When it comes to acknowledging the wine industry’s outstanding contributors, we’re lucky here in Australia. All sorts of awards exist for sommeliers, wine brands, restaurants, winemakers and marketers. These awards usually focus on the achievements that winners have made over many great years of service, as it takes an incredible amount of time and effort from inception to completion when making wines, creating wine lists, or building loyal wine-drinking followers. There remains however, few awards that also identify and reward excellence at the other end of the spectrum – the raw talent of the new and next generation of wine professionals. Fortunately, Rory Kent, founder of both the Young Gun of Wine Awards and Wine Baptism of Fire, has created two relatively new award programs that celebrate the energy and flair of those ‘younger guns’ within our wine trade.

Now running in its eighth year, the Young Gun of Wine Award showcases some of the very best young winemaking talent from across all states and wine regions. Previous winners have gone on to establish cult-like status for their respective wine labels, including Pete Schnell (Spinifex) and Taras Ochota (Ochota Barrels). This year’s top gong was awarded to Barossa Valley producer Fraser McKinley: the talented, intuitive maker of the deeply seductive and expressive Sami-Odi wines.

Perhaps the less serious and more fun-inspired of the two awards Kent is credited with creating is his Wine Baptism of Fire. “(It’s) a competition to produce a wine by people who have never professionally produced a wine before – which almost makes it a competition without being competitive,” explains Kent. It basically involves forming six teams, each consisting of two people from all different professions (whether they be a barista, barmen, graphic designer or journo) and teaming them up with a winemaking “mentor” (i.e. an actual winemaker with years of experience) whose job is to guide and offer insight, but not to physically make the wine.

Each team is given a small batch of syrah grapes from one of three vineyards and set the task of creating anything they want from it (as long as it’s drinkable). “This ‘conversation’ between mentor and enthusiast then gives total creative control and hands-on winemaking responsibilities to the teams who are driven by gut instincts and visceral intent,” continues Kent. “It’s a journey that rewards with discovery; a true Baptism of Fire!” The labels of the six wines are almost as different and individual as the juice inside (and definitely worth a look, for anyone with a keen design eye) each reflecting the philosophy or style of the team who created the wine. But as always, there can only be one winner, and the BOF ’14 was awarded to Team Forbes for their light (but delicious) ultra cool-climate Yarra Valley syrah. The team consisted of Meg Power and Jacqueline Turner from Bellota Wine Bar, with the invaluable help from their talented mentor, Mac Forbes.

Both awards are celebrated in conjunction each year, with the night of nights held this time round at Cellar Bar below the Newmarket Hotel, St Kilda. Keeping with the theme of their infamous Schnitz ‘n’ Tits nights, one award was even presented by two nude fellow wine folk. “(It) gave an excuse for us to have naked people on stage …because who would ever dare think of naked people presenting trophies at a wine awards ceremony,” explains Rory. “And in one way I think we have to go over the edge to make wine un-stuffy and fun sometimes."

You can taste or buy some of the Baptism of Fire wines from some of Melbourne’s leading wine shops, bars and restaurants, including Prince Wine Store, Gertrude Street Enoteca, La Chinesca and Pei Modern.

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