This is a frequently asked question by wineries just starting out, and their owners are stymied by the fees, the amount of competitions out there, and the ultimate value that competitions play in the wine business. Frankly, name any industry and you’ll find that they, too, are constantly looking for third party endorsements, as that’s what drives consumers. When people are buying a product, it’s always easier when that person knows nothing about the brand, to have read or be told that someone or some group they trust have given it a thumbs up. As a society, we do it with cars, with movies, with dining, with just about anything.
So, how important are competitions? Very!
There are two arguments in this process. 1) Magazine reviewers rule, as it’s just one voice, therefore it’s not a consensus of a group. Sometimes those within a magazine’s structure might question the credentials of a competition’s judge. 2) From a competition’s perspective, it can be argued that the single person tasting a wine is only one voice telling you what his or her palate prefers, while the person buying the wine might have a completely different palate than the wine reviewer.
Both are right and wrong at the same time… It’s a yin-yang world, after all.
The single reviewer touches on a good point that someone on the competition tasting panel might NOT have a developed palate; but, the argument there is that neither does the consumer, and that non-sommelier judge still has taste preferences that might align with a consumer’s opinion. (Everyone has taste buds and everyone knows what he or she likes and doesn’t like; therefore, that untrained palate adds a layer of what a consumer — who will ultimately be buying the wine — would like or not like.)
The competition panel could argue that just one person has a too narrow view of the wine, judging it in a very linear way — in a way akin to what that person’s palate has come to expect, want, and perhaps demand of wine in order to judge it worthy. Well, there you go. That’s right, too, as the wine reviewer needs to have benchmark standards in order to have an overall opinion.
As I wrote, it’s a yin-yang world, and that’s what makes it such an exciting place. If you’re in the business of making wine, then you must honor both of these business’s aspects; i.e., send your wines to wine reviewers AND competitions. Somewhere in the process, there will be a high score or a medal of worth, and that’s the fodder that you need for sales people to have a third party endorsement for any retailer or restaurateur who’s too busy to taste wines for consideration.
Nicholas Ponomareff of California Grapevine makes it his business each year to keep a complete database of each year’s wine competition results, and it’s available for purchase. (You can call Nick at 858-457-4818, or E-mail him at email@example.com.) The value of this list is that it calculates all the top scoring wines in any given year. Imagine that it’s your wine that has become the top scoring wine in its category. Away you’d go with that one!