The Benefits of Competitions
If you are a home winemaker and you haven’t ever submitted your wine to a contest, consider doing it. I’d like to point out some advantages. If you are thin-skinned (think Pinot Noir), however maybe it’s not for you.
There was a signature event that started me on entering the occasional competition and it was, as luck would have it, the 2006 WineMaker Magazine International Amateur Wine Competition. I entered a 2004 Sangiovese that I had made from a combination of fresh grapes and juice. How I managed to keep from drinking it, I don’t recall. Wine near me is an attractive hazard and some vintages never get to be well-aged. This wine won a gold medal in its class. I was gone.
After that, I entered at least one competition a year and acquired both awards and lessons in humility. I consider it an essential part of my education.
The following year, I entered a local competition and at the last minute, got called away to visit a sick friend out of town. When I got back, the chairman of the event called and said he had an award for me. I was thrilled. “Which category did I win?” I asked. “All of them,” he said. That was not quite true, but a Chardonnay I submitted has won first place in the formal judging, first place in the audience judging and tied with a red wine for Best of Show based on points.
One big reason to enter your wine in a contest is for the tasting notes. If you are interested in moving to a higher level, you’ll be curious about the opinions of experienced tasters. One of my wines that our friends really like is a Frontenac Gris with screamingly high acidity that would be perfect (says me) for a fatty fish that the acid would complement perfectly. Competition tasters don’t like it and feel it would improve with residual sugar. I really like it bone dry, but their remarks are good information. In other competitions, tasters have picked up, variously, volatile acidity, detectible sulfide compounds and cloudiness from the wine being handled more that it would be here. Don’t be disheartened if tasters (and scores) differ or if one competition likes your wine and another doesn’t.
In a big competition, you’ll be swimming with the big fish. A friend told me to never enter a Cabernet Sauvignon into the WineMaker competition because of the competition from competitors who can get premium fresh California grapes. Good advice, but I got a gold medal for a Cab a few years ago.
Another reason to compete is the encouragement that you will receive if you attend the awards event. At some, the custom is to bring a couple bottles to share during the event, which is a great opportunity to have other amateur winemakers offer their own input. I’m glad that Uber is coming to upstate New York. At one small competition, the judges tasted the wine and then poured full glasses of it and passed it around to their friends for comment. “Hey, Angie, try this Zin. It’s really good!” Not exactly tasting notes, but I’ll take it.
We especially like competitions that have dinners. Ours can be a lonely hobby although we try to hold public grape stompings and make parties out of pressing and bottling. The fellowship of the awards dinner is uplifting. Everyone makes a batch that is a “learning experience,” but home winemakers are like golfers. We only think about the great ones.
One thing I believe I have found (and this certainly depends on the competition and judges) is that newer or less common grape varieties can pose a challenge to testers. When I have submitted wines made Marquette or LaCrescent grapes, I don’t think the judges knew what Marquette or LaCrescent wines should taste like. They can stand on their own merit, but the best made wines might suffer by comparison with more established wines – and their flavor profiles. In a similar way a judge at a competition sponsored by an Italian Community Center conceded that my Riesling lost points with another judge since it wasn’t “Italian.” That’s OK. That was the last bottle anyway. Our friends had already drunk most of it.