The Judy Hirst Award: Sophie Otton Rockpool Bar & Grill, Sydney
This award proudly celebrates the life of Judy Hirst, her contribution to the wine and hospitality industries and acknowledges her role as the driving force behind Australia’s Wine List of the Year during its formative years. It focuses on those sommeliers whose unique talent and knowledge elevates the public’s appreciation of the role within the industry. Hopefully, this will ensure that sommeliers in Australia achieve the respect accorded the profession in Europe.
The Judy Hirst Award is presented annually to the sommelier responsible for Australia’s Wine List of the Year. As judges, we realise that the precise role that an individual sommelier has played in developing the winning list will vary from year to year. However, increasingly we see the sommelier as a key person in the team which has built, maintained and presented the restaurant’s wine list.
The 2009 winner is Sophie Otton of Rockpool Bar & Grill, Sydney. She has been sommelier there since the restaurant opened in March this year. Prior to that she was wine buyer for the European group in Melbourne; national marketing manager of Two Hands in the Barossa Valley; and long-term sommelier at the iconic Universal Bar in Adelaide. She travelled to London to pass the WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) Diploma in Wine and Spirits; has been enrolled in the Masters of Wine course; and last year passed the Certified Sommeliers Exam run by the Court of Master Sommeliers. Furthermore, she has won the Negociants Working with Wine Fellowship, been a Len Evans scholar, twice been a finalist in the Vin de Champagne award, and is a regular show judge. She has been a member of the Gourmet Traveller WINE’s tasting panel for the past eight years, a member of its judging panel for its Winemaker of the Year award for that time, and a regular contributor to the magazine.
Remarkably, Rockpool Bar & Grill, Sydney, has won Australia’s Wine List of the Year in its first six months of operation, before the list has fully settled down. Its centre piece, the amazing cellar of part-owner, David Doyle, is such an awe-inspiring collection of the great wines of the world that our experienced panel of wine writers and sommeliers has voted the restaurant’s list the country’s best. So the Rockpool Bar & Grill list is, in large part, the lifetime’s work of Doyle and he remains involved in its evolution. Consultant and buyer for the Rockpool group, Nicole Reimers, prepared the list for the restaurant’s opening – adding layers of outstanding but affordable wines to the Doyle cellar. She remains involved with the list on a day-to-day basis. Otton, as sommelier, is responsible for the replenishment, revision and development of the list – and their implementation. She works with a large team including sommeliers Matt Young, David Wood, Jeremy Prideaux, Stephane Reynard, Magnus McManamey, Yuki Hirose and Mark Banytis.
So busy has the restaurant been since it opened its art-deco doors, that there has been little time for contemplation, for doing much more than surviving. Otton is a little dazed yet delighted to have responsibility for such a list. As a thoughtful, well-organised and knowledgeable sommelier, Sophie Otton is a credit to the industry and a worthy winner of the Judy Hirst Award. PETER FORRESTAL
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JULIE CRESPEL