Joelle Thomson

Author, journalist, writer

Author: Joelle Thomson (page 3 of 129)

Understated influence… Profile on Jim Harre

This story first appeared in NZ Winegrower magazine, October/November 2019

Written by Joelle Thomson

Jim Harre is the first to admit he keeps a low profile for someone with such a big influence on wine.

His decisions determine which wines will be widely enjoyed by drinkers in many corners of the world, even if his name remains firmly under the radar in his role as an international wine judge.

His career as a wine judge began, inauspiciously, as a wine steward at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards in 1993. It was a role that quickly progressed into that of associate and then senior judge in 2000. He has since become a panel leader at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards, the San Francisco International Wine Competition, the Japan Wine Challenge, the International Wine Challenge in London and the China Wine Challenge, among many, many other shows and wine competitions around the world.

Things have moved fast for Jim but change has been slow in the judging culture.

“In my early experience in judging, the message was clear – keep my mouth shut, my ears open and don’t make a fuss.

“I thought that if ever there was a concept of judging that would turn someone off, that was it. The idea of inclusiveness for young palates was not part of the culture back then. At least the bullying has largely gone today, which I think is a very positive thing. I expect people to judge wines seriously but I also expect them to have fun – I believe you’ve got to create an environment that’s happy to be in and if you’re not having fun, you’re not judging particularly well.”

To say that wine was in the family is to make a major understatement about Jim’s early life. His brother, father and grandfather all made wine, so it wasn’t exactly a stretch that he would also become involved in the industry.

His grandfather had a vineyard and winery in Lincoln Road in Auckland, opposite Collards Wines, called Teintira. His father worked there and at Abel’s, just down the road while his older brother was a winemaker at Nobilo’s and Te Mata, retiring at a relatively young age after a career in wine. His younger brother went to Italy aged 18 to learn how to become a violin maker and began working for Steven Spurrier at Academie du Vin. He now has four restaurants in Paris. But despite the family’s passion for wine, Jim originally trained as a school teacher. It was a job he believed in, except when it came to the concept of children in a classroom, which left him feeling uneasy, so he left teaching and fell into work as an international flight attendant, through an unexpected meeting with an old friend. He applied for a job at Air New Zealand in 1973, got the job and began training with Air New Zealand in 1974.

The work was enjoyable but he quickly tired of the substantial time off, so he began studying winemaking and viticulture at Hawke’s Bay Polytechnic and suggested a wine education course for cabin crew.

“Air New Zealand management thought it was a good idea and suggested that I organise and set it up, so I went to Bob Campbell, who initially set up and ran the wine training , which I later took over and was subsequently appointed a wine consultant for the airline.”

His career in wine has snowballed from there. As have his judging roles, both nationally and internationally. Trends in wine styles internationally have grown in tandem with his career.

There are significantly more wine competitions in the world today than there were when Jim first began and he has a significant role to play in a vast number of them.

He says winemaking in New Zealand is becoming better but that it is important not to develop a mindset of thinking we are ‘the best’ because the industry in this country is so relatively youthful compared to thousands of years of experience in traditional winemaking countries.

“I think we are seeing extraordinary wines coming through at lower prices. Pinot under $30 is very good now but 15 years ago it would have been undrinkable. This is a very good trend because it opens up these lovely wines to a wider range of consumers.”

One problem for New Zealand winemakers is a lack of diversity in consumer purchasing.

“I don’t think we are doing enough to tell consumers about the great wines we make, such as Albarino, which is relatively new. If we don’t communicate about wines like this, then we are in the situation of making great wines that are at risk of disappearing because there’s no market for them – because we haven’t made a market for them.”

Wine shows can be highly instrumental in building new markets for lesser known wine styles. The show system and follow up marketing also needs to champion high quality from unknown varieties and styles, such as Chenin Blanc, Riesling and the successful, consistent newcomers, such as Albarino.

“The biggest problem we have in wine judging going forward, in my view, is

protocols in terms of how shows should be run. We have largely switched to the 100 point scale so that competitions have media and marketing value overseas. What we don’t have is best practice so that we can trust the process behind it. There’s no reassurance that the system is a process that is robust,  without compromise.”

