Wine Competitions: Why — or Why Not — to Go in Them?

A comment by Tony Gismondi in his wine column last Saturday in the Vancouver Sun reminded me of something else I wanted to blog on — Wine Competitions. So before I talk about the BC white wines I tasted on my recent Okanagan tour, let me wade in on that subject!

The specific question from Mr. Gismondi was why all wineries don’t submit wines to these competitions (in this case, to the 2021 Canadian Wine Access awards). But I think the real question is actually the opposite – why go in them in the first place?

The first reason is that there now seem to be so many of these competitions that everybody gets to win something! I noticed that on my recent trip to the Okanagan – almost everyone had won some kind of award. And that made me wonder whether it has become like Grammar School Sports Days — everybody gets a ribbon for participation? But doesn’t that dilute the whole idea of winning?

Second, I understand that the publicity of winning can help to sell more wine. But if you already sell out anyway, then why go through all the time and expense? Many wineries I consider to be the best already sell out their best wines — La Frenz (for almost all their wines), Kettle Valley’s Reserve and Hayman Pinot Noirs, Blue Mountain’s Reserve Pinot Noir, and Nichol’s Syrah. If they entered those wines and won, chances are they would just have to tell new customers ‘no’ when they called/came in to buy them.

Another reason for entering, of course, is prestige and/or ego (often opposite sides of the same coin). But if you separate that out from the previous reason – to sell more wine – then I wonder…what are you trying to prove, and to who? If it is peer-based recognition you are looking for, wouldn’t that be a better competition to set up?

The last couple of potential reasons for entering – or not entering – these kinds of competitions are, shall we say, on the “dark side”.

The first is to help justify and/or sell expensive (or overpriced) wine. Readers of this blog already know my views about BC wines selling for more than $40. But if you make them, and they are sitting on your shelves…will you do anything (short of dropping the price) to move them? Certainly an award from the ABC Wine Competition might help (although not necessarily have anything to do with the quality of your wine).

My final potential reason for not entering these kinds of competitions may sound a bit paranoid. But what if the judging is inherently biased in favour of certain wineries (and/or the style of wines they make)?

Let’s face it — the big wineries in BC have the largest marketing and advertising budgets. With that comes significant influence with reviewers, judges and retailers. So do they maybe get some favouritism? And, if they do – or some perceive that they do – is it enough for some of the smaller wineries to not get involved?

I don’t know the answer to those questions and readily admit they are pure supposition. But it is starting to seem like more than a coincidence that many of the smaller wineries which make more fruit forward wines are not entering the big competitions and/or losing to the big guys, many of whom make super tannic, woody and herbal red wines. It makes me, at least, wonder if something is going on.

In conclusion, my advice to folks who buy wines based on whether they have done well in competitions is – as Elmer Fudd used to say – “be very, very careful”. Always think about the style of wine that you like, read the description (if it is there) and then make your choice. And don’t be surprised if the “gold medal” tastes more like tin.



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