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Mike Bennie - #002

Mike Bennie is one of the most influential wine-writers in the world today. Co-founder of Rootstock Sydney.
Alumni of Len Evans Tutorial.
Wine writer Gourmet Traveller, Virgin magazine, The Sun Herald, Delicious magazine plus many more  
Editor at Winefront
Co-owner of P & V Wine Cellars in Newtown
Co-founder of Brian Wine

DRINKEASY website here for results and entries 

Insta @mikerism101

 

Right click here to and Save As to download this episode to your computer

LINKS

P&V Wine & Liquor Merchants
Newtown Sydney
Rootstock Sydney
Drink Easy Awards
Tamra Petruzzelli
Duncan Welgemoed
Adelaide Review Hot 100
James Esrkine
South Australia Museum
South Australian Botanicals
Africola
Taras Ochota
AWAC
Top Ten Lists
Broadsheet
Sober OctoBERT
Dry July
Feb Fast
Tim Malfroy
Wildflower Brewery
Liam Pereira
Stephanie Dutton
Mickey Downer

Samara Philter
Tyrells-  Chris Tyrell
Jordy Kay
James Hird

Giorgio
Rootstock

 

Transcript: 

Please note, this has not been checked for accuracy.

Mike:
When you or I go to a barbecue at a house, and somebody cracks a beer for you as you walk through the door, and then you have a glass of rose with your snags, and then the next thing you know you're going, "Oh, I'm sort of feeling itchy for a gin and tonic," and you finish off by opening up something special like a Tasmanian whisky, or an artisan beer from a rare small batch production, or a crazy wild style wine. You're not drinking in isolation; you're drinking across an array of beverages in the same way that you eat a salad next to a protein-

Ben:
Hello, and welcome to episode two of Real Wine People. My name is Ben, and my guest today is Mike Bennie, a wine writer for Gourmet Traveler, also Wine Front, Sun Herald, The Virgin Magazine, and many others. He started the Rootstock Sustainable Wine Festival and also is one of the owners of P&V Wine Merchants in Newtown. He makes wines in Tasmania under the label Brian, and is a champion and a good friend of mine.

Ben:
Today, we're mostly talking about Drink Easy, the new awards that Mikey's put together. This man never stops. We recorded this back in, I think it was late July. Some changes have happened with the dates of Drink Easy, so now all awards will be happening down at Mona in Tasmania, and you have until the 27th of September to enter. You can enter at drinkeasy.com.au, or you can head to our website, realwinepeople.com. There in the show notes we have all the links you need to enter. Please enjoy this conversation with Mike Bennie. [crosstalk 00:01:57] No, that was yesterday's coffee. Alex said you [crosstalk 00:02:04]-

Mike:
To put cold ice cubes and milk in it.

Ben:
It's nice to see you again.

Mike:
Hi, Ben.

Ben:
Hi. A bit sketchy from last night.

Mike:
Are you?

Ben:
Yeah. I think a bit flu-ey and tired.

Mike:
Yeah. [crosstalk 00:02:15] same. You started recording yet?

Ben:
Yeah, but just so we can whatever, fade in whenever we want.

Mike:
[crosstalk 00:02:22] First of all, professionals that do this. Hi, this is Mike Bennie. I'm a wine and drinks journalist based in Sydney Australia. I am co-founder and co-owner of the landmark business that is P&V Wine [inaudible 00:02:40] merchants in Newtown Sydney, a retailer that specializes in natural wine, craft spirits, and artisan beers with education as a foundation stone. Outside of that, you'd have found me at Rootstock Sydney, the natural wine and sustainability focused festival, and a litany of other things that we'll discuss.

Ben:
Nice, and also Drink Easy Awards, which are coming up.

Mike:
Yeah. Look, Drink Easy Awards is the new thing on my agenda, and this was brought to life by Tamrah Petruzzelli and Duncan Welgemoed of Adelaide. Tamrah is a marketing and media expert and was formerly in charge of, and the developer of the Adelaide Review Hot 100 Awards, which were pretty seismic in the scheme of things, and evolved by the wonderful James [Urscan 00:03:36] of [Yaoma 00:03:37] Wines of the Adelaide hills. He flipped the judging when he was given the reigns as the chief judge to focus on drinkability over technical prowess of wines, and then brought together a very disparate but cohesive unit of judges that looked very different to what convention wine shows offered in terms of their judging regiment, and then also wove into that program, cultural educational seminars that often underpin what we were doing in the judging.

Ben:
Those seminars were happening at the same time?

