Wines take center stage at the fair
Friday, September 9, 2011
CASHMERE — The four wine judges swirled the ruby liquid in their glasses. They held the glasses up to the light to view color and clarity. They put the glasses to their noses to breathe in fruity aromas, sharp acidity and alcohol. Lastly, they took a taste, rolling and chewing the wine in their mouth before spitting it into a cup.
“That’s nice,” said Don Julien, a Wenatchee enophile.
“It’s a good wine, but not really that interesting. Well made though,” added Ron Ventimiglia, winemaker and owner of Ventimiglia Cellars in Chelan.
The two men, along with restaurateur Barb Robertson and winemaker Craig Mitrakul, were judges for the amateur wine making competition at the Chelan County Fair Thursday, when the fair began its four-day run at the Chelan County Expo Center in Cashmere.
Thursday morning judging and ribbon awarding is always one of the most interesting and exciting times at the fair. It can also be one of the most excruciating moments, when homemade cookies, garden-grown tomatoes and flowers, farm-raised pigs and lambs and, yes, homemade wine, get rated with a colored ribbon for all to see. While wine judges were swirling and spitting in one building, sewing and craft judges were awarding ribbons to young 4-H Club exhibitors in another building nearby. Bell peppers were being judged for shape, size and color in yet another building.
The wine judges had a small, but interested audience Thursday in John and Rose Butler and Glenn Liner, all of Wenatchee. John Butler and Liner make wine together under their Chateau Grenz label. They submitted 8 of the 24 wines entered in the contest this year.
“We wanted to come down here and watch, because otherwise you don’t really know what the judges think,” said Butler. He’s been making wine off and on for 35 years, but only became serious since moving to Wenatchee nine years ago, he said. He’s also been a perennial top award winner in the fair’s amateur wine competition, which started five years ago.
Butler said he’d like to see the judging become more of a public, educational event and equip the judges with microphones so their comments can be heard.
Like judging throughout the fair, the exhibitor’s identities are concealed from the judges to ensure fairness. The wines aren’t rated against each other, but to standards of quality expected of each type of wine.
“A lot depends on the ripeness of the grapes. If everything is picked at 25 or 26 brix (a standard of sweetness), it can all taste like blackberry or plum,” said Julien.
“Sometimes there’s so much oak, it can obscure the grape flavor,” said Ventimiglia.
Barb Robertson, who was also a judge for the recent North Central Washington Wine Awards, said many of the wines entered were quite good, but were judged as amateur rather than commercial wines. She pointed to several wines entered by the same exhibitor (identified to her by only a number) that received consistent high scores.
“This person is obviously doing something right. The wines are very clean. We want to encourage cleanliness and good technique,” she said.
The exhibitor turned out to be Chateau Grenz, made by Butler and Liner. One of their wines, a 2008 Syrah, was named Best of Show, while four others won blue ribbons.
“It’s the third year running we’ve won best of show,” Butler said, both relieved and elated with the outcome. “We’re on a roll!”
The fair’s old Auditorium Building near the rodeo grandstands — now called the Innovations in Agriculture building — is dedicated this year to the local region’s burgeoning wine industry. Nearly a dozen commercial wineries have set up tasting and information booths in the building. Wine tastings will be offered from 5 to 7 p.m. today and Saturday, and a wine garden, where wine can be purchased by the glass or bottle, will be open 2 to 9 p.m. today and Saturday, as well as Sunday afternoon. Fair exhibits are on display until 5 p.m. Sunday. The Davis Shows NW Carnival is open until midnight tonight and Saturday, and until 8 p.m. Sunday.
Rick Steigmeyer: 664-7151
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