I’m just on the way back from Penticton, BC, in the Okanagan Valley, where I’ve been part of the team judging the Wine Align National Wine Awards of Canada. It’s my fifth year as a judge, and in this time we have been in Penticton, then Niagara Falls, then Penticton, then Halifax and back again to Penticton.
With the exception of me, the judges come from Canada, and it’s a tight crew. It’s very much like being part of a family, and as well as working hard, we socialize enthusiastically too (but always with the knowledge that we have to be fresh and in top condition to judge wine the next day). Although we get paid to judge, we’d probably do it for free, because it’s such a lovely experience.
The judging process is cleverly thought out. The first few days involves tasting through all the wines (this year, a record 1871 – did you realize that there were this many wines made in Canada?) in panels of three or four judges. We score them out of 100, and then discuss them, adjusting our scores as necessary in order to reach a verdict.
Then there’s a second round, with the high silvers and gold medal winners reflighted and then retasted. This extra round adds some robustness to the results: seeing the best wines from the first round again in a fresh context enables us to make sure we’re getting it right.[/caption]
After the judging, each evening we were hosted as a group by individual wineries or winery associations. The first night we went to the swanky new Martins Lane winery to taste the wines from the Anthony von Mandl group: Mission Hill, Checkmate, Cedar Creek and Martins Lane. Then on Wednesday we were at Off The Grid Organic Winery, with the West Kelowna wineries, and on Thursday Play Estate hosted us with the Okanagan Falls Winery Association. On Friday it was the turn of Bench 1775, with the Naramata Bench wineries, and finally on Saturday we were with the Summerland Bottleneck Drive wineries at Dirty Laundry. This gives us a chance to meet producers and taste their wines in an informal setting, as well as having a feed and a few drinks, which is something you want after a day of judging.
Then it’s back to the hotel for the after party. Not everyone comes out every night, but there are a few regulars. This involves gathering somewhere (someone’s room, or the pool area, or the hot tub) and enjoying each other’s company. We drink interesting things and there’s usually a guitar involved, with bad singing (our repertoire could do with some refreshing, it’s true). This is the highlight of the week: lots of people from different backgrounds getting along fabulously together.
I’m looking forwards to seeing the results of our judging: these are the results from last year, when we judged in Halifax, Nova Scotia.