Harvest Fair judges search for best wine in Sonoma County

  • Jill Ditmire, the owner of Mass Ave. Wine Shoppe and President of jad Productions smells a glass of wine during judging of the Sonoma County Harvest Fair professional wine competition at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, California on Wednesday, September 21, 2011. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

Professional wine judges were swirling, sniffing and sipping at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds Wednesday, the first of a three-day endeavor to determine the best wines in Sonoma County.

The judges, who hail from across the country, are tasting more than 1,000 wines as part of the 2011 Professional Wine Competition of the Sonoma County Harvest Fair.

Each judge will taste about 100 wines per day. Generally, they don't swallow; if they did, they'd lose their discerning palates as the day wound on.

2011 Harvest Fair Wine Judging


"Ten to 15 years ago, there were actually bad bottles of wine," said Bob Fraser, who coordinates the contest. "Today it's very rare to run into a bad bottle of wine."

Wines are judged in groups according to their varietal and price point, and panels of five judges vote to award each wine either a bronze, silver, gold or double-gold medal, or in some unfortunate cases, no medal at all.

Laughter rang from curtained-off tasting rooms on Wednesday as the judges, ringed by as many as 10 glasses of wine at a time, enjoyed the offerings and each others' company. But they also argued respectfully with each other over the ratings they should award.

"Gold. I'm fighting for this one hard," said Ellen Landis, owner/sommelier of Landis Shores Oceanfront Inn in Half Moon Bay. "It's so bold, it's got beautiful aromatics. It's so sauvignon blanc."

Sometimes, the critiques were not so rosy.

"Liquid asparagus," said writer and wine educator William Allen after sampling a less popular wine.

"B.O.," said judge Barry Gump, professor of beverage management at Florida International University. And yes, the professor meant "body odor." "It's a classic sulfur compound you get in some white wines."

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