Exploring VA Wines, Wining & Dining

Exploring VA Wines – August 2014

It’s Sunday morning at 9am. I am sitting down to a table with 5 white wines in front of me and I have some serious work to do. Welcome to day two of judging at the Atlantic Seaboard Wine Competition. Now, I taste wine almost every day – I taste our wines in the cellar or in the tasting room, I do regular round table tastings of wines both mine and others – but it has only been a few times where my critique of a wine will award or not award a wine with a medal.

There were 4 tables, 5 tasters at our table, each from different backgrounds in the industry and from different parts of the country. Somebody had the bright idea to make me the captain of the table. That means that after we scored the wines individually, we would briefly discuss, with my moderating, what award the wine would receive, if any. As these were east coast wines, there were numerous wines from varieties of grapes that are not well known in many circles, including our table. We tasted whites, reds, sweet wine, dry wines, fruit wines and sparklers. The best is when we get to do a taste off to judge the best of category. We want to judge them fairly. Some knew the characteristics of these varieties better than others. Our discussions were respectful, civil, informative and productive in ensuring that the wines were judged consistently and fairly.

As a receiver of these awards from this competition and others over the years, I know very well how it feels to get some great accolades on a wine as well as how it feels coming up short on some wines you thought were exceptional. We at the table knew how important our jobs were and worked hard to live up to that responsibility. We were not the only ones to work hard. I had the glamor job. The cellar stewards, table staff, organizers and all the back room team worked tremendously hard to make the transfer of wine and information timely and accurate. The work for this started months before this weekend and will continue over the next few weeks and months in order to consolidate the information and to get the news out to wineries as well as the world. Although wine tasting is subjective, with educated palates and good organization, it is possible to limit much of the subjectivity of this process.

When we go through this process, it makes me think of television’s Top Chef or American Idol or any of these other efforts to judge “subjective” subjects. I like to think that each of us is able to accept the criticism we should here to make us better. It may come from a customer, a boss, a spouse or even from a legal judge (I hope not). We all have ways to improve but it is often hard in our ego driven world to open up our minds to hear the words that others feel need to be said. But also the judge can lose their objectivity or spirit of helping by letting emotions take over. The goal of all judging is education. Each of us need to accept the criticism and give the criticism with that helping concept in mind.

A number of years ago, I had a winemaker call me up asking why his wines in this competition did not earn the medals he thought. I told him my wines did not earn the big scores either but I will take that result home with me and focus on how to make better wines. I hoped that he heard my words. I know I will never make a perfect wine. I work hard to put out sound wines and teach my staff the skills they need to lead the quality of this industry alongside me. Keep the open mind, learn from each other and the happiness will flow through self-development. I think I’ll have another taste of wine now.

Written by: Doug Fabbioli

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