Wine Award Competitions — What are they really all about?

I was going to blog on the current Fall Okanagan Wine Festival this week but — on going onto their website — I got sidetracked by something called the “2011 Fall Wine Awards”. Intrigued, I clicked on the icon and then, after reading the criteria, the pdf of the winners. After that, I was simply shocked!

None of the wineries I think are the best in BC — yes, none of them — received any awards! La Frenz (widely considered the best winery not only in BC, but in Canada), Kettle Valley and Blue Mountain (with their amazing Pinot Noirs), Nichol (with the best French style Syrah in BC) — none were on there. Instead, there were lots of the usual suspects i.e. Jackson Triggs, Mission Hill, etc.

So after a few moments of outrage, I calmed down and tried to figure out what was going on. The idea that these wineries — and their wines — would be completely shut out seemed absurd. Surely, at least some of them would have won at least bronze awards.

So perhaps the wineries didn’t submit their wines? I can’t confirm that, but it must be the case. And if it is, the question has to be “why”?

Wines made in too small quanitities? Could be — some of Kettle Valley’s Pinots (like the Hayman) are in the hundreds of cases. But many of La Frenz’s wines are made in pretty good numbers, as is Nichol’s Syrah.

Lack of confidence in how they would place? That I find hard to believe, especially since many of these wineries win awards and recognition not just in BC but across North America for their wines (for example, La Frenz regularly cleans up at the Northwest Wine Awards and renowned British wine writer Jancis Robinson has said Nichol’s Syrah was a standout).

No interest in the publicity from winning? As a PR person by trade, I find that hard to believe as well. Awards can only increase profile and potentially sell more wine.

Don’t need to participate because their wines sell out anyway? That may very well be part of it. Many of the wines from the wineries I mentioned above always sell out, and a number are available only on the mailing list of the winery itself. So why go through the effort, time and expense if there is nothing to gain?

The last possible reason is the most controversial — that the judging may somehow be suspect. I looked at the names on the panel, and recognized a number of them. They are definitely well known. So you wouldn’t think that would be the case. And yet…

What about if it all comes back to style and profile? As I read through the list of the wines, I noted that a lot of the reds were in the “big red wine category”, meaning lots wood and herbs, less forward fruit, and strong tannins. If that is the definition of “gold medal”, why would a La Frenz, Blue Mountain, Nichol or Kettle Valley submit their more fruit forward wines? They would starting from behind. That seemed to be confirmed by the fact that Moon Curser’s Syrah and Merlot only received bronze awards (for wines that are beautifully full of ripe fruit).

So I don’t know the solution to this conundrum. But it is troubling for a number of reasons, the most important of which is — if your best wineries aren’t participating, can you really call it a wine awards competition?



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