Orange County Competition: Dry Finish

On June 9th, members of the Orange County Wine Society (OCWS) gathered at oh-dark-thirty at the Orange County Fair and Event Center in Costa Mesa, California for our 36th annual Homewine Competition, judging wines from all over California.
Jim Graver and a few friends started the first Homewine Competition in 1976 with their winemaking group. That first year had a total of 49 entries, mostly from their own club. They then formed the OCWS and started working with the Orange County Fair. Today OCWS has over 950 members including about 75 active winemakers. Both the Orange County Fair’s Commercial and Homewine Competitions are still run by volunteers from OCWS, and Jim still runs the Homewine Competition. We are one of the largest homewine competitions in the state, and this year we judged 829 wines with 110 judges and more than 100 stewards.
Work started several months before our 2012 competition with email announcements. Winemakers then registered on our automated website (created by Stacey Taylor) before sending in their wines. This greatly reduced our data entry efforts and increased accuracy by relieving our assistant competition chairperson Kim Guerin from going blind reading handwriting. David Rutledge and Rob Romano received, brown-bagged and tagged the wines with a varietal code number, so the competition was “double blind.”
Rich McCormick managed and selected our judges, who are commercial winemakers, industry employees, sommeliers and “mere mortals” with good palates and an understanding of winemaking. More than 46 of our members have judged for more than ten years with us. While everyone is familiar with wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Zinfandel and so on, we also get some interesting fruit wines from berry, stone and seed fruits. Judges’ expressions ranged from “wow” to “ooh” to “hmm” to “ehh,” with an occasional “eew!” thrown in!
We use the UC-Davis modified 20 point judging system and award gold (18–20 points), silver (16–17 points), bronze (14–15 points), honorable mention (12–13 points), or no award after the tastings, and we encourage our judges to make constructive comments on the score sheet in each category. Most judging panels have four judges: three experienced and one “newbie.” If the three experienced judges each independently determine that the wine is gold quality, then they award double gold and discuss if it’s good enough for best of show judging. After the competition, contributing winemakers get a copy of the judges’ score sheets for their wines, so they can see the comments made.
This year, of the 829 wines submitted by 248 winemakers, we awarded four best of show ribbons, 56 double golds, 83 golds, 309 silvers, 234 bronze, and 90 honorable mentions.
Congratulations to all the home winemakers who submitted wines to the Orange County Fair, and a hearty thank you to all of our volunteers from the Orange County Wine Society who make this a top quality Homewine Competition every year. And a big thanks to the Rich Skoczylas and the OCWS “Cooks Caucus” for providing wonderful breakfast and lunch.  
For more information about the OCWS, the Orange County Fair’s Homewine Competition, or participating in the Competition next year, please contact 714-708-1636 or email [email protected]