Mike:
There was music happening during the actual judging. There was lunches that meant everyone had to [inaudible 00:04:20] and listen to a speaker who was often a farmer, or a grocer of organic product, or a cheese maker, or chocolatier, and then a chef would come in and cook a lunch for everybody, using local produce often sourced from the Adelaide central markets. Then after the judging, everyone was required to participate in cultural tours and programs, which ran from an evening in the South Australian museum with a paleontologist discussing prehistoric life in South Australia, through to a tour of native botanicals and plants in the botanical gardens. It was a wonderful thing that Tamrah brought to life, and that James evolved. Tamrah's been a linchpin in these Drink Easy Awards. Then Duncan obviously is a dynamic advocate of change in the food and wine industry in Australia. Although, a lot of people are scratching their heads as to what's a chef doing in the mix of things.

Ben:
[crosstalk 00:05:22] This is Duncan from Africola?

Mike:
Africola. Yep. In South Australia, Africola restaurant, head chef and co-owner. I always think to myself, "Gosh, I really don't like when people question why somebody from a different field is involved in what seems like a non-simpatico field. Duncan has worked as an assistant wine maker for [inaudible 00:05:46] as recently as this harvest. He's deeply invested in wine and drinks as part of his idiom of what he does in his restaurant, and is a very learned person in terms of the drinks world. Despite all that, I mean, drinks is part of culture. More importantly, and we can probably talk about this later on, but drinks for me, is food.

Ben:
I agree.

Mike:
It's inherently linked to agricultural practice, and process and providence of all drinks is as important as anything in a pantry, or in a kitchen in a restaurant. Anyway, Tamrah, Duncan, and myself got together and created the Drink Easy Awards. To backtrack on my history with that, I was very fortunate to do about 10 years worth of judging for the Australian wine show system, international judging under the different banners of the OAV system in Europe, and then also quite a lot of experience in beer and spirits show judging as well. All this formed a pretty solid opinion of how the world of technocratic judging felt to me, notwithstanding that it has been a very important part orf evolving the Australian drink scene for better.

Mike:
I think that it hit a stagnant period, and so I scratched out a five point plan and went into various agricultural societies, and lobbied various chief wine show judges, to perhaps have a look at this five point plan on how to modernize the Australian show judging scene. Unfortunately, none of that was taken on board, or maybe some was, but the structural imposition of tradition and also the reluctance to move away from more technocratic judging, meant that it largely fell on deaf ears.I simmered on that a bit, and as a lot of great ideas happen in random circumstance, stumbled upon Duncan and Tamrah one night, summer in South Australia, and said, "Look. Here's my rough five point plan that no one's listening to, and Tamrah, you've got this amazing experience in the Adelaide Review Hot 100, and Duncan, you're a dynamo who knows how to affect change." Duncan immediately listened to my five point plan. That five point plan effectively involved-

Ben:
Yeah, I was going to ask that.

Mike:
Yeah. The Drink Easy Awards are founded on these principles, and that is a better and more egalitarian looking pool of judges, a positive approach to judging, which is based on a matrix of complexity, personality, and diversity.

Ben:
As opposed to-

Mike:
As opposed to-

Ben:
Currently looking for faults.

Mike:
Yeah, exactly. As opposed to punitively awarding excellence to wines, through pulling apart why they're wrong first, and then building up a score around that. Most wine show judging is about finding fault first and then finding best second. Although, there is a mantra in the current wine show schism that says that's not the truth, that we're looking for better wines, and we've moved past improving the breed, and it's all about excellence.

Mike:
Technocratic judging, from the foundation stones of university based learning, and from things like the [AWAC 00:09:05], which has been very important in teaching people how to taste wine, people in Australia are almost regimented in their approach, to the way they approach wine, by looking to punish first, by memorizing those defaults and then looking to the wine. There's no sense in that, because the general public doesn't operate that way. Wines of some benign flaw can be the most personality imbued of all. The grand irony of all that is that at night times when the judges get together after they've finished their day of judging, out come first growth Bordeaux, which often have [Britannia 00:09:38] [inaudible 00:09:38] taint or exquisite Barolo wines that have a sense of volatility.

Ben:
[inaudible 00:09:45] start with fino sherry which is just riddled with aldehyde.