“If we don’t actually give some form of reassurance to consumers that says, ‘hey look, if you buy a bottle that has a medal on it, it can be trusted because of these reasons.”

He is encouraged to see a more diverse range of people coming into the wine judging process today.

“When I first started judging it was a mostly a group of doctors and scientists and then mainly winemakers. Now we are seeing a more diverse range of people coming into judging. We need to help people get into judging. If we see people coming through who are not necessarily winemakers but are viticulturists or involved in other ways, that’s helpful for the diversity of perspectives and we need more diversity in judging wine.”

Another issue that’s important to him is how wines taste outside of the judging context.

“I can tell people if a wine is good but I can’t tell if they’re going to like it. A wine competition is a snap shot of a wine at a certain place and time. People’s own preferences will always make the final judgement but one thing we do robustly is champion quality parameters. That can always stand up.”

As to what he has learnt from judging wine, Jim says it is a continuous journey.

“The main thing is that at the end of a competition, I enjoyed myself, learnt a lot and had a really pleasant time in that environment. I go into every competition thinking I’m going to learn something new – and I do.”


A snapshot of Jim Harre’s CV


1994 Chateau Loudenne – Cellarhand

Saint-Yzans-de-Medoc, Bordeaux, France

1995 Delegates Wines – Cellarhand

Henderson, Auckland, New Zealand

2007 – 2011 Foxes Island Wines – Assistant winemaker

Marlborough, New Zealand


New Zealand     2008 – 2019 Chairman of Judges, New World Wine Awards

1993 – 1994 Steward, Air New Zealand Wine Awards

1995 – 1999 Associate Judge, Air New Zealand Wine Awards

2000 – 2011 Senior Judge, Air New Zealand Wine Awards

2012 – 2017 Panel Leader Air New Zealand Wine Awards

1994 -2016 Senior Judge and Panel Leader, Royal New Zealand Easter Show

1995 – 2000 Liquorland Top 100 Wine Show

2005 – 2010 Liquorland International Wine Competition

2009 – 2012 Senior Judge and Panel Leader, Bragato Wine Awards

2007 – 2015 Panel Leader, International Aromatic Wine Show

2016 – 2019 Chair of Judges, International Aromatic Wine Show

2004 – 2007 Senior Judge, New World Wine Awards

2014 Panel Leader, Spiegelau International Wine Competition

1994 – 2019 judging roles at the Marlborough Wine Show, Wine Marlborough, Waipara Wine Competition, Gisborne Regional Wine Awards, Kaikoura Seafest and the Tasting panel for Cuisine Magazine


Judging International

1993 Associate Judge WinePac Festive, Hong Kong

2007 – 2019 Panel Chair San Francisco International Wine Competition

San Francisco, USA

2007 – 2012 Regional Chair, Japan Wine Challenge, Tokyo, Japan

2014 – 2015 Co-Chair, Japan Wine Challenge, Tokyo, Japan

2009 – 2012 Decanter World Wine Awards, London, UK

2013 Senior Judge, International Wine Challenge, London, UK

2014 – 2019 Panel Chair, International Wine Challenge, London, UK

2013 Vice-Chair China Wine Challenge, Shanghai, China

2015 Chair of Judges, China Wine Challenge, Ningxia, China

2014 Panel Chair, Australian Small Winemakers Show, Stanthorpe, Australia

2015 Chair of Judges, Australian Small Winemakers Show, Stanthorpe, Australia

2016 – 2018 Panel Chair, Victoria Wine Show, Melbourne, Australia

2019 Chair, of Judges, Victoria Wine Show, Melbourne, Australia

2016/ 2019 Chair of Judges, Wine Luxe Wine Awards, Hong Kong, China

New award winning wines under $25

Welcome to my writing… Watch this space every Friday for my weekly column.

I’m sometimes struck with a touch of anxiety (tinged with “Do I really care what others think of me?”) when writing about Riesling. I’ve loved this grape and the wine it makes for so long that it’s become a bit of an eye rolling exercise of ‘Well, of course you would write about that because you always love a Riesling.’ It’s true. I do love a Riesling. And this month, it would appear that I’m not alone because results of this year’s New World Wine Awards Top 50 wines under $25 vindicate anyone who has fallen for this wine’s citrusy refreshing charms.


