The Qantas Wine Panel

Established in 2004, the Qantas Wine Panel reviews all wines served onboard. Meeting several times a year, the Panel rigorously assesses thousands of wines under strict wine show conditions to finally select the outstanding examples that make up the core of the Qantas Wine Program.


Meet the Panel

The dedication to excellence that drives the Qantas Wine Program is best illustrated by the calibre of people that sit on its Wine Panel. Vanya Cullen, Steve Pannell and Tom Carson are three of Australia's most widely acclaimed winemakers as well as being highly respected wine show judges.

Tom Carson

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Graduating from Oenology at Roseworthy Agricultural College in 1991 Tom remained in South Australia to work with Knappstein Wines in the Clare Valley before travelling to Burgundy for two vintages. Returning to Australia in between vintages, Tom worked at Coldstream Hills with Australian wine legend James Halliday, before taking the reins and rejuvenating Victoria's historic Yering Station winery. Tom was at the helm of Yering Station for 12 years.

Awarded 'International Winemaker of the Year' and 'Australian Winemaker of the Year' in 2004 at the International Wine and Spirit Competition in London, Tom is now the youngest Chairman ever at The National Wine Show, Canberra and Panel Chair at The Royal Sydney Wine Show. In 2008 Tom joined the highly regarded Yabby Lake and Heathcote Estate team as General Manager and Chief Winemaker.

As a former Qantas Dux of the Len Evans Tutorial, Carson is well placed to comment on the approach taken in the wine selection process: "It's a little different to wine show judging because we're not just trying to award some arbitrary measure of quality. We're looking for wines that have that 'wow' factor and immediate drinkability on the ground and in the air."

Vanya Cullen

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Awarded the UK Drinks Business Magazine "Woman of the Year 2008" for her commitment to the wine industry and for demonstrating that you can operate a successful business while looking after the environment, Vanya Cullen is at the forefront of exemplary viticulture and winemaking.

Vanya Cullen's rise to prominence as a winemaker runs parallel with that of the West Australian region that she calls home. The daughter of Margaret River pioneers Kevin and Diana Cullen, she and her siblings were often called into service during the establishment of the family's Wilyabrup vineyard in the early 1970s.

Having taken over winemaking duties in 1989, Vanya has continued to build Cullen into one of the great names in Australian wine. She is responsible for what is arguably Australia's best cabernet merlot and a sublime chardonnay.

Cullen is also one of Australia's top wine show judges and a leading expert on biodynamic viticulture, and was the 2000 Qantas Gourmet Traveller WINE Winemaker of the Year. She brings great skill to the Qantas Wine Panel and has a clear idea of its purpose: "We need to be looking for wines that are drinking well now and will show well on the plane as well as being benchmark examples of their style."

Stephen Pannell

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Stephen Pannell's parents were instrumental in the establishment of the Margaret River region, establishing the legendary Moss Wood vineyard in 1969. The family is still involved in the industry, with Pannell's father and brother producing great wines under the Picardy label in Pemberton, Western Australia, but Steve himself ventured further afield to make his winemaking mark. After gaining an oenology degree from the University of Adelaide, Pannell worked vintages across the world and in Australia.

Listed as one of the 50 most influential contributors to the world of wine by Decanter Magazine, Stephen's Australian credentials include Seppelts Great Western, Wirra Wirra, Hardy's Tintara and BRL Hardy where he was the chief red winemaker from 1999 to 2003. During this time he won 'Red Winemaker of the Year' at the International Wine Challenge in London, the Jimmy Watson Memorial Trophy at the Royal Melbourne Wine Show, and the Max Schubert Trophy twice at the Adelaide Wine Show.

These days, he's focused on producing generous McLaren Vale reds under his own label, judging extensively and working with the Qantas Wine Panel. "The wine service on Qantas is a great advertisement for the Australian wine industry, so we take what we do pretty seriously," he says. "Because Qantas is an icon, people are going to look for iconic wines they know and respect onboard, and we want to give them that. But at the same time we also look for new and exciting styles that are emerging and keep Qantas customers in front of the pack."