Mike:
Yeah. Oxidized and aldehydic, that's right. It's interesting, because then during the day, those wines of a similar [inaudible 00:09:56] are being punished. It's like who can run the flag pole up first for finding the [micrometal 00:10:00] level of fault in a wine. It's just this incredible binary approach. Anyway, the foundation stones of Drink Easy Awards were a better judging pool, more ... For me, a better judging pool is using gate keepers. Technical judges are great. They know how to pull apart drinks, but gatekeepers know the marketplace, and talk to consumers, and are okay when a wine is hazy, or cloudy. They understand the inherent personality of wines that are done well in that idiom. They understand white wines that have phenolic structure or have had skin contact, where in wine shows, technically phenolics are a fault of they're overt. They understand benign oxidation and wine making processes, and a diversity of wine styles that actually don't even meet the judging pool, because people just don't enter them.

Mike:
We wanted better judges. There are great technical judges out there. We wanted ones who were actual gatekeepers in market who could then be advocates for whatever they had chosen during the judging process. We wanted to have a judging that operated on a different, as I said, schism, that was about personality, complexity, and diversity of drinks. That forms a matrix around a round table. I wanted to have an abolishment of metals and scores. Scores, I work with in a couple of different formats, and I feel comfortable with them. They're a nice but fleeting way of quickly giving people a bit of information about a wine, but always notes are more evocative. The idea that we would create an awards that solely relied on top 10 lists, was really important to me.

Mike:
This is how people digest a lot of information in the general public. People love media that gives the bite sized chunks and lists are very handy. Metals, by and large, find a redundancy because there's a proliferation of wine shows that award them. It's confusing, then meaningless in a way. Why would you buy a silver of a bronze when you can opt for a gold? Sure, silver and bronze are signifiers of something, but they're bested by another element in the judging process, the gold and the trophies. They don't tell you necessarily much detail about where, or how, or why. A top 10 list with notes, and that comes another point, was much more sensible and much more current in terms of its relevance. Also add in the other pillar in this, is that whenever I went and saw the wine show judging final night, where the award winners are announced, and you're handed a [inaudible 00:12:41] sheet of paper or even a nicely printed booklet, when the award show finishes they, by and large, go in the recycling and you wait another year before anything sort of even discussed about those awards or who has done well.

Mike:
For me, one of the other things I went into the agricultural side, is where there was, and the large scale award shows, was why is there no permanent resource? We have the internet; we can publish these results. Sure, the agricultural societies do have websites, but they're often buried beneath the front page of a website for an agricultural society, or even if they're on the wine show website, they just don't look attractive to a consumer to go and approach. My next thing was that we had to have a permanent resource online for the awards, so people can check on what's good and be able to search via a matrix of things that appeal to them.

Ben:
Would that be just the top 10 lists or you'll have notes for everything that you've judged?

Mike:
We have notes for everything that we've judged.

Ben:
Great.

Mike:
That was the other thing. This is where it starts to get quite complex, the Drink Easy Awards, but it's not because it's inherently sensible. If you're a wine professional and you go to a wine tasting in which you taste 30 or 40 wines, be it in an open round table format where a wholesaler or a wine maker is showing off wines, or if you got to a master class, you're taking notes. That's what wine professionals do. They jot down notes, and often they're quite good notes. Often, those notes are a good reminder for when they go back to their workplace and need to make a decision about a wine, be it to put on the list or not put on the list, or to check as a references point from a previous vintage, or whatever it might be. People have a lot of books that they've written in, or laptops with rudimentary data bases that record this information. They write notes.

Mike:
Most wine shows that I've been at, when I was asked to give, exhibit a feedback, I'd look at my notes. I write pretty big notes because my job is about writing, so I feel comfortable. I can read a three or four line, two or three sentence note back to somebody about their wine. I looked at some of the other judges, particularly some of the wine makers who just write something like, "No good. Dry finish," or, "High acid. Undrinkable." I began to feel like if I was a producer paying circa $100 per entry for this awards, and was then told that I got 15 points, 0.5 or a point less than a bronze metal, and it just said, "Good fruit, okay length, nice drink," that's not quite good enough to explain to me why my wine didn't get a metal, or whatever it might be. I just think that we deserve to give a return on investment to producers, that is more coherent and more fair for their investment into whatever awards they're entering into. Everyone can write notes.

Mike:
With that in mind, we decided that we would provide every single exhibitor at the Drink Easy Awards, with either a note that is a reusable third party endorsement, so they can put that on their website, "Drink Easy Awards 2019 said about my beer," and then three sentences, two sentences, something that actually reads like a note about that product. If it was a product that was below the line of recommendation, that that actually have a coherent note as to why, some value system that they can apply as constructive criticism for the future. In that, we decided all producers get notes. Duncan Welgemoed was very clever in this, as he is inherently.

