Competition – Ben Hawker

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Here's the next unedited entry in our seminal wine competition

My name is Ben Hawker, I’m 28 years old and currently studying for my second Semester of the WSET Diploma and have recently returned to the UK after working the 2018 vintage in Hawkes Bay. For me, my seminal moment with wine wasn’t just the appreciation of a particular bottle of wine but a series of events that occurred a few years prior which influenced my wine infatuation. 

I was 24 years old and had recently completed my WSET level 2 and 3 and was looking for the next step in developing my knowledge. I was obsessed, young and determined to become better and to thrive within the Industry. So, I decided to leave the UK behind and head to Australia. I remember it like it was yesterday, that first glass being poured, everyone crowding around for a glass. It was perfectly chilled, with gripping acidity, who could ever forget that box of fruity Lexia in the hostel gardens. Ahhhh memories. Ok, so I admit I did spend some time backpacking and drinking boxes of Goon. Did I like it? Absolutely not. But it was definitely the start of what was my best year in wine. That event has probably caused a few people questioning the WSET structure if my seminal moments in wine began with a box of Goon, but trust me it was just a phase.

After travelling, I ended up back in Sydney with just a few dollars and some very questionable attire. Though I knew somewhere I did have a clean white shirt and some smart trousers lurking at the bottom of my suitcase. So, I spent the whole day walking up and down Sydney applying for jobs, having previously worked as a Sommelier in the UK this was what I wanted to pursue and perfect. The final place on my list was Quay Restaurant, Sydney. Quay was the only place on my long list that ever got back to me and you know what? they gave me the job. I was ecstatic. The smile on my face was lasting, well, actually it still makes me smile now. I was now a Sommelier at the award winning three hatted restaurant in Australia, one of the top restaurants in Australia and in the World. The team at Quay were outstanding, with people from all over the world showing their passion and determination to learn and become the best. The Head Sommelier was Amanda Yallop and I thank her so much for all the help she provided, she gave me the opportunity to learn and I believe she took a huge risk employing me as a Sommelier. In gratitude I worked my hardest and studied constantly. During my time at Quay my Australian wine knowledge went from strength to strength as did my knowledge of all wines from around the World. I remember in particular a wine tasting with Krug, Charles Heidsick, Penfolds Grange, Chateau d’Yquem, to name only a few. It was truly a fantastic place to work. However due to being on a working holiday visa I had to leave after six months. It was tough leaving but I remembered why I had come to Australia and knew I had to take as many opportunities as I could to further my development and understanding of the Wine Industry and to enhance my understanding and education.

After a lot of thought and weighing up various options I took a flight to Adelaide and headed down to McLaren Vale. I had never been here before and wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I checked in to a Hostel where I planned on staying temporarily and began looking for work. After working a few days a week for various vineyards and wineries I obtained a fulltime position at Serafino Wines. Again, I couldn’t believe my luck. Serafino Wines is a family run winery and I truly felt part of a family whilst working there. On my first day I met Maria Maglieri, who runs the establishment and we instantly ‘hit it off’. I was able to spend days in the winery understanding more about winemaking and also in the vineyards learning about the local terroir and grape varietals.

One moment that stands out for me was meeting James Halliday, he was one of the judges at the Mclaren Vale wine show and I asked if could have chat about wine with him. He said “meet me after the judging and we can talk”. I brought my James Halliday wine atlas for him to sign and was so excited to speak with him. He came over and I said “Hi Mr Halliday can I get you a glass of wine or something else” he replied “I have just tasted over 100 different Shiraz, I would just love a cold beer” I still laugh about that meeting as his lips and teeth were completely purple! We sat outside for about an hour and I just listened to him talk about Australian wine, before he had to head off to an evening function. He left himself only ten minutes to get changed. What an absolute Gentleman.

That year in Australia was unforgettable and one that always brightens up my mood. When I saw this competition I had so many things that I thought about writing. How I fell in love with Puligny Montrachet. Perhaps the first time I drank a bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape with my Christmas dinner at 20 years old. However my seminal experience was my year in Australia. It wasn’t just the Australian wine that I tried, it wasn’t the places that I visited. It was all the people that I met along the way, not just the ones that I have mentioned. These individuals in some way or another changed my life and made me more determined than ever to learn and progress within the Wine Industry.

So, to all the people that I met during my time in Australia, Cheers and Thank you.