Thursday, July 23, 2009

Some Thoughts on Wine Competitions

When Kris and I came to Allegro, we found a winery that had enormous potential without very much recognition. Kris set herself to the task of making the general public more aware of what Allegro wines were about and basically increasing sales. We both thought that wine competitions were one of the key elements in a good marketing strategy.

Wine competitions exist throughout the world. This is where a select number of people of varying skills sit down and taste and spit innumerable wines in one sitting. At the end, a few wines are deemed unworthy of medals, but usually at least half receive some sort of hardware. The bar is usually not set very high.

I believe the last competition we entered was in 2004. We had had success in many competitions as evidenced by our medals, but I had noticed certain discrepancies. I would enter a wine in one competition and receive a bronze medal. The same wine in a second competition would receive a gold, and then in a third might receive nothing at all (case in point, our 2002 Reserve Chardonnay.) This did not make any sense to me, until I started to learn about how competitions operate (as explained above).

I truly believe that the judges are doing the best they possibly can in their task of judging wines. As a winemaker, I judge wines constantly, and I feel that I am only barely consistent as well. Lately there have been studies proving the inconsistency of wine judging.

Informally, I have noticed that most competitions are not friendly to East coast wines. The big fruit of California wines makes our wines seem small, where instead they are actually more complex and balanced. The wine competitions that are less biased against us seem to favor sweeter wines for the most part.

Medals are a great tool to market wines with. They make it easy to sell wines. Unfortunately I view competitions as one small step removed from gambling. Wineries send the organizers a few bottles of each wine (along with an accompanying $50+ per wine fee) and cross their fingers that they might get lucky. If they don’t, they send it off to another one. Eventually, most wines get medals and keep competitions in business.

From 2004 and moving forward, Allegro does not play this game. Coincidentally, John and Tim before me decided the same thing back in 1990 or so. I should have listened to them better than I did.

On a more philosophical note, I would just like to say that I am not interested in making wines that win competitions. I want to make good bottles of wine. I want to make wine that someone can drink a glass of and be captivated by. So captivated that a second glass is required to satisfy, and even that doesn't do it. One that makes you want to pour some for your friend and fix them a good meal to go with it.

I am not trying to make a sip of wine that tastes good while it’s spit into a dump bucket.


  1. I have many thoughts on this topic. It surely raises interesting questions.

    There could be logical reasons why a wine fares differently at competitions. Were all the same wines at each competition (unlikely)? Were the judges different (likely)? Were they tasted in the same order (unlikely)?

    From a business perspective the important question is: How much does a medal help sell a wine? Enough to warrant competing?

    From a winemaker's perspective: Is a medal true validation of having made a good wine? Or, are wine sales the validation? Or, peer review? Or, critical acclaim?

    I'd say getting public praise of most any kind involves competition of sorts. I agree that competitive results of any kind should not be the backbone of marketing. I think a winery could do fine with our without medals.

    As a wine enthusiast, competitions might influence me to try a wine, but they don't play a significant role in my selections or my repeat purchases.

  2. Lee,

    Thanks for your comments. I'd have to agree with your views. You raise a lot of questions, and I'll add this $.02. A medal is not a means of true validation in *my* book.

    I received a short email from a friend of mine who thought our 2006 Bridge raised the bar for wine in this area. I respect his palate immensely, and that means more to me than any medal.

    Of course, medals do help sell the first bottle of wine. But so far, we haven't had any trouble selling wine, so we'll stick with our current, anti-competition brand of marketing.


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