I’ve said before that gigantic wine competitions are pretty worthless, and that’s my impression again after seeing the results of the latest West Coast Wine Competition, which have just been announced.
The first thing I’ve gotta get out of the way–full disclosure–is that I haven’t tasted each and every wine that won a medal. And so I’m not going to mention any particular wine. But looking at the California entries, I have a very strong hunch that these are not the best wines you can buy of their type and price.
There are problems aplenty in these competitions. For one, the entries tend to be supermarket brands, the kinds handled by large distributors and produced in sizable quantities. Most of the smaller boutique wineries would never consider entering, and so the list of possible winners is severely compromised. Another problem is that there are so many judges (23, some of whom are good friends of mine) that the final results are unlikely to represent the thoughtful conclusion of a seasoned taster, but an arbitrated consensus in which everybody gives a little to get a little. Believe me, I’ve participated in a few of these competitions, and I know. I have to believe also that, with so many wines tasted in so short a period, people’s capacity to handle alcohol was taxed.
It’s not that the results are completely useless. The recommended wines are fine, near as I can tell, particularly in the less expensive brackets. You probably won’t hate any of the winners. Most people in the industry understand the limits of a competition like this, but the average consumer would do well to take the results with a grain of salt.
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I see my friend and colleague, Stacie Jacob, has stepped down from her job as executive director of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, in order to start the next chapter in her life, as proprietor of a marketing company. I wish her well. She did a great job. Paso Robles, as we all know, has become an important wine region, something that wasn’t guaranteed ten years ago, and Stacie had a lot to do with that.
Running a regional winery association is a hard, thankless task. It’s like herding cats, and some of those cats can get real hissy. The big cats always want to dominate the smaller ones, which the smaller ones resent because they’re also paying dues. There are competing agendas. Different people have differing views on how to promote the region, there’s never quite enough money to get everything done, and over this quarrelsome republic the Executive Director must reign with dignity and quiet aplomb, her job always on the line if something misfires.
I’ve known quite a few winery association executives in my time and I’ve admired them all. Some have done a better job than others. I respect Rhonda Motil, at The Monterey County Vintners and Growers Association. She seems to wring a lot out of a buck. With a small staff, she’s really worked hard to make the wines and wineries of Monterey shine. The Napa Valley Vintners also does a great job, with the inimitable Terry Hall defining the “never let ‘em see you sweat” approach. (He’s communications director, not executive director; that’s Linda Reiff; but Terry’s the prime contact for ink-stained wretches like me.) I always imagine that working at Napa Valley Vintners must be the ultimate in pressure, with all those egos up there, but NVV pulls everything off with style.
That there are underperforming regional winery associations is an understatement, and they know who they are! A good association will help boost a region immeasurably, but in the event of a poor one, nature won’t tolerate a vacuum: if the association can’t get the job done, niche-savvy P.R. pros and wineries will do it for them.