Mike:
I was parleying, "We need a website or something," and he said, "Well, we should partner with a media outlet like Broadsheet. Broadsheet has 2.5 million views per month, or something along those lines. I suddenly just went, "That's amazing. Yeah. We need to really give a return on investment for producers and exhibitors entering these awards, by giving them a permanent resource somewhere relevant, that people are constantly in contact with for recommendation for a variety of things, be it travel tips, restaurants, bars, new wine bars, new cultural edifice. Broadsheet was remarkable because we didn't really have a plan B at that stage. We needed people who knew how to handle lists and high volumes of data, and they just said, "Yes, we'd love to partner with this." They got it straightaway.

Ben:
Great.

Mike:
We have a permanent resource for all of our results.

Ben:
That will be hosted on Drink Easy site or through Broadsheet?

Mike:
Both.

Ben:
Both.

Mike:
Broadsheet will publish the best of lists, the top of the tops, where Drink Easy Awards will have a much more complicated website, which will break down to my [inaudible 00:17:05] lists that are relevant to how people search online. All of our categories for wine and beer, are style categories.

Ben:
Right. Yeah, I was going to say that. Instead of Shiraz, which can be rose, through to heavy oak stuff, through to light carbonic, you're saying we're going to go easy drinking-

Mike:
Effectively, yeah. There's three layers. There's light and refreshing whites, light and refreshing reds, medium bodied and savory whites, medium bodied and savory reds, whites of power and presence, reds of power and presence, and that way we feel we're speaking the language of consumers. Not just that, but with wine shows, the technical wine shows of Australia, clique mentality and judging becomes inherent. Style judging, even though a lot of the head judges and a lot of the more experienced judges say, "No, no. We're technical judges; we're not style judges," or we include style judges to balance out the technical judges, but in the end you see a kind of group mentality towards how some wine should look. If you look at a lot of recent results, things like full of flavor red wines are often maligned in leu of light to medium bodied, satiny textured, savory red wines, but in the marketplace that's not necessarily how everyone's drinking.

Mike:
We felt the Drink Easy Awards could far better represent the breadth of drinking by saying to people who like full flavored, powerful concentrated red wines, that there is a list for you that will tell you what the best ones of that ilk are. Instead of saying, "Right, the best Shiraz in Australia is medium bodied, spicy, and savory," we're saying, "That's cool. We've got an award for that. We've also got an award for the fuller flavored stuff. We've got an award for the stuff that falls underneath a a couple of grades up the evolutionary scale from rose," which is much more in line with say, a kind of avant garde wine marker's approach to wine making. We have an avenue for avant garde through to classic wine making, and lists for all those wines that sit in between. That was really important, was to change the way results looked as well. Again, that return on investment for producers was very, very important.

Mike:
Another paradigm in all of this was that again, we wanted to educate our judges. We're rolling out a cultural program not only for when we're judging, but we want to keep the awards alive over the lifespan of a year. Most wine show, drink shows, finish the minute the results are read. There might be a consumer tasting following, but we want to do events throughout the year, so that these producers are continually brought to life, that Drink Easy has a perpetual presence in market, that it's doing interesting and dynamic things with drink, but also importantly, and again this is where Duncan comes in, with food. We are aligning ourselves with an experience as well as the judging, to keep things in perpetual motion.

Ben:
The awards aren't ... They're state by state based? Is that how it's working?

Mike:
At present, we will be breaking down results into state by state base. We'll have a national list of drink, best wine, best beer, best spirits, and I'll talk about this in a moment but best non-alcoholic products as well, which is incredibly important. Then we'll also have state based results, but judging at this stage, is taking place in Sydney for Queensland, New South Wales and ACT. We've been incredibly lucky and fortunate to have allies in Tasmania, who work within food and beverage at Mona, so we'll be doing our judging and our cultural experiences in Tasmania for Victoria and Tasmania. South Australia will have its own awards and West Australia will have its own awards, in terms of judging. We then have a national event which will happen in Melbourne, following all the judging that'll announce the best of best lists, which will be a gala event that brings together a lot of these producers, with food, and ceremony, and a very light on level of speech making, because most people find that irritating in a way.

