhi Wines), Carlton McCoy MS (Heitz Cellar), Clement Robert MS (The Birley Clubs/Annabel’s) and lead judge Jancis Robinson MW.

Golden Vines scholarship winners Erna Blancquaert and Angela Elizabeth Scott
Angela Elizabeth Scott and Dr Erna Blancquaert, the two recipients of the 2021 Golden Vines Diversity Scholarships

The 2021 scholarships were awarded to Angela Elizabeth Scott from the USA and Dr Erna Blancquaert from South Africa. Scott gave up her job as a human rights lawyer to relocate to Napa while studying for the Wine & Spirits Education Trust Diploma. After working as a tasting coordinator for wine critic Karen MacNeil, and at Spottswoode Winery as hospitality manager, Scott moved to the Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand in support of her soon-to-be winemaker husband; there she began studying for the MW.

‘Receiving The Golden Vines Diversity Scholarship, Internship and Mentorship programme means that I will be able to connect with key figures and gain experience to which I would otherwise lack access. I hope to help others do the same,’ she said.

Dr Erna Blancquaert, a lecturer and researcher in viticulture at the Department of Viticulture & Oenology and the South African Grape & Wine Research Institute at Stellenbosch University, holds three degrees from Stellenbosch, including a PhD in Viticulture. She was the first BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) female to obtain a PhD in Viticulture on the African continent.

‘I am honoured and humbled. This Golden Vines Diversity Scholarship will enable me to expand my knowledge on the entire wine value chain, implement it in my teaching, and address global Vitiviniculture problems through my research,’ she said.

jancis robinson attending the Golden Vines awards
Jancis Robinson MW led the judging panel for the Taylor’s Port Golden Vines Diversity Scholarships

Speaking about the two winners, Robinson said: ‘The wine world is incredibly lucky to have Angela Scott, who sold her house to pay for the MW course. Where will she go next?! And as the first wine academic of colour there, Erna Blancquaert could provide inspiration for more than 50 million South Africans.’

Commenting on the night overall, Nina Basset, who set up the foundation, said: ‘When Gérard arrived in England in the ’70s as an immigrant, he was very much an underdog, in the minority, and with no qualifications. He would certainly have approved of this initiative – and been amazed at the support it’s received. It’s heartwarming to see, and is a wonderful way of keeping his legacy and helping other people.

We hope it gives a nudge to a wine world that maybe needs to start a new chapter

‘Mentoring and nurturing was integral to Gérard’s career, and we hope it gives a nudge to a wine world that maybe needs it, to start a new chapter. The wine world has always been rather conservative, but when people see the merits and benefits of new people coming into their world and the changes that can be made, we hope they will embrace it.’

tahira habibi at the golden vines wine awards
Sommelier and founder of Hue Society Tahiirah Habibi was in attendance at the awards

Winemaker Egon Müller was one of those present to highlight such benefits: ‘We wanted to be involved because it looks like it might become something meaningful,’ he said. ‘It’s not just about politics – diversity aids creativity. Look at art – it would be boring if all art was created by white, French artists. Initiatives like this can help promote wine as a vocation to people who might otherwise not consider it.’

Mathieu Jullien of Châteaux Cheval Blanc and d’Yquem agreed: ‘Diversity is not just good politically and socially. It’s good for creativity. If everyone is feeding in ideas from the same background and the same perspective, those ideas are likely to be the same. But if we have more diverse sources, we have a more fertile breeding ground – more biodiversity, if you like; it’s not just in the soil that we need that.’

Likewise, Frederic Panaïotis of Ruinart Champagne said: ‘Champagne is a universal drink, but our make-up is not universal. We could do better – we need to be more open-minded.’

Egon Muller at the Golden Vines awards
'Diversity aids creativity': winemaker Egon Müller

The auction, which ran online before concluding on the night, was aimed squarely at the world’s most affluent wine and spirit collectors. Hosted by Christie’s, the most popular lot was an 18l Melchior of 2011 Liber Pater plus tour and lunch at the Graves estate, which went for £90,000: other top lots included a magnum of 2018 TBA from Egon Müller plus a VIP tour and lunch with the German winemaker at the estate for eight guests, with the promise of legendary wines and smoking cigars ‘until late’ (£48,500); 3L of Louis Roederer’s Cristal Orfevre clad in 24 carat gold latticework plus a VIP tour of the house and lunch for six hosted by Frédéric Rouzaud in his private residence (£30,000); a magnum of Sassicaia 1985, 3L of Sassicaia 2009 plus a VIP tour, tasting and lunch at the estate for six, hosted by Priscilla Incisa della Rocchetta (£30,000); and 3l of 2006 Cheval Blanc plus an overnight stay, tasting and dinner at the château for 10 guests (£25,000).

ronan keating and boris becker at the golden vines awards
natalie imbruglia and tamara beckwith at the golden vines awards
Stars in attendance at the glitzy event included Ronan Keating and Boris Becker (left) and Natalie Imbruglia and Tamara Beckwith (above)

Meanwhile, the winners of the 2021 Golden Vines Awards, as voted for by 442 fine wine professionals from 55 countries, including 57 Masters of Wine and 31 Master Sommeliers, each received a trophy in the shape of a giant Champagne cork produced by Amorim Cork and silversmith Grant MacDonald, in a presentation case made by Tonnellerie Cavin. They included:

  • The SGC Golden Vines Best Fine Wine Producer in Europe Award: Weingut Egon Müller, Mosel Valley, Germany
  • The Gucci Golden Vines Best Fine Wine Producer in the Americas Award: Ridge Vineyards, Santa Cruz Mountains, California
  • The VistaJet Golden Vines Best Fine Wine Producer in the Rest of the World Award: Penfolds, South Australia
  • The Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Golden Vines World’s Best Fine Wine Producer Award: Domaine de la Romanée Conti, Burgundy, France
  • The Virgin Galactic Golden Vines World’s Best Rising Star Award: Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux, Burgundy, France
  • The Julius Baer Golden Vines Innovation Award: Coravin, US
  • The Macallan Golden Vines Hall of Fame Award: Aubert de Villaine, Burgundy, France
kylie minogue and nina basset at the golden vines awards
Kylie Minogue with Nina Basset: as well as performing on the night, Minogue received a Special Wine Entrepreneurship Award

Guests on the night were treated to a five-course dinner cooked by chef Mauro Colagreco of French restaurant Mirazur, and such wines as Dom Pérignon P2 2003, Egon Müller Scharzhofberger Alte Reben Kabinett 2015, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Grands-Echezeaux 2005 and Château d’Yquem 1988. For entertainment, Kylie Minogue – herself an award-winner on the night, via the Special Wine Entrepreneurship Award for her best selling rosé – topped the bill, along with world-renowned The Kingdom Choir.

Basset said the aim was to make the occasion an annual event, and they were already looking at Florence for the 2022 location. ‘By drawing the big names of wine to this sort of event, it shines a light on the issue,’ she said. ‘By giving a voice to diversity and inclusivity, we could change the face of the world of wine – and that would be really exciting.’