It was 1998 when I first began hosting a winemakers party and I have been refining it for the past 17 years. In September every year before wine season starts we host a blind wine tasting party with approximately 60 homemade wines. We have about 25 winemakers who bring their homemade wines. The party occurs outside in my carriage house, built in 1880. We set up the night before the party with wine decorations, lights, and tables. The wine taster table is set up in flights. Each flight is broken down into 14 different groups. The groups consist of Bordeaux-style, red blends, Merlot, Amarone, Brunello, Malbec, Nero D’Avola, Montepulciano, Sagratino, Shiraz, Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Muscat, and lastly fruit wines.
When the winemaker arrives that evening to the party their wine is emptied into a bottle with just a number on it. In front of each bottle there is a voting cup with a corresponding number. Each person attending the party is given 20 poker chips. We used to do full critiquing of the wines for sample but it was too involved for 150 guests. In each flight, the wine taster drops a poker chip in the corresponding cup with the number of the wine they like. The wine with the most chips in the flight wins either first, second, or third place. At the end of the evening the winemaker gets either a gold, silver, or bronze medal. Bottle tags are then put on the numbered bottle identifying the winemaker and grape. Gold, silver, and bronze capsules are put on the top of the bottle in each flight. We also have a memorial called, “The Broken Glass,” paying homage to all of the winemakers that we knew who have passed.
The fun of the evening is that it truly is blind tasting and judging. About six years ago a winemaker asked me if I tasted number 42? I responded yes and he stated, “This is the worst wine I ever had in my life.” When we looked up the winemaker it was him! We both laughed. He then denied that it was his wine. I was blamed for putting someone else’s wine in the numbered bottle. This, of course, was not true.
I will always break out a bottle of homemade wine that could be 10 years old. People are always surprised that it holds up. One year I brought out a strawberry wine that was 10 years old that tasted excellent. Every wine has its own story.
I design and fabricate the insert for the wine medals every year. We have live entertainment including a singer performing Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennet, and Dean Martin music and we have also had an accordion player playing Italian music and a bag piper. We also have a photomontage of all of the parties and pictures of us making wine in past years playing on a large screen TV.
Up until three years ago I hosted the party, but it has grown so large that it is now hosted by the winemakers that I make wine with. In addition to the wine, we have food, various cheeses, homemade liquors, and desserts. The hardest aspect of the party is the amount of people attending. What started with four winemakers has now grown to about 25 winemakers and about 125 non-winemakers attending the party. The party requires a lot of planning and work but everyone really appreciates the night.
The party reflects the true spirit of winemaking because it allows winemakers to speak with other winemakers and share ideas. In one evening you can experience many different wines and leave the party with a different outlook on a particular varietal.