Judging the Clark County Fair wine entries a couple weeks ago was a lot of fun
Steve Bader, owner of Bader Beer & Wine Supply in Vancouver was back for his 18th year as the beer and wine open class fair superintendent for the Clark County Fair a couple weeks ago. Last year there were 228 beer entries and 76 wine entries. Final numbers for 2014 were 171 beers and 53 wines, which included ciders and meads.
Lots of volunteers are needed to judge all that alcohol so this year my husband and I headed on over for our first-ever experience and it was a lot of fun. If you’re a couple, Steve makes you choose separate tables which, admittedly, I wasn’t keen on but I met a couple really nice ladies and Dan had a great time with the folks he grouped up with.
Judging itself is a great education tool for lovers of wine and beer as well as home brewers and wine makers. We judged the wine only and Dan had a wine maker at his table, anxious to see what others thought of his entry.
Steve conducts a tutorial prior to judging on how to explain perception of aroma, flavor and appearance so even someone who doesn’t feel they’d have the right words to describe a scent or taste are put at ease with his tips and information. Plus, at least one experienced judge is seated at each table.
Volunteers who’ve entered their own product aren’t allowed to judge it. Throughout the evening groupings of three tasted 10-12 entries and, in most cases just as Steve said, all judges were close in their evaluation of each entry. Even if a volunteer isn’t quite able to describe what doesn’t seem right about a wine or beer, that more experienced judge or Bader staff member can detect it, explain it and then the volunteer can revisit the entry to gain a greater understanding of some of the more common wine and beer flaws.
While entries in both beer and wine run the gamut of possibilities, IPA for beer is the most popular, as it follows the popularity of the commercial market. Wine, Steve shared, is a bit different. Grapes need heat, space, time and a lot of knowledge to produce so hobbyists use ingredients that are more readily available like blackberry, raspberry, strawberry and blueberry. It follows that very few Fair wine entries are grape-based.
To compete in the Clark County Fair beer and wine open class event, participants must reside in Clark County and be amateur home beer and wine makers. Fairgoers may have seen the display in years past where cheesecakes, canning, quilts, photography and flower arrangements are located. Steve said their eight or nine racks holding 27 bottles each solicits a great deal of interest which sparks comments like “I didn’t know they did that,” or “I need to enter my wine next year.” The 2013 racks were overfilled and every bottle has a ribbon and a tag with the name of the entrant and what city within the county they reside in.
Steve explained that blue ribbons represent a very nice wine. Red ribbons indicate that the wine is “pretty good but has a few flaws” and a white ribbon means the wine is probably drinkable but has a clear flaw or flaws. To be honest, I had a few of these but my group tasted Karen Ferguson’s Sweet Strawberry and Kathy Geyer’s Raspberry Liqueur which came in #9 and #10 as far as points possible were considered. They were both very nice, leaving me wishing I was swallowing instead of spitting.
Referring to the white ribbons, Steve said “You don’t want to drink too much of it. It’s either too sweet, too dry, oxidized (regarding wine). But it all helps determine strengths and weaknesses (within the wine or beer) to improve.”
Fortunately for both the hobbyist and the judges, wine and beer have improved dramatically over the years, Steve added. When he began in the industry 22 years ago, there wasn’t the information about amateur beer and wine-making that abounds today. The internet has been an amazing source of information in more recent years, allowing amateurs to take advantage of Youtube videos, online chat rooms and a library of published articles about the process. Steve also credits more quality ingredients with improvement of taste overall.
Anyone interested in volunteering to judge next years’ home wine and beer entries should contact Bader Beer & Wine Supply at (360) 750-1551 as it draws closer or go to www.baderbrewing.com. Bader Beer is located at 711 Grand Boulevard, Vancouver.