|Three Palms Vineyard: Why one is shorter|
- A trip to Hudson Valley n 2008 to judge at the annual New York commercial wine competition gave me a chance to catch up with grape growers and winemakers from throughout the state, some on hand as fellow judges, some as volunteers to help run the judging. One Finger Lakes vintner complained about a continuing soft market for the cabernet franc he'd planted. "I should have planted more pinot grigio and less cabernet franc," he said, recognizing the nascent rise in popularity of the Italian grape. "But it's all part of the deal, it's agriculture," he was quick to add with the shrug of a longtime farmer. "It's not for the faint of wallet," he further said of farming.
- Another judge at that competition was Kevin Zraly, founder of the Windows on the World Wine School (which has graduated 20,000 students over the past 36 years), author of the frequently updated "Windows on the World Complete Wine Course" (the country's most popular wine book with 3 million copies sold), and director of the wine program at Windows on the World Restaurant from its opening in 1976 until Sept. 11, 2001. He seemed like a guy who might have some thoughts about how wine competitions could be improved, and he did. Among other things, he suggested that judgings station a wine authority with broad experience in the back room to assure that wines of each flight are arranged more or less by color (lighter to darker) and anticipated tannin density (less to more). This would help give more delicate wines a fairer shake at winning a medal; most competitions arrange flights rather randomly, or at best by increasing levels of residual sugar or alcohol or both. Zraly was recommending additional refinement to maybe prevent wines of relative delicacy from being sandwiched between wines of power and weight. He also suggested that each panel have one member new to judging, thereby helping expand the community of judges while also providing that person with tutoring from seasoned members of the circuit. He also noted that he limits himself to evaluating no more than 50 wines a day. He indicated that that could be a standard worth emulating by competitions, which routinely assign judges 80 to 100 or more wines per day; no more than 50 wines a day would go far toward avoiding palate fatigue, which jeopardizes the credibility and consistency of competitions. Zraly doesn't judge often at commercial wine competitions, perhaps because he takes them seriously and recognizes the concentration and stamina they demand. At least, that's what he seemed to be saying in one final remark as we ended our chat: "You have to prepare physically, emotionally and spiritually for this."