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These are busy times for 'Liquid Icons'. Their first 'Golden Vines Awards' are only a couple of months away and each week brings announcements of various nominees in line for various awards (it took place was successful, repeated and is now a regular feature of the world of wine. I'm hoping to give you further information in the future). It seems as though the world of wine has been waiting for an event that will celebrate diversity, inclusion and the role of viticulture, and Winefullness Magazine fully supports the event and will bring you all the news as it happens.
I was lucky enough recently to spend a little time having a zoom call with Lewis Chester DipWSET who is the man behind 'The Golden Vines Awards'.
He founded Liquid Icons, along with the wine legend Gerard Basset OBE MW MS with the aim of 'doing stuff' together. Unfortunately, Gerard discovered he had terminal cancer and they decided that they needed to create something that would be a lasting legacy for Gerard's incredible achievements as one of the greatest ever sommeliers.
In 2018, the Global Fine Wine Report was born and quickly became the report to read for the state of play in the world of fine wine, and it's a document that is consulted regularly by those who wish to know the state of play when it comes to the movers and shakers in the wine game.
He lets me in on one or two of the secrets, and as we start our Zoom Call it is obvious that Lewis has been working hard to make the first 'Golden Vines' event a truly memorable occasion that will set the benchmark for future events and as we chat, and he lets me in on one or two of the secrets (unfortunately I'm sworn to hush at the moment). I can assure you that this will be something the wine world will talk about for decades, or until the next 'Golden Vines' ceremony next year.
Unusually we start with a chat about football and his love of Arsenal Football team (during the interview he wears his Arsenal Football shirt throughout and is an active member of the supporters trust). It seems that he's been wearing them all through lockdown, and though they're not my team I completely understand what he is saying.
Winefullness Magazine: 'So how have things been progressing at Liquid Icons?'
Lewis Chester: 'It's growing like a mushroom and there's a couple of aspects I wanted to share with you. Firstly, we've had unbelievable sponsorship for a first time event and a wine event. People like Rolls Royce, Macallen, Gucci, Julius Bär, Vista Jet and Virgin Galactic (I've given a full list at the bottom of this page and if you're not impressed, you're not breathing). There's also a couple of wine related sponsors like SGC and Schloss Johannisberg to name a couple.
'The lots are generally large format or rarity bottles and money can't buy experiences like VIP tastings and tours, stays at cháteaux and three or four day events in far-flung locations.
'I couldn't have expected that quality of sponsor, and for a first time event you don't usually get that quality of luxury goods and services. In terms of the auction we have 65 confirmed lots and I'm hoping to get to about 70+. All the auction lots are incredible (having seen the list I can confirm this because as I read the list with envy I only wished my bank manager could have supported my need to increase my collection of wine experiences).
'I'm sure that there have been auctions like this before, but never one where there have been so many high-grade lots that people will want with the high quality of Domaines that are taking part.'
We move the story forward to the summer of 2020 and Lewis had an idea that the 'winners in the Report' needed to be celebrated in what
Turning an Icon he saw as the 'Oscars of Fine Wine', which became known as 'The Golden Vines'.
These awards were to help elevate the fine wine industry by creating a world-class event, while also promoting inclusion and diversity
among those within the industry and those wishing to become part of the wine world.
Lewis continues: 'There's the Christie's Live Auction which will take place at the event. Which is principally sponsors lots, and if you look at who they are you can imagine what sort of things might be on offer (having been given a preview I've got to say that I'm not sure that your imagination will cover it!). They'll also be a late bunch of auction lots that we'll receive after the deadline.'
Winefullness: 'So, let's hope you're going to make a lot of money, but how will this be used?'
Lewis: 'There's two scholarships and the winners are incredible. All the winners of the various categories (the scholarships and the Golden Vine awards) will be announced on the 7th October, and we had an unprecedented number of people from the world of wine who completed the survey, including 80 MW, 40 Master Sommeliers and representatives from 55 countries. I think it's the biggest fine wine survey ever.
'In terms of the actual trophy it's going to blow people's minds because it's an amalgam of various talented people who have worked hard to create something special and something different. The first award was given on the 6th July and was an honour award and is being given to Steven Spurrier for his services to the world of fine wine through his writing, knowledge and kindness, and will be received by his widow Bella.
'We're already planning for next year and I can assure the readers of Winefullness Magazine that it's going to be even bigger.
' It's going to be for about 250 people, it's going to be in Europe and the events will continue to expand on our present ambitions.'
Lewis has told me, but once again I can't tell you at this moment. I'll just let you know that I'll be packing lightweight clothing, brushing up on my language skills and sampling some of the greatest food. He also mentioned the tentative plans for Year Three and you're looking at something that will amaze and have you fighting to get a ticket and bid on the lots.
