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Commonsense winemaking.

Q: Is there an easy way to compare medal winners from one wine competition with those of other competitions? I can't determine how our winning wines did in comparison with the competitors because the various competitions report things differently. Can't they standardize?

Sure they could. Competitions compete with each other for public acceptance, just as wine labels do. Each is trying to find the best way to report to the public, and the goals of the competition may not match the goals of the wineries who enter. Let's try to improve things:

One of the biggest problems faced by wine competitions is the industry's non-standard label design. Not that anyone would want label design standardized; imagine life with all labels looking alike except for the actual text. "Non-standard" here means something else: one label uses a simple "California" appellation while another uses a more restricted specific vineyard appellation. One is vintage-dated, another is not. One has a varietal name, another uses a proprietary name. One describes the grapes/vineyard/vintage on the back label, while another doesn't even have a back label.

How does the competition do justice to all wines in reporting its judging scores to the world? How can its report guarantee that the reader won't be confused and mis-identify some of the medal winners? Each judging has developed its own format, and no two follow the exact same layout.

Common sense says that while we don't want standardized winemaking or labels or blends, there is good reason to standardize things like bottle sizes, appellation rules and, maybe, the way competitions report their judging results. Below is a "first draft proposal." Feel free to criticize all you want on one condition: you'll have to offer alternative suggestions with your criticisms. But we have to keep it simple if we're going to get anywhere in convincing the competitions to become comparable.

The report ought to be as clean and straight-forward as possible. It should contain the major pieces of information which always appear on every wine label: Brand Name, Appellation of Origin and name of the wine -- as well as the Wine Judging whose results are reported and the Award -- AND Suggested Retail Price in the winery's home state. In addition, the following statements would be listed if they appear on the label: vintage, special designations or identifications (such as: estate bottled, private reserve, special bottling, special lot, tank or cask number, late harvest, bottle # of n produced, etc.).

Competitions like to compare wines by their varietal name: all wines named "Cabernet Sauvignon" are usually judged as a group. Subgroups may be separated out, for example: "priced over $10 per 750" or "priced under $7.50," etc. That's OK, consumers might want to compare the same wines in various judgings, or by vintage year.

The bad news is that there's no simple way to print all the possibilities and still keep it simple. The good news is that it's so-oo easy with your computer. All we have to do is set up a group of "Fields," designating each field to contain a specific type of information. My suggestion is to keep it small, say, just 10 fields:

1. The Wine Judging (L.A. County Fair, Calif. State Fair, etc.)

2. The Award (Gold, Silver, Best of Show, etc.)

3. Vintage (of the wine judged)

4. Brand Name (on the label)

5. Wine Name on the label (Chardonnay, Ned's Red, Meritage, Mort's Port, etc.)

6. Secondary Wine Name (Wallace Vineyard, Cask 47, Rocky Terrace, etc.)

7. Special Designation (Private Reserve, Vintner's Selection, Cask Zero, etc.)

8. Appellation (California, Carneros, New Jersey, etc.)

9. Price (Suggested retail price per 750 in producer's home state)

10. Notes or Special Comments (bottles recovered from old shipwreck, etc.)

Think of it! If every judging would report their results using this (or similar) format, then anybody with a computer could readily make any comparisons they wanted: "Give me all 1987 and 1988 Cabernet Sauvignon wines," or "all Meritage wines, regardless of vintage or appellation," or even "all New Jersey Ports." Well, maybe not the latter -- my computer would probably bring up Newark, Bayonne, Elizabeth, Jersey City and Perth Amboy.

I'm sure it won't be easy. Familiarity dies hard and most judgings will keep their regular printed format for their reports. But maybe we can get them to list their results in this computer format as well? Everybody knows that any wine, whether good or rotten, can win a Gold Medal in any one judging through dumb luck. This system would help sort that out and let the real cream rise to the top (assuming anybody wants it sorted out).
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Author:Peterson, Richard G.
Publication:Wines & Vines
Article Type:Column
Date:Nov 1, 1992
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