Editor’s note: We welcome Robin Dohrn-Simpson as a contributing writer. This is the first of what I hope will be many posts from her.
It’s all about relationships in the wine business.
The relationship with weather and grapes. The relationship with the grape growers and the wine makers. Some people like to grow the plants, nurture the grapes, and encourage their strongest output of fruit. Some people prefer to take that fruit and make a magical elixir with them. Some people like doing both. But a winemaker’s best friend is his horticulturalist.
The relationship with the soil and the plants. Planting your varietal with the proper relationship to the topography.
The relationship with buyers and sellers. The buyer wants value. The seller needs to make money to survive. The relationship with food and wine. Need I say more?
The Sheraton Fairplex hosted a group of Wine Scholars and Writers at the 74th annual Los Angeles International Wine Competition one fine Wednesday in May. As a member of the International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Association I was invited to attend this event which included a full day of judging with lunch and dinner. The winners of the competition will be served at the L.A. County Fair this summer. The competition is also the foundation for an extensive wine education program available to the fairgoers.
75 talented judges congregated to blind taste approximately 100 wines each. The judges with an average of 25-30 years experience in their fields were called upon to test their vast knowledge of wine. The quickness with which they tasted, smelled, and scored the wines was mind boggling.
We split into different tables for a day and tasted and scored wines. Smelling, swirling, tasting and spitting. Four judges were at my table: one bigger than life winery owner, one wine educator, one master sommelier and a wine marketer, whose main focus is on direct to consumer marketing. These people know wine. They know what makes a good wine. They can determine when there were too many tannins, VA or not enough barrel time.
At my table we tasted 86 wines; the majority of them were Merlots. Smelling, swirling, tasting and spitting. The winery owner didn’t care for Merlots, he said, “Good Merlot is an oxymoron.” (He likes Cabernets.) The sommelier felt, “Merlot is the great massager. It says to Cabernets, it’s okay, everything’s going to be alright.”
The blind-tasting method is used to judge these domestic and international vintages. Glasses are tagged with numbers in specific categories. No bottles were anywhere to be found, except behind the curtain where staff worked vigorously to prepare wine flights. The only things the judges know are what the varietal is and what the retail price point is. For example, some categories my panel tasted were: Merlot over $30.00 retail, Merlot under $29.99 retail, Cabernet/Merlot Blend (Australia), Ruby Cabernet, Marsala and Muscat . There were 3,000 wine entries for judging, ranging from innovative new wines to sweet dessert wines. Prizes were awarded Bronze, Silver, Gold and Best in Class.
The wine owner talked about his relationship with his customers. “It’s all about trust,” he said. “I barbecue about 400 pounds of meat every weekend and customers come and try my wines with different foods. They put their trust in me to make good wines.”
The sommelier got a huge smile on his face when he talked about his relationship with his restaurant guests. His greatest joy is helping people find the right pairing with food and wine. His greatest honor is when his guests tell him to order their meal and pair their wines for them. He likes them to sit back and enjoy each course pairing.
The wine marketer said, “It’s all about the relationship between wineries and wine drinkers. If they trust you and your wines, then you will be successful.”
This experience was very eye-opening. Myself and my fellow writers are still in awe at how much we learned by attending this event. We were unanimous in our respect for the entire event. The judges were admirable, the wait staff that took care of the judges, brought the wines were silently efficient and the event organizers were perfection. The personnel were always available to handle any situation and answer questions. As anyone who has put on an event of this magnitude knows, there are a lot of people working tirelessly behind the scenes. I applaud everyone’s efforts.