Every once in a while when the stars line up there is magic under the cork. A harmonious balance of sunshine, rainfall and the perfect little piece of earth and under the gentle guidance of a patient vintner may yield something amazing. Art and science. That’s what they say winemaking is all about and for the most part I agree, but I suggest we might add these terms: ego and competition.
Although I am reticent to admit it there is a bit of ego tied up in my wine and I must confess my competitive side too. Maybe that’s why winemakers send their wines off to distant locales, to be judged by the “experts”, in the hope of a little ego-boost.
Interestingly enough, I have experience on both sides of the tasting table, as a wine competition organizer and a wine judge. Our wine club (Eastern Iowa Wine Club) organizes a regional competition and this year more than 113 wines were judged by our table of experts. And they are really experts too! Two of our judges were professional winemakers and two others are experienced, wine critics. For the most part they are tough and fair – some are tougher than others. One judge, in particular, for whom I have the greatest respect, is most persnickety. Of course, when my wines are scored highly by him I am rewarded with an inflated sense of self, but then again, when he scores my wine low or indicates the presence of a fault; my emotional yo-yo is brought back to earth. Such is the life of wine competition.
Competition is not perfect. Judges are influenced by each other and there are varying levels of expertise and knowledge of winemaking practices giving one judge an advantage occasionally. But this is not always the case. Sometimes advanced knowledge of winemaking may lead to a faulty judgment. Case in point: Traminette is a hybrid grape, a cousin to Gewürztraminer, with a fragrant floral and spicy aroma. There is a fault in winemaking that occurs when Malolactic Bacteria act on Potassium Sorbate (yeast inhibitor) that results in a Geranium flower smell (not what you want in a wine). There is a floral quality, which is characteristic of the Traminette varietal, which is desirable and not indicative of a winemaking problem.
As I observe the wine judging and overhear the panel of experts discussing the Geranium fault in all the Traminette wines, I must push back the ego (yes, one of the Traminette were mine) and let them judge without interference. The ego is an interesting phenomenon. We love it when it boosts us but we’ll go to extraordinary lengths to protect our ego when threatened – even making excuses for our Traminette wine.
Is there a fault in my wine? I don’t want to think there is…but probably. If my ego allows, I think I will learn from this competition and take the judges criticism in the way they were intended – to help me become a better winemaker. Maybe next vintage I will find some magic under the cork!
Damn judges! Sorry, that was my ego! :)