After a four day final featuring seven challenges for 15 finalists from around the world the end of the G’Vine GCP Summer Ball saw the winner unveiled.
Before we get to that, however, let’s have a look back at the final two days of this epic competition (news on Days 1 & 2 here).
After the excitement of the boat trip the night before there were a few more cups of coffee being consumed than on previous mornings. Stories of late night shenanigans were exchanged as the bodies boarded the coach to Villevert (does anybody know how Hannah’s trousers got soaked through?).
The morning saw the important Cocktail & Spirit Presentation. With the theme of this year’s competition being Brand Ambassadorship this challenge was built around the skill of presenting a brand to a group and was worth the most points for any single challenge.
Of all of the challenges, this one put the bartenders farthest out of their comfort zone. With just 5 minutes to present G’Vine and make the judges (Philip Duff, Dale DeGroff and Jean Jacques Robicquet) a signature cocktail it was tough call for even an experienced Brand Ambassador.
One by one they entered the bar to give their presentations, and one by one they came out with shaking heads, puffing cheeks and more often than not their signature cocktail against their lips.
After a lunch with lots of reassuring words being exchanged it was time to move onto the final challenge of the day, the Gin & Cocktail Trivia Quiz. The written test of previous years had been given a game show feel with the finalists being given buzzers to enter their answers.
Whilst BarLifeUK kept clear of the quiz for fear of attracting the Wrath of Duff by muttering anything in the background, we are reliably informed by the final 15 that the questions were way tough. The usual gin and cocktail questions were combined with some brand ambassador style questions.
For example – Did you know that it’s a massive faux pas in France to cut your salad up with your knife and fork? Don’t feel bad, not many of the finalists did either.
With minds frazzled it was time for everyone to let their hair down and there is no better place to do this than at the infamous G’Vine Pool Party.
As well as being a place of work, Villevert is a place of fun and with a quick change into our green inspired outfits the pool was invaded by more white skin than it usually see’s in a year (and that was just Philip Duff). With Gin & Tonics, punch and wine being consumed alongside plenty of sushi, cheese and bbq’d meat as the sun went down, everyone relaxed and chatted with their new friends.
Now, what happens at the Pool Party stays at the Pool Party (just ask last year’s finalists!) but a few highlights saw Gorge handing out presents of toy Kangaroo’s and Boomerangs, a fire and flair show from Denzel, Ivan and Antonio (with a special duo performance from Denzel and gaz), gaz getting his groove on, Antonio’s ‘Olah Bitcheeees’ dance and the finalists all getting into (and onto) the bar….. that is where my report on the evening ends.
The morning after the night before saw a surprisingly large number of the competitors on the 9am shuttle back to the scene of the crime at Villevert for some prep action. Day 4 was all about the finally of the week, the Summer Ball, and that meant a few hours of ingredient prep before the event could begin in earnest.
During this prep period there is one person who is vital to ensuring everyone gets everything they need to get done. This person has to deal with 15 bartenders all wanting to use all of the equipment at the same time, all wanting empty bottles to fill, all wanting to ensure their drink can be the best it can be and all doing it with a slightly fuzzy head.
In the past this job has fallen to Shawn Soole but this year this role fell to last year’s finalist and this year’s Executive Bar Back Mischa Bonova. She quickly identified me as her Lemon Bitch, gave me an elbow, a knife, 6 boxes of lemons and a look which was half encouraging smile and half ‘do this or I will break you’ and I was off.
This look seemed to work well everywhere as before I knew it the prep kitchen was filled with amazing smells as tea infusions, flavoured sugar syrups and juices were being prepared on every flat surface. The camaraderie of the group was a joy to behold with everyone helping out wherever they were needed and Cari knocking up a superb batch of Red Snappers to keep everyone going.
So effective were the group that by 1:30pm we were done, cleaned down and heading back to the hotel (a marked improvement on the 4pm finish from 2012).
The afternoon saw all the competitors at the night’s venue decorating their bars whilst several of the international guests headed to the Cognac Museum and a few others sampled the French café culture with a beer or two (I’ll let you guess which group I was in).
