peddling the medals

Friday, October 23, 2009

I doubt there is a day in the year that the average winery does not get hounded with a request to 1) donate their products to a “worthy” charity auction or 2) enter their products (for a generous fee) in a wine “competition.” Is any other industry so mercilessly badgered in this way?

I judge a few wine competitions each year. I choose them carefully, always aware that I am basically giving away several days of my time for little or no compensation. Do I need the palate training? Not really. I taste constantly. There are some residual benefits – the people you meet, the opportunity to taste wines from a different region, etc. But I can’t help but wonder – do these competitions really benefit the wineries?

So I asked the question. What is the value (if any) to winning a medal? Here is an unedited look at the replies that came in from winery and PR people.

Rusty Eddy (Vintage New World): One of the best reasons to enter is to give your consumer an alternative to the 100-point system. I also like the fact that competition judges are often wine writers...so my wines get in front of them. Do medals sell wine? Not unless you win a sweepstakes or best of show.

Dave Winters (360 Marketing Group): Way overrated if you are a local winery selling to your local market. Pour your wine and let your customers decide if it works for them. Many casual wine drinkers do not have the same tastes as wine writers or judges. A customer that likes your product, takes it home and shares it with a friend or passes on the good experience is worth more than its weight in medals.

Shellie Croft (Firesteed Cellars): When we do well, and we have, including best of show we LOVE the competitions. We have a tasting room open 362 days in the year so we can show off the medals to our guests, and this is only positive. The down sides can sometimes be the expense to the wineries - entry fees etc., and also when we're passionate about our offering and the wine receives a bronze medal we tend to take that, as we do the winemaking very personally.

Robert Spalding (Seia): One interesting consideration is local NW competitions versus other more national or global competitions. Since we are a small winery and focus on selling in Puget Sound and Portland, we like to focus on Seattle Wine Awards and NW Wine Summit. I like having our wines tasted against other similar wines and judged by professionals who are familiar with local flavors and taste profiles.

Seth Portteus (Portteus winery): It seems like anyone can win a medal if they enter enough competitions. It would be more interesting to know the win/lose ratio of a winery. If a wine consistently wins medals I would be much more interested in tasting it. Medals are kind of a gimmick. It might be helpful to win one if you sell your wines in supermarkets where people can’t taste them. Most of our clientele rely on their own palate instead of following trends. Some of the worst wines I have ever tasted have been "medal winners".

Jay Drysdale (Fermentable Arts Ventures): Wine lovers and normal people are two very different species. Wine lovers must remember that the average Joe\Jane are most likely stopping by a wine shop or grocery store and making a decision that may last a total of one minute or less. Knowing a wine has received medals or points of a certain denomination provides a sense of security and confidence that the wine they choose has a chance of tasting good. There is also fact that we taste with our eyes more than we think. Therefore having a wine with a good medal or point track record will also help a wine taste better.

Scott Murphy (Unique Distributing): Before the advent of the 100 point scale medals earned at competitions were THE 3rd party endorsement that powered wine thru many retailers check stands...but now, not much credence is given to them, which is a shame because these competitions are rewarding wines amongst their peers vs. being awarded points on the merits of a singular wine. I'm guessing that most judges understand the concept of typicity that you've been discussing, which is another important part of the equation.

Christopher Chan: As the Executive Director of both the Seattle Wine Awards and Oregon Wine Awards, I believe these two wine recognition programs provide an opportunity for all wineries big, small, old, and new to be acknowledged for quality. I invite a local and experienced panel of wine professionals to evaluate the entries and through this, we are able to honor, celebrate and promote outstanding Washington and Oregon wines as well as provide wineries with substantive notoriety for their communications. Tasting blind provides a fair evaluation and insights without influence of label and relationship. These days more than ever - consumers (you and I) want more for our dollar. Programs such as the SWA & OWA allow us to uncover the quality behind the label. Most wineries don't have advertising budgets and these programs/competitions serve as an outlet for consumer connection, media, buzz and point of sales promotional material. One of the challenges with the 100 pt scale is that nobody falls in love with an 89...but it is still considered a high quality wine. Whereas an Gold, Silver and Bronze Award/Medal provides more of a historical reference of achievement.

Jason Haas (Tablas Creek): I think that wine competitions are largely a waste of resources for a winery that has other positive acclaim that they can use in their marketing... and I think that enough other wineries have come to the same conclusion that it's almost implied that you didn't get good scores from the major reviewers if you trumpet your medals. I was not surprised to read a study last year that wine competition results, beyond identifying obviously flawed wines, were completely non-repeatable, even by the same judges.

JJ Compeau (Kestrel): I think it depends on how the competition is received by the public and by the wineries. I do remember when wine competitions did help sell wine for the wineries with the customers bringing in the newspaper article cut out. It is necessary to search for great wine beside the obvious and these competition bring out the gems that sometimes go overlooked. Especially now I feel people are searching for help in deciding that next purchase. If you are spending more than $15.00 for a bottle of wine you want someone or some rating to help justify your decision.

Ben Smith (Cadence): Of no use for us at all. I don’t care about medals, and I’m not sure anyone buying $55 bottles does, either.

Anonymous: I decided a long time ago not to enter wine competitions. Our experience (based on being part of judging panels for certain past tastings) is that even if tastings are blind, there's a lot of non-blind "horse-trading" that goes on during the awarding of prizes. This is just another form of advertising and butt-kissing in a thinly-veiled disguise.

3 comments:

convincedskeptic said...

No point in competitions. None of the really high quality producers enter their wines. So winning medals is like being king of mediocrity.

Wawineman said...

My question to the "wine awards" folks is...why do you charge wineries in the first place? I will acknowledge it is a heck of a lot of work to organize such an event, but do not kid yourselves into thinking your "awards" shtick is authentic when it is a business that is guided by a "bottom line."
Not a single one "awards" contest posts the criteria or methods of "judging" a wine or even how the judges were chosen. Face it, it's all a name-recognition thing meant to jack the two-inch egos of those involved. "Hi, I'm Executive Director of the Central District Wine Awards. Go ahead and kiss my a** and I'll urge the judges to give you an award." Those folks should have better things to do like tend a bar.
Ben Smith of Cadence knows his customers. I buy $55 bottles of wine and, if anything, if I see a "blah blah medal", I won't buy it. That's why I have a couple of Cadence wines in my cellar. I have yet to buy one stinking wine due to a "medal award".
Leave "wine awards" to the amateurs at county fairs. That's where it belongs. Double-gold, gold, multiple winners...L-A-M-E !!

Wawineman said...

And another pearl...Columbia Winery 2005 gewurztraminer.
The 2007 version rated an 89 from Wine Spectator.
I spent $8.99 for that bottle. Wine Enthusiast rated it a 90. I read that Wine Spectator gave it an 86 (not confirmed). That averages out to an 88, if true. Just so happens that it ended up number 8 on PG's top 100 wines of 2006. Leonetti Cellar 2003 Reserve, at $100, ranked 18.
So, maybe nobody fell in love with an 89, but some folks thought enough to show a lotta love to an '88'.
What "historical reference of achievement" are you talking about??

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