Jess Clark is ready to be a sponge at this year's National Wine Show, not soaking up wine as such but knowledge and experience as she takes part in the inaugural mentoring program.
Clark and fellow associate judge Jess Bloomfied were both named dux of their Australian Wine Research Institute's Advanced Wine Assessment Course in 2018 and were invited to be part of the judging panel in Canberra.
"This is an opportunity for me to take everything in," says Clark, a 30-year-old wine maker now working at Giant Steps winery in Healesville in the Yarra Valley.
"Everyone here has so much knowledge, they have more knowledge in their little fingers than I have plus they're lovely people. You have the dress rehearsal but now this is like the actual production."
Clark worked long-term with Brian Croser at Tapanappa Winery in the Adelaide Hills.
"I have him to thank for paying for me to do the AWAC," she said.
She wanted to get into wine judging to improve her own wine making.
"You can only get better as a winemaker by seeing the best of the best," she said.
"You've got to know where you sit, it's all well and good to think you're making pretty good wine and then you see someone else's and when you taste a really good wine you seek that person out and ask how they did it."
Bloomfield, 27, grew up in the wine industry and is now working for Pernod Ricard Winemakers in the Barossa Valley as an assistant winemaker, working closely with the aromatic white and rose portfolios.
"This opportunity is a fantastic way for me to learn more about wine, fine tune my tasting skills and learn from some really experienced industry people," she said.
The National Wine Show has received 1258 entries, 72 new wineries are represented in a total of 235 wineries.
Chair of judges David Bicknell doesn't know what to expect from the 2019 show, "but that's half the fun,'' he said.
Bicknell was the driving force behind the mentoring program and he has put together an impressive list of experienced judges to help out the young team with Tom Carson, Iain Riggs, Randall Pollard and Canberra's own Tim Kirk taking a back seat to keep an eye on things.
"Both women came with quite high praise from the AWRI about how articulate they were," Bicknell said.
"Part of everything we do is communication, you have to be able to form a coherent argument about why a wine is either good or bad."
He said other qualities a good judge has include the ability to concentrate for a long period of time and it's essential they possess a quality "tasting memory".
"Really good judges can remember the fine details of a wine they tried years ago, they're often the ones that really come forward into the next level, they can remember what they tasted before and the tactile sensations of that wine and whether it was a good wine or a bad wine and are able to place what they're tasting in a show somewhere in the scoring spectrum."
There's also one ability you'd never think of.
"People who are unable to spit accurately never make it because they can't stay sober," Bicknell said.
Judging takes place at EPIC until November 15, with the trophy presentation dinner on November 22 at the National Arboretum and a public wine experience on November 23 from 3-5pm where all wines are available for tasting. Tickets are available for both these events at rncas.org.au/nws