Mike:
The Drink Easy Awards is shaping up as this very, and I don't like using this word; it just feels so cool washed in media, but it's a disruptive award. It also has foundation stones based on my, what I would call relatively deep experience within the Australian wine, beer, and spirits show judging arenas, or at least as an observer and participant as a former chief judge of wine shows. I just felt that these things were great and had their place, but needed to be evolved. That's the body of work that Drink Easy will be moving towards. The thing for me that I think is really, really exciting in and amongst all this, is also the inclusion of the non-alcoholic category. It's amazing because we opened the entries about a week and a half ago, or two weeks ago. The highest volume of early entrance and exhibitors was from the non-alcoholic drinks world.

Ben:
Really?

Mike:
We're looking at things like kombuchas, shrubs, cordials, soft drinks, this kind of grouping of-

Ben:
I guess there hasn't been an award for that-

Mike:
Ever.

Ben:
No, okay. Yeah.

Mike:
This is a thing. If you look at the proliferation of things, like I know it's from the United Kingdom and our focus in on Australia, but Seedlip, the non-alcoholic spirit, which has gone from being made in a bathtub, let's say, to being a container a month to Australia, or whatever it is, this great, incredible surge and interest in this product. There's products like this being made in Australia, and they're just not getting enough limelight. I guess philosophically for me, while the whole motif of my lifework now, now I have a slightly greater presence in market than my past when I worked in wine retail as a full-time job, is that I can work to try and effect change.

Mike:
For me, sustainability is, and again there's a glossy word from marketing land, but for me sustainability is environmental, of course importantly, but also social and cultural and economic. Socially and culturally, and although I am guilty of vile alcohol abuses against my body at times, drinking better but less is an increasing motif in our landscape, for people who are inclined to be thinking consciously about how they're consuming things. More products that are non-alcoholic, that give people a proper option instead of drinking a lemon-lime and bitters in a pub, or soda water, and making people feel engaged with complex and delicious drinks that contain no alcohol, is an increasingly important thing.

Mike:
Then you look at the grand success of sober months, these fundraising months, [Ocsober 00:24:20], dry July, and Feb-fast. Although it's a bit of a hit to our kindred friends in the booze production industry, these alternatives are providing a valid way of people having a good time out at night, while feeling better the next day, and helping people go through that period, and re-think, and re-jig the way they approach their consumption of alcohol. That category, and there are non-alcoholic spirits, and there's non-alcoholic beers, has been a very early adopter of Drink Easy. Probably the most heartwarming thing is the number of messages we've gotten alongside the entries that said, "Thank you so much for thinking of us. We exist in the same sphere as beer, wine, and spirits, but everyone ignores us."

Ben:
Wow, that's great.

Mike:
"Thank you for including us. Thank you for making us feel valid. This is just amazing." It's a real spine-tingling feel, to have again, the sustenance of eliciting some change, and bringing all these streams together as well. Wine shows operate in isolation, beer shows operate in isolation, spirit shows operate in isolation, and in some respects all of them are judged in different style genres. The beers shows have style guides. I fondly recall the first time I judged a beer show, and picking up a beer going, "This beer is just fantastic. It's complex, it's highly drinkable, it's interesting, it's not overtly one way or other, showing off in a overt style, but it's complex, and detailed, and wonderful." To be told by the senior judges around the table, "Well, it's not in the style guide book we've got here. See here? It's not in the book. It effectively gets a zero." I thought to myself, "Gosh, that level of cruelty is really not very encouraging for producers [inaudible 00:26:04] or don't know, or cottage industry producers who are trying to get ahead and don't understand"-

Ben:
Or trying to do something different that's just not, doesn't fit into the box that, as you know, has been put before the judges.

Mike:
100%.

Ben:
Yeah.

Mike:
Bringing all of this together and operating under the same banner of judging, creates a relatively level playing field for results. More importantly, when you or I go to a barbecue at a house, and somebody cracks a beer for you as you walk through the door, and then you have a glass of rose with your snags, and then the next thing you know, you're going, "Oh, I'm sort of feeling itchy for a gin and tonic," and then you finish off my opening up something special like a Tasmanian whiskey, or a artisan beer from a rare small batch production, or a crazy wild style wine, you're not drinking in isolation. You're drinking across an array of beverages in the same way that you eat a salad next to a protein, next to a fruit bowl that you have afterwards. It's just so weird that we put drinks on singular train tracks, then ask people to think in isolation about these things. Again, Drink Easy was about bringing all this together and giving people lists of stuff that bear relevance to the way they live, eat, drink, and breathe in their own cultural landscape. For me, I just increasingly see the need to bring it all together.

Ben:
That's great.

Mike:
Get off those singular train tracks.