The Summer Ball
Over the years the G’Vine GCP Summer Ball has become one of the biggest events on the Cognac social calendar with 300 of the town’s great and good getting to sample 15 cocktails from some of the best bartenders in the world.
As I arrived at the venue and started to look at the bars the finalists had put together I realised that standard had increased this year. The stand outs were Denzel’s CSI theme, Katrin’s Apothecary designed offering and, the bar decoration winner, Mari’s beautiful Asian inspired bar.
As the guests began to fill the venue the judging panel of Philip, gaz, Dale, previous winner Gegam Kazarian and Yves Leboulenge from G’Vine retired to a back room to sample the finalist’s drinks. Purely for reporting purposes you understand I toured the bars and tried out the cocktails myself.
I can report they were great drinks and showed the versatility of G’Vine across the range. The queue’s to get to the bars also showed that the locals were having a hard time deciding on were to use their tokens, although we were to discover later that Francesc had been the crowds favourite.
As the bars shut and the finalists all headed into a backroom for a well deserved glass of Champagne they all knew they could do no more. The 4 days of competing was over but there was still one more night of fun to come. Before they could relax completely though there was the little matter of announcing the winner to attend to.
Luckily master of ceremonies Philip didn’t keep the anxious group waiting long. I say group, as opposed to finalists, as everyone who had been on the journey with this great bunch of people were on tenterhooks, as it seemed were the crowd of guests who had stayed on after the drinks had dried up to see who would emerge victorious.
There were three trophies up for grabs, first was the Knowledge trophy (based on the Guest Lecture, Nosing & Tasting and Trivia marks) which went to Katrin Reitz. Next up was the Overall Technique award (Own Gin, Technical and Presentation) won by Meaghan Dorman.
Finally the multi-lingual double act of Philip and Yves invited Dale to announce the 2013 G’Vine GCP Champion. Jamie Jones’ name was read out and he immediately disappeared under a mountain of 14 bodies.
As he took the stage, in what can only be described as a state of shock, I took a moment to look at the 14 other finalists….. no, winners. The look of unashamed joy for Jamie on their faces summed up the week as well as anything I could write. Yes the disappointment would come later, but for that moment they were celebrating a great friends win.
I am sure Jamie would be the first to tell you that he couldn’t have got through the week without the support of the other finalists (especially Hannah, his partner in crime on Team GB) and the various members of the extended G’Vine family.
As I looked around the bar back at the hotel that evening I realised I had been privileged to meet this fantastic group of people and even more privileged to experience the amazing GCP twice.
If you speak to anyone who has been to this event the word you will find cropping up again and again is family. The G’Vine team from the big boss man, Jean Sebastien, to Yves, Audrey, Jean Jacques, Fabien, Charly and most importantly the girls that really make it happen – Virginia Szersnovicz, Isabelle Richard and Ombeline Parthon de Von, make everyone who attends feel as though Cognac is their home.
This family feel is extended for many years after with 3 previous finalists invited back this year to help, encourage and advise the finalists in the form of Mischa, Gegam and Pawel Rolka. Add to that Philip, gaz, Simon, Jamie, Paul, Dale, Natalie, Sean, Kelly, Amy and my Christmas card bill will be through the roof this year.
So thank you to all you gin swigging, song singing, drink bringing and high five giving bunch for making the week so special.
I’ll leave the final words to the Champ, Jamie ‘The Hobbit’ Jones but please keep an eye out for the announcement of the 2014 competition and get involved (all of the finalists drinks will be in the third edition of Barlife Magazine):
‘The last seven days of my life will never be forgotten and I will cherish every moment for the rest of my days. I have been lucky to have been surrounded by some of the most amazing personalities, incredibly skilled bartenders and unbelievable French hospitality I could ever have dreamed of. The face of G’vine is the warmest and most welcoming of any brand in the world and this business ethic I guarantee will lead to even greater success for EWG. I am proud and honoured to have won, but the real win this week was spending time with every single one of you.’