What do you know about home winemaking? Or better yet, what do you know about judging home winemaking efforts? I learned about both when I was installed as a judge for the 47th Annual US Amateur Wine Competition put on by Cellarmasters LA. Check out the Competition Score Sheet (photo) that covered a lot of information. These winemakers are not just looking for a medal, they also want to learn from the reasons why we awarded a particular Gold, Silver, Bronze, Honorable Mention or none at all.
From fellow judge and friend, Denise Lowe, Goddess of Wine I learned that “The Cellarmasters have been doing it for a long time, and they’ve got their system worked out. The most important difference between professional competitions and home winemakers is that you want to encourage the winemakers to improve, so whatever ranking you decide on (Gold, Silver, Bronze, No Medal), your notes should reflect your decision, and you are free to suggest improvement ideas, if you so choose. The winemakers get copies of the scoring sheets, so they see how the decisions were made.”
In the past competitions I’ve worked on it’s been more like speed dating: aroma, taste, evaluate, score and move on as you usually have quite a lot to taste in a flight. Once you have completed evaluating your flight you then go back and discuss each wine with your panel – and be prepared to defend any medal you may have awarded. All of the judges, and this was the same for Cellarmasters, have to agree on the medal, and in some rare cases when a wine is faulty, the non-medal.
So this is how it was for me with Cellarmasters. Before we got started with our panel and the serious work of studying our wine samples, we got a great lesson on how to use the Cellarmaster Home Winemaking Competition Score Sheet with member Andy Coradeschi. We were to start with 20 points for each wine and take away half or full points if a wine didn’t hit the mark in several categories.
If you look at the photo you can see all of the categories we were to study and evaluate. The area on the right side of the form, the empty boxes, are for us to share some of our thoughts with the winemakers that would be getting a copy of all of our notes. Some were thoughts on how to improve the wine, and some were specific positive and negatives we wanted to make sure they knew. (I asked if I could take some blank score sheets home to share with wine friends that may want to use in any wine tasting, of course they said yes.)
We had about 17 wines per day to judge, red Rhônes the first day and whites the second. Didn’t seem like very much to me, but in using the score sheet and being aware that the winemakers would be reading them, I took quite a bit of time really thinking about what I thought of a particular wine, and of course, if the winemaker may benefit from my notes. Many of the wines were sent in solely for feedback and it was a learning process for the winemakers. (Another long-standing judge confirmed this.) It was a great learning process for me as well and I look forward to honing my skills again with the group.
And on the wines, just a splash, we had a killer blood-orange colored Black Muscat. It was our final wine on the last day and it hit all of the sweet spots for our panel. Yep, we gave it a Gold Medal.
The Cellarmasters Mission Statement: The Cellarmasters of Los Angeles Home Winemaking Club is dedicated to educating, improving, and spreading the craft of home winemaking. The Club has sponsored and presented the Annual U.S. Amateur Home Winemaking Competition for the past 47 years.
Eve Bushman has a Level Two Intermediate Certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), a “certification in first globally-recognized course” as an American Wine Specialist ® from the North American Sommelier Association (NASA), Level 1 Sake Award from WSET, was the subject of a 60-minute Wine Immersion video (over 16k views), authored “Wine Etiquette for Everyone” and has served as a judge for the Long Beach Grand Cru and the Global Wine Awards. You can email Eve@EveWine101.com to ask a question about wine or spirits.