Ben:
Did you mention all five of the points?

Mike:
I reckon I got across about nine of them by telling you I had five.

Ben:
Right. Okay, that's great. What are the categories then for beer, and spirits, and non-alcoholic?

Mike:
The categories for beer are very different looking. The categories for spirits, we can start off with that, because that's quite simple. The categories for spirits look very much like all spirits categories. We're just about to have a little bit of rethink. We're moving on the fly a little bit as well. I spoke to some sprits producers, and because we have categories that quite simply look like rum, whiskey, gin, et cetera, there's been a concern that the way that the Australian Spirits Association works with those sorts of categories is quite regimented in terms of that you have to have minimum two years aging to be able to call something a whiskey, et cetera, et cetera with rum. We began to realize that we probably had to be a bit more prescriptive with how that works, so that younger spirits can fall under those categories in some way that's meaningful.

Ben:
Sure, so something like what? Brandy has to be two years in barrels? What you're saying is someone who's making a great spirit that is not necessarily two years in barrel, would still fall into a category which would have brandy with it?

Mike:
That's right. Things like a non-matured whiskey would have a place at the table with a matured whiskey. That was an interesting thing to work through. We also got to a point where we had to think through things that we hadn't dreamed up, which obviously people who are very clever in the market, have dreamed up. Part of that has been things like mead. For me, I did imagine mead would be entered into the show. I hadn't ignored it, but I did think that ... I didn't think we'd have as much entries from the mead world.

Ben:
You have?

Mike:
We have had-

Ben:
Really?

Mike:
Many inquiries from the mead world popping up from left, right, and center. We're now beginning to feel a little bit like, "Oh, okay. Where does mead fit?" We need now, a specialist mead judge.

Ben:
Right.

Mike:
A specialist mead offering.

Ben:
Do you think [Malfroy 00:30:09] be good at that?

Mike:
Yeah, Malfroy would be. He's got a mate who's up in the hills of the Blue Mountains, who actually has been going around the world, learning how to make mead as part of a scholarship. We've got a couple of judges who are in the wings.

Ben:
Simon made a ... Sorry, Simon who works with me, worked with Tim and we do natural beekeeping. Excuse me. He made a mead [pet nat 00:30:34] this year, so maybe we'll send that in.

Mike:
Yeah, you should. I've seen mead pet nat from Adam ... His last name is a mystery to me sometimes, but Adam who works with Tim Malfroy, the great natural beekeeper. From Malfroy's gold, he's made several pet nat meads. Very young meads is what they are, and he's made some very mature meads as well, which are quite exquisite. Then we also had other things. We had people from say, the non-alcoholic category, but it's not, saying, "Look, I've made a kombucha that's alcoholic." All of a sudden we're thinking to ourselves, "All right. Where does that fit?"

Mike:
The prevalence and rise of say, things like coolers, where does that fit? Some of these things have to be thought of on the fly. It's great to have Liam [Pereira 00:31:16], who's chief judge of beer, the guy overseeing all of the beer judges, because he sat down one day with Topher from Wildflower, the great wild ferment brewery in Marrickville, Sydney. I had quite cursorily put together a list of general regular styles of beer, and had finessed the wine categories into these style things and thought, "I'll simplify beer into just mainstream styles, and then add in a couple things for the hybrids and wild ferment stuff, and then pull apart the style guides and say, "We're not going to use them, but we're going to have lager, pale ale, et cetera."

Mike:
Liam, this is why we hire great people, sat down with Topher and came up with a bit of diversity. This is generated by Liam's interest in aligning with our wine program. Liam came to me and said, "Look, I've had a powwow with my mates, and this has come from me, but how about crispy ale, crispy lager, dark and/or malt driven styles, ester driven, so things for heifer and saison, fruit and hybrid beers, so any color, it can be an XPA, an IPA, and then [inaudible 00:32:36] and wild ferment? Liam's given us this incredible overlay of what we're doing in wine, but in beer, so beer's going to look totally different by the time we judge it.

Ben:
That's great.

Mike:
Yeah. Again, it parleys into this sense of the changing landscape of how people approach drinking. It felt immediately important. I had a 30 second phone call with Liam and I just went, "Yep. Wow. You're amazing. Thanks. I'm going to call up our web guys, because we're going to change the way those categories look now." That's awesome. As I said, I've now got to have a rethink about how we word spirits. We've got, obviously, a couple of months to be able to take applications in. We're learning with people who are exhibiting as well as we don't want it to be static. It will be once we come to judging. Of course, we'll have laid down the foundations for each category distinctly, but it's nice to be able to reword things so that it bears more relevance to a drinking market. Of course then, ongoing, fine tuning if needs be, but we hope that this will be, as I said, the foundation stone or bedrock for future judging through these categories that read differently.

