NWWA – Meet the Judges: Simon Fell

Simon Fell joined the Villa Maria group in 2003. He has over 25 years of winemaking experience, honed during a career that has seen him work for wineries in Bordeaux, Gers, Oregon, Napa, Chile, Western Australia and New Zealand – his base for the past 15 years. In his current role as Thornbury Winemaker in Auckland, Simon enjoys the challenges and vast possibilities of producing a range of varietal wines from New Zealand’s key winegrowing regions. He is a keen outdoorsman and, together with his Californian wife Jacqui, is an avid foodie who enjoys preparing gourmet food and wine dinners for friends and family.

How old were you when you had your first wine ‘moment’?

“It was actually late in life; I was doing my OE in Europe post university. Wine was cheaper than water in those days (and still is in some European countries). It was a great way to break the ice with all those cute French Mademoiselles.”

What does your own wine cellar look like and what is your most recent addition?

“My cellar is quite modest compared to some wine collectors, I have around 300 bottles. My most recent addition to the collection has been a couple of cheeky Beaujolais – Clos du Fief Julienas 2018.”

In the last 12 months, which grape have you drunk the most of?

“Definitely has to be Sauvignon Blanc, I am surrounded by it on a daily basis.”

In the last 12 months, what’s the most exciting region you’ve discovered or re-discovered?

“Actually it would be on a professional level – Marlborough, it’s like rediscovering a past lover. We have had a few cracker years making some wonderful wines out of this region. In light of the recent challengers the industry and country has faced working with Covid-19 during harvest, the wines have shown some great resilience and character that will be remembered for a long time coming.”

What has been your most memorable wine and food moment?

“I do have one fond memory but some will find quite disturbing. Sharing a bottle of Opus One Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley (RRP ~$700-900) with a friend in the back seat of her car. Unfortunately, we had no wine glasses so drank out of the bottle while eating Taco Bell.”

Wine styles continue to fluctuate. Where do you think the wine-style pendulum is swinging?

“I have definitely seen a trend in lower alcohol and vegan friendly wines, consumers are gravitating towards healthier options when it comes to food and beverages.

Rose category is still growing at a phenomenal pace. It’s great to see the diversity of Rose style’s in the market today compared to only a few options a few years ago.

What do you enjoy most about judging at the NWWA?

“The camaraderie within the judging team. Everyone is focused on achieving the same goals. The show is a lot of fun and there is a great team behind the scenes ensuring that everything runs like clockwork. Without a doubt, it is the best show on the judging calendar.”