Fair and responsible service is what Hank Sauer aims to give in his job as wine judging facilitator.
Sauer, his wife Nancy, and Wine Press Northwest editors Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman were brought in by World Publishing’s Foothills magazine to provide objective judging for the first North Central Washington Wine Awards June 30. The Wine Press Northwest team officiates dozens of wine judgings throughout the Northwest. Results of the competition will be in the August issue of Foothills.
I volunteered to work in the backroom to prepare the wines for the judges and it was quite an education. The technique used in most wine competitions is called double blind judging, meaning the judges don’t know what wineries are entered in the competition nor do they know what wines they’re tasting, other than by category. That could be as vague as red or white wine, or it can be a specific variety like chardonnay or cabernet sauvignon. It all depends on the number and diversity of entries in the competition.
There was plenty to choose from at the Confluence Technology Center in Olds Station, where the judging was held last Thursday. Some 240 wines were entered by more than 40 NCW wineries.
My job was to help transport the submitted wine to the event Wednesday from a temperature-controlled cellar where they have been stored. Wineries had to submit three bottles of each wine entered for judging. One backup was required in case judges found flaws or corking in the first bottle. The third bottle was required for second round judging for best of show awards. That made more than 720 bottles of wine that had to be handled.
Thursday morning, the wines had to be sorted by variety to determine the various categories to be judged. Once the categories were determined, each bottle of wine was numbered and labeled. As an example, there were eight different Pinot Gris, labeled 01-01 through 01-08. There were 18 different Merlot. They were labeled 02-01 through 02-18. In all, there were 17 categories, including 11 varietals, red and white blends, other reds and whites, rosé wines, fruit and dessert wines.
Judges were not allowed in the back room where the wines were being prepared at any time during the event.
Under Hank and Nancy Sauer’s supervision, we backroom volunteers opened one bottle of each of the red wines for decanting — uncorking the bottle, pouring the wine out briskly into a pitcher and then funneling it back into the bottle. White wines were put on ice 20 minutes before serving to reach optimum taste temperatures.
When judges were ready to go to work — a few hours after backroom work began - we poured flights of 1.5-ounce glasses of each wine for each judge. Each judge — there were seven of them plus panel moderators Perdue and Degerman — got flights of eight Pinot Gris. After they judged that, they got two rounds of nine tastes of Merlot. Next came Chardonnay, followed by Riesling and Sangiovese. On and on, we poured.
The backroom sorting, pouring, serving and glass-washing went on from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m. We were exhausted, but exhilarated with another hour of clean-up ahead of us. It helped that we got to have a few sips of some terrific local wines.
Tomorrow: In the judge’s room.
This story originated in Winemaker’s Journal, a Wenatchee World blog written by Rick Steigmeyer