A crowd of more than 300 dressed to impress for the highly anticipated 2021 Hunter Valley Legends and Wine Industry Awards dinner at Oaks Cypress Lakes Resort last Thursday evening, organised by the Hunter Valley Wine & Tourism Association.
Acknowledging the unprecedented challenges faced by the industry over recent times, this year saw the formation of a new Award for Innovation.
The 2021 Hunter Valley Award for Innovation honours and celebrates the achievements of forward thinking companies and or individuals that have excelled in innovative product or service development by taking their business to the next level in the current climate.
This inaugural award for Innovation went to Scarborough Wine Co for their commitment to always challenging the average.
Their agility and intrinsic ability to stay ahead of the competition was recognised and judges recognised the introduction of clever and market leading winery experiences created as a result of COVID-19 restrictions.
"I believe we won the Hunter Valley Award for Innovation for our approach to wine tastings when the cellar door was temporarily closed," said Scarborough Cellar Door Operations Manager Ellen Hodgson.
"We wanted to be able to keep as many people in work as we could during the COVID-19 period, so we brainstormed a handful of ideas to be able to continue delivering a wine tasting experience to our customers."
The team refined their ideas down to a unique, virtual tasting experience which was facilitated through an online Zoom meeting.
"We introduced our 100ml tasting bottles which customers would sample in their homes whilst on a Zoom call to one of our expert Cellar Door Team members who would run them through the tasting list," Ellen continued.
Shortly after this announcement, Scarborough Wine Co also took out the title of Wine Selectors 2021 Hunter Valley Cellar Door of the Year.
This award is judged by a mystery shopper and rated amongst fellow cellar doors on the shopper's experience across all areas such as compliance, staff knowledge, service and visitor experience. "We were absolutely thrilled when we were announced as the winners," Ellen continued.
"We were so proud to be able to come out of 2020 with a relatively new team and achieve such a prestigious award." Since the cellar door physically reopened in June, business has been booming at the family-owned business.
"I think to be able to be back in the workforce is such a privilege that so many people took for granted for so long.
"Our team was on such a high to be able to be back in the cellar door working, interacting with people, selling wine and doing the things we love.
"It was great to have such a solid second half of the year after the years of drought, then the summer bushfires and then lastly COVID. It was really well embraced by everyone."
The third award in the Scarborough sweep went to self-proclaimed 'mother hen, chief cook, gardener, cellar door manager and so much more' Merralea Scarborough.
Merralea was recognised on Thursday evening for her hard work and ethic behind the local family business and was crowned 2021 Hunter Valley Tourism Industry Living Legend for her service to the industry for more than three decades.
The final award to achieve the quadfecta for the team at Scarborough Wine Co was Viticulturist Liz Riley being jointly awarded the 2021 Hunter Valley Award for Excellence on par with Scott Bartlett from Tyrrell's.
Margan's Wines successfully walked away with two major awards, Nicole Wilson was awarded Young Achiever of the Year and Andrew Margan was crowned Wine Maker of the Year.
Andrew and wife Lisa Margan first planted their own small vineyard in 1991, with a focus on environmental sustainability. Since, the family owned business has expanded into a successful winery, cellar door, restaurant and events business which is now known as one of the leading businesses in not only the Broke, but the Hunter Valley.
The Wine Industry Heritage Award was awarded to Hunter Valley Heritage Cairn Trail, a Trail that acknowledges the landmarks or items of historical importance which have influenced the course of, or made a significant contribution to, the Hunter Valley Wine industry.
The Viticulturist of the Year was awarded to Steve Ferguson of Mount Pleasant Wines for his commitment to restoring vines that were planted in the Hunter Valley as early as 1880.
Last but least, was the Hunter Valley Wine Industry Living Legend, which was awarded to one of the region's most well-known, wine industry veterans, Iain Riggs AM. Full results and comments online now.
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