More wine marketing blather. I apologize in advance. I do have a cool vineyard tech post coming up this week though, so stay tuned.
The news that some 2 Buck Chuck Chard won a double gold at the California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition raises some interesting questions about wine judging. At the top of the heap for me is the question of whether the results will elevate perception of The Chuck as a quality wine, or if the results will ultimately repudiate the work of wine judges and devalue county fair medals in general.
I think I can make a pretty good case either way. But first let’s define our terms. Oh, that’s right. We can’t.
Don’t believe me? Define, if you will, the term quality when it comes to wine.
I bet you can’t, at least not in a consistently applicable way. By his own admission Parker can’t (hat tip Dr. Vino). And Alder argues that anyone who steps foot on a fairground to judge wines sure as heck can’t do it (though Dan Berger might take exception to that blanket rebuke of all fair wine judging).
The problem is literally one of perception; both psychological and organoleptic (a fancy word for taste and smell). For instance, I could define quality as “a wine free of defects showing good fidelity to a chosen wine style”. This definition has the advantage of valuing wines that are alternately thin and tart and big and fruity on their own terms. But (and its a fat-bottomed but) this definition elevates the winemaker to the position of High Judge and Minister of Wine Quality, since we get to decide what our style actually is. And as a consequence, if my definition were to rule, Dwight K Schrute style, over 80% of the wines on the market would be deemed “quality” wines.
This does nothing to help Joe Wine Consumer sift through the clutter and figure out which wine to buy. Producers would love it, at least at first. But consumers would quickly become and remain confused and respond by buying less wine.
And that would be sad.
So instead we leave it to experts and proxy tasters to tell us which wines are good, great, perfect! Only this time instead of relying on potentially biased winemakers to define quality on their own terms, we are relying on the preferences of The Wine Judges. We get big and fruity wines getting great scores from one judge, and thin and tart wines getting big scores from another. In exchange we gain a measure of brand impartiality (but not objectivity, and that’s a key distinction). Most importantly we get selectivity and the vast field of available wine is narrowed, which makes choosing a wine to purchase less hard.
So what to make of The Chuck winning double gold? While I could argue it either way, I feel like this commenter on the original story over at the Napa Valley Register has it about right:
A wine I made just won a double gold and best Viognier in Texas. I was getting all big headed, now back to earth. Oh Well.
The bottom line is that medals will always help you sell wine to folks visiting your tasting room or online store. Like Dory and Marlin in Finding Nemo, people already predisposed to purchase your wine will always be entranced by the shiny baubles. The trick is to get them there in the first place, and for that the best medals you can receive are referrals from loyal customers, not county fair judges.