WWC22 – who won?

Llamas at Tablas Creek

Not these llamas at Tablas Creek in Paso Robles, California, the world's first Regenerative Organic Certified winery.

We have been truly knocked out by the response to this year’s wine writing competition. We thought the theme of regeneration – either too vague or too demanding – might put people off but we in fact received 64 entries from 19 countries, for which very many thanks indeed, and deemed 31 of them quite good enough to publish. (Many of the others were good too but we are aware that we tried your patience last year by publishing so many WWC21 entries.)

Of those published, we selected a shortlist of 20 and asked you to vote for your favourites, up to three each. To our delight, almost 1,000 of you took the trouble to vote and, as Wednesday morning’s deadline approached, there was a mere hair’s breadth between the top scorers.

In the end, the readers’ favourites were:

So the Readers’ prize goes to Diana Hawkins, who will be given the chance to plant trees via the excellent onetreeplanted.org, which is US-based but has specific projects around the globe working with local communities and ensuring that the trees planted are suitable for each environment. Their projects appear to be very sensitive to all aspects of sustainability, which aligns with our aims at JR.com.

The runners up will receive copies of these two highly recommended books that put regeneration in the general, not wine-specific, context it deserves: Nicole Masters’ For The Love of Soil and Cal Flyn’s Islands of Abandonment. (Read more about these books here.)

Gwendolyn Alley
Gwendolyn Alley

The judges’ votes were also extremely close. We all chose the same three writers as our top performers, though not always in the same order. But in the end, the Judges’ mentorship prize goes to Gwendolyn Alley of southern California for her entry musing on regenerative agriculture there, and in Oregon, France and Italy. She rather presciently references as a prime supporter of regeneration Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, who has just announced that he is giving away all the shares in his outdoor clothing company to a trust designed to help fight the climate crisis. Gwendolyn will be awarded a 10-month mentorship with JancisRobinson.com, including meetings with members of our editorial team to develop two additional articles on a regenerative theme for publication on JancisRobinson.com and for which she will be paid.

Gwendolyn describes herself as follows: As a climate activist in her community of Ventura, California, Gwendolyn finds wine a gateway to caring about climate change. In her writing, Gwendolyn explores people’s ties to place – whether Burning Man participants, Pacific Crest Trail hikers, or those who work in wine – and she seeks to shine a light on those doing good for the planet as well as places that need protection. A community college adjunct professor in English, she also loves working in a local vineyard where she’s learned first hand about the challenges and joys of farming.

Tobias Buck in Brazil
Tobias Buck in Brazil

But two other writers seriously beguiled us judges too. Tobias (Toby) Buck wrote beautifully about his family’s wine estate in New Zealand, the venerable Te Mata of Hawke’s Bay. Apparently, despite the intimate knowledge displayed in his article, he has not been able to visit New Zealand for many months, having been exiled by COVID-19 restrictions to Amsterdam with his Singaporean girlfriend. There he has been representing the family’s wine in the EU, UK and Dubai as well as taking up writing. (In his travels all over the world, he has managed to pick up four degrees, including an MSc from the University of Edinburgh).

He writes, ‘I started writing recently. My dad was a journalist before going into wine and my mums a big reader, so my two brothers and I grew up in a house full of good books and good wines. Ive won creative writing prizes in NZ (the Katherine Mansfield Short Story Award and the Landfall Essay Prize) but am a pretty shy writer, putting pen to paper very infrequently. That said, I have been doing a monthly wine column for NZ magazine North & South for the last year, profiling other Kiwi wineries, and also write features on a range of subjects. My most popular work is this crime story and my writing on economic policy. My website is www.tobybuck.com and my Instagram handle is @toblesofcontent.’ I hope his competition entry will not be the last we see of him on JancisRobinson.com.

Diana Hawkins with Syrah vines
Diana Hawkins with the Hawke’s Bay Syrah vines that supply her wine

And what is it about New Zealand? It was also home to Chris Howard when he won last year’s writing competition and it is the current home of our judges’ third choice (presented strictly alphabetically here) Diana Hawkins (again). Not only is she the winner of the Reader’s prize (see above), she is already known to attentive readers of JancisRobinson.com as the author of Low intervention reaches New Zealand and we profiled her last year. In her entry to this year’s competition, as detailed above, she wrote a particularly thoughtful essay on Tai-Ran Niew and his philosophy of regeneration in Oregon.

Diana and I have already been corresponding about another possible topic she may tackle for JancisRobinson.com and I feel confident that she too has quite a career as a writer ahead of her, in addition to her current activities as a winemaker.

Like Gwendolyn, Toby and Diana will be offered a chance to plant trees via One Tree Planted, and all winners and runners-up will be given a year’s free membership of JancisRobinson.com.

Gwendolyn in southern California is to be sent a magnum each of Esprit de Tablas and Esprit de Tablas Blanc by Jason Haas of Tablas Creek. Stephen Cronk, co-founder of the Regenerative Viticulture Foundation and owner of Domaine Mirabeau in Provence, has very kindly offered wine to all the other winners and runners-up listed above. Forest fires and the resultant smoke taint wiped out his entire 2021 production but he is prepared to send them one of the last remaining bottles of his oak-aged rosé La Réserve de Mirabeau 2020. All these wines reflect the challenges the planet is now facing which regenerative viticulture is designed to combat.

We thank everyone who voted, everyone who took the trouble to write those amazing comments when voting, everyone who entered the competition, and everyone helping us reward our winners and runners-up.

Main photo credit: Brittany App/Tablas Creek Vineyard.