Ben:
The categories will evolve as well, and you need to grow with that. Kombucha, where was that 10 years ago?

Mike:
That's right.

Ben:
That's great. When's the first judging happening?

Mike:
The first judging is happening in the last week of August.

Ben:
Cool.

Mike:
Then we roll into the first week of September. Then there's about a month long hiatus, and then we come back and do two more sets of judging, and then finish up sort of about a couple of weeks out from the final announcement night, which is the first/second week of November. We roll around the country for a couple weeks and then take a month off, and then roll around for a couple more weeks, and then have the final night. The ability to enter stuff into the awards still has another month of so, at least to finalize entries. Excuse me. It's two months. [crosstalk 00:34:44] mathematical prowess, or my diarizing is pretty poor as well.

Ben:
There's a lot to diarize, mate. I think I'll probably put this out in about four weeks or so, once I work out how to do it. Then you've got a month probably, from now.

Mike:
Whoa. Rallying cry.

Ben:
There you go. Great. Anything else about Drink Easy we need to run through?

Mike:
No. I think that covers it. I think we're just looking ... The thing that I, the mantra for me, and this puts some perspective on things, but for me, this is from tailors to [taris 00:35:22], as I like to say. People like Stephanie Dutton from Penfolds will be judging in South Australia.

Ben:
Great.

Mike:
We'll have a large array of people that work as professionals in the industry, but there was, I think some community question marks over, because of my proclivity for things like Rootstock Sydney, because of P&V wine and liquor merchants in Newtown's bent towards natural wine, craft spirit, and artisan beer, because of what the industry believes I stand for, and I do stand for. Sustainability, as I said, underpins a lot of what I do, and being able to affect change for the betterment of the industry through better providence and better process in production of drinks, is very, very important to me. I felt that these awards needed to be, as I said very early on, egalitarian, that this is about an awards for everybody.

Mike:
It doesn't have to be just for the artisans. It's not an award just to celebrate a narrow bandwidth. They're engineered so that can't be the way it works. These are awards that are judged by gatekeepers who operate in the consumer landscape. As I said, Steph Dutton comes on from Penfolds at the same time as [Tara Zacoda's 00:36:37] judging, at the same time as Mickey Downer from Murdoch Hill, at the same time as a whole array of people who work in beer, judging. We've got people like [Somara Foos 00:36:48] from Filter. She is an archetype, very highly regarded beer judge in classic beer judging circles, [inaudible 00:36:56] shows, panel chair, et cetera.

Mike:
She'll be judging alongside people who are much more small scale and experimental brewers. There's just not one kind of bent towards this judging. It is trying to get what is in the market, judge it well with fairness, and celebrate it. Judge in itself is almost a pejority of term, because you are looking to ... We are looking to have an opinion on these things, but we want to try and celebrate and elevate drinks rather than [crosstalk 00:37:29] yeah. Judge is the easiest way of saying that. I'm not trying to be fancy about it. We are looking to apply an overlay of critique to what is in front of us, but in reality what we're trying to find is the best stuff and put that on a pedestal, and rank it from one to 10 in its various categories.

Ben:
Have you had a wide range of producers enter from all-

Mike:
Absolutely.

Ben:
Great.

Mike:
Yeah. Early entries have been from people like [Tearal's 00:37:55], which is wonderful because Chris Tearal is a friend and he is also somebody I admire greatly for the way he thinks about wine. I think he's very progressively evolved the very traditional Tearal's wine business, the family business that it is, while maintaining a very, very high level of integrity, and very, very high level of quality, and also a great respect for tradition. I'm just so grateful that he was one of the first people to enter. We've had Tearal's right through to Jordy Kay from Chevre Wines. Jordy Kay is a micro-producer. It's remarkable it even has the spare funds to enter. Previously, he'd been living in a tent in a demountable room on his property in the Otway ranges. Although, he's now come back to living in the city and working across a diversity of projects, his resources are finite. To have this very natural producer of super small scale with Tearal's, this is exactly what Drink Easy speaks loudest to and for me. That's the spread. It's wonderful.

