Jeff’s Corner 2-3-23

Greetings from the frozen (but beginning to thaw) Texas Hill Country.  As I write this, I can hear large clumps of ice landing on our roof!

Last week, I wrote about the continued success of our Heath Family Brands wine at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, so I thought today it would be fun to check out the mechanics of the event itself.

The SFCWC is the largest all-American wine competition in the country.  About 5500 wines from over 1000 wineries were scored by about 52 judges.

The wines were broken down into over 100 categories, with the categories  based on varietals (Zinfandels, e.g.) or styles (Cabernet dominated blends, e.g.).  Large categories are further divided by price, such as Pinot Noir from $28.00-$31.99.

Grading is simple.  A wine scores no medal, or a bronze, silver, or gold.  If a wine scores a gold from all 3 judges on the panel, it becomes a double gold.  Judges can change their scores based on panel discussion.  At the end of each category, wines that won gold and double gold are revisited, and only one is chosen “Best in Class” for that flight.

Judging is fast-paced and demands focus.  Tuesday I scored 16 Ports, 7 Viogniers, 60 Cabernet Sauvignon-dominate blends, and 38 Petite Sirahs.  Wednesday, 19 Roussane, 2 Marsanne, 23 Zinfandels, and 62 Merlots.  Thursday began with 48 Cabernet Francs, 22 Ports, and the flight everyone wants, 55 Cabernets priced over $100.00.  That’s 352 wines in 3 days.  Holy Guacamole!

Friday was the Sweepstakes round, when the best wine is chosen from each of 5 separate categories: sparkling, white, rose, red, and dessert/fortified.  I had 57 numbered glasses of wine in front of me; and I was terrified knowing that with one slip I could take them all out…

It’s truly mind-boggling to think about the organizational effort it takes to put on a wine competition of this magnitude.  There were 16 panels this year, and each panel consisted of three judges (a few with 4 in case we need back-up), a panel monitor keeping track of scoring, and 2 people pouring wine, serving and clearing glasses, and keeping track of the sequence of flights and the wine in each flight.

So, in one day’ one panel will handle about 360 glasses (all of which are spotless), and with 16 panels that’s about 5,760 glasses!  If we need a re-pour on a corked wine, we typically have it in less than 5 minutes.  The judges get the glory, but the monitor and assistants are the glue that keeps it all together.

I’ve enjoyed every panel I’ve served on at the SFCWC, but this year was especially memorable.  Joan Tillman was our monitor (thanks again for the great photos) and was more than admirably assisted by David and Erika.

The three gnarly guys in the photo have about 120 years experience in wine.  We had a blast laughing, telling stories, and, of course, tasting wine.

I’m (as always) out of space, but I strongly recommend you check out for great photos of the event, all the results of the judging, and awesome bios for Tom and Rick.