Left to right: Gold medal winning top drop under $25 at this year’s New World Wine Awards; the first Giesen Riesling from the Mosel and the newly released 2019 Giesen Marlborough Riesling.

The most awarded wine in the awards’ 17 year history is Riesling. More specifically, one particular Riesling – the 2018 Giesen Estate Riesling has now won gold and made it onto the awards’ top 50 list for the seventh consecutive year.

It’s a fact that won’t be lost on competition chair of judges, Jim Harré, a Riesling lover if ever there was.

His description of Riesling as fresh and pure is exactly as I think of this great wine grape; the most planted grape overall in Germany, where the Giesen brothers were born and bred, prior to making New Zealand their home in the early 1980s. They made their first Giesen Riesling in 1984 and while its medal and trophy tally is an impressive one, the thing I love even more is the fact that these brothers have now bought a slice of the vineyard action back in their homeland, Germany.

Memories of their grandfather, August Giesen, buying barrels of Riesling from the Mosel prompted them to buy part of the Goldlay Vineyard in the Mittelmosel, in the village of Reil. It’s a small village with 120 hectares of terraced vineyards, of which Goldlay Vineyard is west facing with an incline of 50 to 70%, considered average in terms of steepness in the Mosel.

Maybe it’s my working class upbringing or the fact that I was young, clueless and earning very little money at a bogus regional TV station when I first got into loving wine. Whatever the reason, I’m a bargain hunter and I’m conscious of the fact that most people who love wine don’t walk around willing to drop a spare $50+ on a bottle of wine each week, so the results of this year’s New World Wine Awards are relatable. I have no professional connection with these awards, now in their 17th year, but I’ve always been impressed with the focus on coming up with 50 top wines under $25.

I have re-tasted the following wines Giesen Wines this week and they all have the X factor.

Wines of the week

Sneak preview of 2018 Giesen Reiler Goldlay Riesling, $24.99

2018 Giesen Mosel Reiler Goldlay Riesling $24.99
This is the newest Giesen Riesling and it comes from the family’s homeland in Germany where it was made by Mosel winemaker Tobias Treis from the Giesen family’s newly acquired vineyard of Goldlay in the village Reil. It’s 12% ABV, made in a classic style. This means its high acidity is balanced by residual sugar to put it in the medium sweet category – it rocks great flavours of white peach, green apples, lemon zest and finishes on a crisp, lingering note of crispness coupled with succulence.

Official release is early 2020.



2018 Giesen Estate Riesling $11.99
A super tasty Riesling from a challenging year; this wine has 11% ABV and still tastes youthful in a medium dry sort of way with its high acidity, light body and long finish.

2019 Giesen Estate Riesling $11.99
Brand spanking new from the tasty 2019 vintage; a good year for aromatic whites. This one has a low-ish 9.5% ABV, is medium dry, with high acidity, a medium body and a long, flavoursome finish with juicy succulent mouthfeel. Ripe peach, green apples, limes and lemon zest flavours fill every succulent mouthful.


  • The New World Wine Awards Top 50 winning wines are on shelves in liquor-selling New World stores nationwide. All are available for under $25, and over half are under $15.

Graperide hands over to Whitehaven Wines

Winemaker and early Marlborough wine mover and shaker John Forrest has handed over the annual Graperide cycling event to Whitehaven Wine Company to take over in 2020.

The first Graperide was held in 2005 when 698 people set off on a course around Marlborough, organised by Pete Halligan (aka the Grape Gonzo). This year the event opened to mountain bikers and next year it will change hands officially to become the Whitehaven Graperide on Saturday 28 March 2020. Entries open soon online.

“Being a family owned and operated business means that creating positive impacts on our community is vitally important to us” says Whitehaven cofounder and managing director Sue White, who marked 25 years of winemaking this year.

Founding sponsors Brigid and John Forrest say they are happy to pass the baton to another wine brand that is equally focused on community and sustainability and which  happens to be a close neighbour.

The event will also relocate the start and finish location to The Vines Village on Rapaura Road.

Find out more here:

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