Ben:
Right. That's good. We've certainly entered. You've got the 50 bucks. We just want a second. We don't really want first. I think that might be too obvious. For us, with Wine shows, the styles we were making up to 10 years ago, just weren't accepted, a cloudy yellow looking sauvignon blanc, was just marked down immediately, so there was no point. We've never entered anything, but this peaked our interest, so we've entered a few.

Mike:
Thanks, Ben.

Ben:
Thank you, Mike.

Mike:
That's nice.

Ben:
I'd like to talk about so much other stuff, but I've got to get on a plane.

Mike:
Oh dear, Ben. Thank you for letting me talk at length about Drink Easy.

Ben:
That's good. I understand it's so much better now.

Mike:
I think also, just to say a little bit of an important piece about us as well. A lot of my understanding about wine has been affected by you. What many people don't realize is that although it's wine making lite, L-I-T-E, but since 2005, I've been involved in wine making process somewhere around the world, mostly focused in Australia, but 2005 is when you let me into you house and your place of work for three and a half months.

Ben:
It was great.

Mike:
Rigorous, to teach me how to make wine. Back then, I think the most evocative thing was learning the science, base understanding of what you knew so inherently well, while we both eschewed the additive rich world of technical wine making, your science based understanding has always been very inspiring to me, and has been fundamental in the way that I shifted my thoughts about wine. While I was being, back then, asked to add [inaudible 00:40:47], or being asked to [inaudible 00:40:49] in the winery kit.

Ben:
Absolutely, yeah. We used everything.

Mike:
Yeah. I think we were both at the same time, questioning, "Why are we actually doing this?"

Ben:
Exactly.

Mike:
I think it's wonderful to have this long friendship and also confidant relationship in which discussion of these science based understandings of wine, that then begat great wine once you start learning how to not use those sorts of things, has been fundamental in all my decision making that's happened since 2005.

Ben:
Wow.

Mike:
Yeah. Although I've nestled in the bosom of Tasmania for my wine making forays since 2010, and I've missed this year; that was a bit of a shame. I will be going down there to dig out some remaining ferments.

Ben:
Nice.

Mike:
I know it's late June, but there are [crosstalk 00:41:37] few things [inaudible 00:41:39].

Ben:
I remember yeah, when you jumped into fermented [inaudible 00:41:40] is that the same ring on your finger?

Mike:
That is the same ring on my finger that you threw it back into the open pot ferment and told me to find at all costs, lest it destroy any machinery that might follow the pump.

Ben:
[crosstalk 00:41:52] True, true. Then we wandered down to the dam. I think that took a couple of hours, didn't it, to find?

Mike:
It did take a couple of hours to find.

Ben:
Well macerated, that wine. It was good.

Mike:
Yeah.

Ben:
To you as well, through your knowledge and our [inaudible 00:42:05] exposure to things that I don't see, in the little, the [inaudible 00:42:09] river, through Rootstock and the exposure there. Part of the reason I wanted to start this podcast thing was just to talk to all the people that we've met through things like Rootstock that you started with of course, James and Georgio. I get to sit down and chat, and ask questions, and-

Mike:
That's nice. Good, isn't it?

Ben:
Yeah. It's awesome.

Mike:
Community and collaboration are-

Ben:
So important. I think through that. My wine making has improved by talking to people, getting together at Rootstock, "Oh, how do you do that?" I remember having conversations with James as well about pet nats and how to handle pressures, and whatnot. We were both at the same time, looking to freeze juice and then add it back. We had a conversation about that. What's the level to get this pressure? It was good.

Mike:
Yeah.

Ben:
[crosstalk 00:42:55] Thanks, mate.

Mike:
Thank you for having me, Ben.

Ben:
Thank you for having me. I'm in your house.

Mike:
Whoa.

Ben:
Whoa.

Mike:
Spooky.

Ben:
We'll see you soon.

Mike:
Bye, Ben.

Ben:
Bye, Mike.

Mike:
I'll see you when we put down this microphone, more likely.

Ben:
Yeah. Yeah, true.

Mike:
Because you're sitting opposite me.

Ben:
Okay, we'll see you very soon.

Mike:
See you now.

Ben:
Bye. That's good, man.

Mike:
Thanks, Ben.

Ben:
We're still going. Hang on. I hope you enjoyed the second episode of Real Wine People with Mike Bennie. Head to realwinepeople.com for the show notes and transcripts, and links to what we spoke about. Once again, you have until the 27th of September, which this year 2019, to enter the Drink Easy Awards, and please subscribe to the podcast, tell some people, even give us five stars or two stars, or something. Apparently, that all helps. Thanks again. Have a great day.

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