More About Competition Feedback
One of my earliest blog posts for WineMaker Magazine was entitled "Competing For The Feedback" in July of 2011. In that post I put the opportunity for learning more about one's wines in hopes of further improving or enhancing them from constructive feedback as a leading reason to enter competitions.
In the nearly year-and-a-half since I wrote that article I've had a number of additional competition experiences that have affirmed this notion and validated my past efforts to learn from such feedback, all while having learned a good deal more about what I am doing that is working, and what isn't.
(Grapes yes, but for pyment not traditional wine. Just another crazy day for me! )
One thing is clear. Competition for top spots is increasing. As more people have gotten into making their own beverages I'd reckon more again are finding their way to both a process they can embrace and fresh and high-quality materials they can successfully work with. Gotta up my game I guess! This is always good for consumers, initially our friends and family, but with the march of amateurs opening doors on their own commercial ventures, I'd say we all stand to benefit from this increase in quality as well.
Personally, my more creative fermentations, blends or beverages from multiple fruits/spices/etc, are the ones getting the most competition love. In 2012 this has been most focused my meads and ciders. The upside of this is that I feel even better about the creative effort I spent on making them. I already liked these drinks because I set out to make them to my personal tastes; but positive competition feedback does make them taste just a little bit better! In one competition a homemade cider (maple) that had been doing well elsewhere was outclassed by several ciders made with a spectrum of interesting ingredients. From this I have already begun to envisage projects for 2013!
One of the consistent lessons this year has been to pay closer attention to the amount of residual acid (not enough is the feedback) in my sweeter drinks, specifically the sweet meads. In considering this, I figure that depending on what they are composed of I may not be setting the initially acidity high enough or I'm not getting enough of the right acidity to stick around post-fermentation. I plan to attack this two ways. With several finished products I am going to use both citric acid and an acid blend in trials to see what a late correction can do. Ideally I would want to fix this issue pre-fermentation or even in blending, but some of my recent products are stable in the carboy so I may need to handle it differently. When I launch new products I am likewise going to have to do some trials and pH testing to better understand how my recipes work. This is going to be a positive move overall, as the additional acidity will create tartness and a bump in crispness. This is not strictly better or more enjoyment, but a different profile.
( NERHBC 2012 Best in Show Judging. I still can't believe my chili mead was the last man standing. )
One of the biggest and most positive lessons I've learned, which looms large in 2012, is to try lots of different things to learn what works for you and the beverages you want to drink. My experimentation this year had me steeping chili peppers from my garden in a sweet wildflower mead. This was mainly because I had so many peppers and my madness in using them had reached new limits. With no real expectations, and only a few bottles of a tasty product on hand, I was shocked that it not only competed well in the open mead category, but also took Best in Show, at the New England Regional Homebrew Competition in October! I had judged several beer categories that day so I was present to watch the Best In Show judging as my mead stood strong against beverages from 27 other categories. At the end of that day we (my wife is my co-brewer) had won five places, a Best in Show and Meadmaker of the Year in that competition! Several of the other wins were for beverages fermented from honey and cider, and including ingredients like orange, vanilla, maple syrup, tea and lemons which represented a number of projects and experiments I had undertaken during the year. Creativity does payoff, but these wins were not easy when you consider how much work came before them.
( This is very much about the journey and not the destination. I'm just getting started! )
My traditional wine-making is at a lower volume in the last year than the few previous years. Focusing time and materials on mead and cider is one reason for that, but another is that I have been enjoying an exploration of wine regions all over the globe so I don't make as much table wine for myself. My commercial wine buying and cellar have both expanded, and this has been another winning decision. When I have made wine I have continued to use different products including kits, juice and grapes with a spread of outcomes not at all dissimilar to past experiences. For red wines I am finding that when I use juice or grapes blending is the key to maximizing the results, something I am not sure whether I will further investigate next year. Whites made from fresh juices do better and while competition results for them in 2012 were modest, the judging notes suggest the wines are well-made if not remarkable in their own right, I'd say those notes are fair. These wines do need more personality. Fair enough. My traditionally successful fruit wines (Strawberry as the flagship) continued their winning trend, proving that the work put in over the last few years on those was well worth it. I opted not to make a full batch of Strawberry wine in 2012 because I didn't feel I could get enough fresh, ripe fruit to get the full potential out of my recipe. How's that for choosing what works? What berries I did get went into a mead that is still aging with a promising outcome.
Looking forward to next year I see a whole lineup of new flavors of mead reaching the bottle, grapes and tea are two teasers, most of which has been fermenting along this Fall. I'll also bottle several new wines from the 2012 harvest. Projects in 2013 will likely have a more specific focus on ciders and fruit wines using as much local produce as I can get. As long as I keep experimenting and making beverages I want to drink, I hope I am able to get such great feedback sharing them!