As I gear up for two big competitions where I’ll be judging in the coming months, http://www.fairplex.com/wos/wine_competition/ in May and http://www.sunset.com/marketplace/sunset-international-wine-competition-details-00418000074753/ in July, I’ve been reflecting on why wineries should participate.
I’m a fan of wine competitions and if you’re a winery, or an olive oil or spirits producer you should be a fan too. I’ve been judging wine for close to 12 years now in California, an exercise that keeps my palate sharp and my frame of reference broad. Each year, as the spring arrives in Monterey County, I head down to King City for the first judging of the season. Some people have daffodils and croci to remind them of spring, I have the Monterey Wine Competition which kicks off a series of 4 yearly events at which I judge.
Judging at a coffee competition!
Many wineries over the past few years have pulled away from entering wines in competitions, largely due to budgetary reasons and sometimes due to a lack of a consistent gatekeeper internally to share the wisdom of participating in many (not all) but many of the wine competitions out there. Several competitions tie in with wine & spirit retailers such as the Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition, which is a great service to wineries that enter. Here’s another list of reasons why wineries should enter competitions:
- The buzz if your wine makes it to the sweepstakes is the best 3rd party endorsement you could want. 50 to 80 different professional palates sent your wine forward and concur it has the chops, that’s more significant than a single critic’s review.
- If you get a gold or a silver medal, that has a lot of weight so to speak at retail or in your marketing campaigns. If you don’t medal, hardly anyone knows that unless they want to study 2000 + wines that were entered and didn’t advance so your risk is a low one
- You’re serving consumers; in the sea of choices consumers have, a shelf talker or medal stickers are often the only life-raft they have in an overwhelming situation, do them a favor!
- More and more competitions are getting sophisticated with their software, this year the 1st annual Sunset Magazine Wine Awards lets wineries enter online so that they can track their results immediately once the competition is over. I predict this will be the wave of the future.
- Wine competitions are a relatively modest investment when compared to other marketing spends a winery could make, and the returns are great.
- Many of the judges are renowned journalists, and we know they get inundated with wines to sample and try, many of which never even get to be tasted as it’s a full time job critiquing wine. Here, if your wine proceeds forward, you can certainly get their attention a different way.
One aspect of wine competitions I’d like to see change is the marketing of the power of their panels. I still subscribe to the fact that 50 to 80 palates liking a wine is a more powerful tool to a consumer than the proclivities of one critic (all due respect). Also, the regional names of competitions in California only mean something to the people who run and organize them and not that that’s not important, but what is more important is for the consumer to understand the purpose and focus of that competition. I wish there could be a little more differentiation in the larger competitions and that they could brand themselves with a terminology that is more broadly accepted, perhaps that day will come.