We’ve always known Sonoma County wines are some of the best, but now thanks to the California State Fair, we have proof. Any bonded California winery can enter the competition, and many of our local favorites came out on top. Want to know how these wines became winners? Here’s what goes into the judging process!
More than 150 years old, the California State Fair commercial wine competition is the oldest in the nation. It is also the only competition to break the state into regions, into which the wines are grouped and judged, and the only competition to award the best of each varietal (Best Cabernet, Best Chardonnay, Best Pinot Noir, etc.).
Wines are judged by varietal—the type of grape used to make the wine—or grouped into “traditional blends” like Rhone or Bordeaux-style blends, and the region they come from. Judges are only told what varietal/type and what the vintage of the wine is when tasting.
This year approximately 75 judges spent three days judging more than 3000 wines. There are three judges to each panel, who taste their way through the entries they’re assigned and award a Gold, Silver, Bronze or “No Medal” to each wine. A wine that receives a Gold from all three judges upon tasting, gets a Double Gold Medal. The competition is stiff, and only about 3-4% of the wines entered get a Gold, and about 25% get no medal at all.
So who are the connoisseurs who decide which wines make the cut? Judges range from winemakers, wine retailers and sommeliers to wine journalists, wine educators and wine bloggers. Judges are paid $50 per day and come from all around the country, though most are from California. Our very own Director of Adult Beverages, Mike T., has judged the competition for the last five years and is one of only a few retailers included in the judging!
Drop by our adult beverage department to find many of this year’s California State Fair Gold and Double Gold medal winners, along with other great wines!