Winefullness: 'This is an event that is so long overdue that it is difficult to keep ones feet on the ground.'
Lewis Chester: 'Just to show you that I'm still finding my way, the head of Gucci told me that this is the amfAR of wine events. I didn't know what he meant and had to ask my wife. It's the biggest high-end charity event that is taking place this year in Cannes.
'I looked it up and saw that it raises so much money for good causes, that it's £30 000 a seat and £500 000 for a table. It's an event like no
other. IT'S THE EVENT!
'I suppose we're going in that direction. How do you raise so much money for good causes? You do it be making it the most incredibly eye-
catching event that people want to go to. We could never get to the size of amfAR because we needs the wines donating and generosity only stretches so far, and people have been so kind. Domaine de la Romanée-Conti have donated 80 bottles of Grands Échezeaux 2005 for this year's event which is pretty unbelievable. For me that's the star of the show, but you can't go to Romanée-Conti and ask for 200 bottles as they just don't have that amount to spare for a charity event, so you have to offer more than amazing wine and that is why our cuisine will be cooked by Mirazur, the 3-star Michelin restaurant, and each year we want to have the best wine and the best food.
'We might not be the same size as amfAR, but we can certainly have the same ambitions. I think that the advantage for the wine world is that it will elevate all of these brands and make more people want to have them.
'I'll use a football analogy here. I'm a huge football fan and a lot of what has inspired us with The Golden Vines comes from the world of football, and what we're saying to the whole industry, not one or two, is who is the best Domaine, the best team, because we're interested in the team and not the individual. That's for football pundits at the end of a game, and who remembers who won the man of the match they choose?
'The names of the winners will resonate with the world of wine and the general public because it is so much more than just the man of the match award. It is the Fifa ranking, the Ballon d'Or or wine!'
Winefullness Magazine: 'Is the same trophy going to be awarded every year or will it be a new trophy?'
Lewis Chester: 'The idea is that we get somebody from a diverse background to create a new trophy.'
Winefullness: 'It reminds of the Napa Wine Auction.'
Lewis: 'The Napa Wine Auction is fantastic but it's just Napa wine, and this is from all over the world. I think in terms of interest for wine lovers around the world this is, hopefully, going to set down a marker.
'I'll quickly explain how the auction is going to work. We have an e- brochure with an imbedded technology that will allow interested parties to register their interest. They can navigate by region, country or variety, and then you can bid. If you get outbid you'll be notified and you can act accordingly. It's cost a fortune to develop but the auction is where most of the money to support the aims of Liquid Icons will come from.
'That bidding will open before the event (around 24th September 2021) and close on the night of the event (7th October 2021) and if you're at the event you can bid, but we expect most of the winners to be from around the world.
'People said that they preferred it being in a live auction and when I informed them that about the Christie's Live Auction they asked what the other lots were. I told them that they were principally non-wine that had been given by sponsors and friends, but added that there would be some wine lots. That was when they withdrew and said that they'd consider taking part next year.
'All I'm saying is that I never gave up on them. On the other hand I asked DRC for an auction lot and they said that they'd given me 80 bottles, and I thought that was fair enough.'
Winefullness: 'Because the event is supporting inclusivity, are there going to be lots available for people who don't have immense budgets?' Lewis: 'Yes there are. It goes from a few grand for a large format bottle of the most expensive red wine, and a Château that is giving over their property for the evening along with a large bottle of wine and dinner with the head winemaker.
'A lot of them might seem expensive, but when you look a lot of them are for numbers like ten guests and then the price certainly looks to be a bargain. You can share the costs with your friends. People can use the experiences for business, for a party and for friends.' Winefullness Magazine: 'Have you made plans just in case Covid decides to stick around?'
Lewis: 'The honest answer is that the online auction will take place irrespective, because that's online, and that's our main breadwinner. If the Annabel's thing didn't go ahead it will cause a dent financially, but we should have more than enough to cover things. The live event was never meant to make money, just wash its face (break even).'
We talk for longer, and nothing Lewis tells me convinces me that 'The Golden Vines' will be anything but a major success and an event that will imbed itself as the leading event in the world of wine.
He mentions guest performers and presenters who are at the top of the game and I am amazed at how he has managed to acquire their services. He tells me but he swears me to secrecy once again.
If you are lucky enough to be part of the event you will have more than enough wine (war) stories to last you as you rub shoulders with wines of breeding along with the famous and celebrated.
Talking to Lewis Chester one cannot deny the determination and enthusiasm that flows out of him and once again Winefullness Magazine will be following the event and covering the highs and the highers of the event.
Stick around because getting a ticket is going to be impossible, and you'll want to know what you're missing so that you can book early for next year.