Doug Frost: Change at the Missouri Wine Competition
Plenty of wine competitions get ignored. Once I might have gotten my nose out of joint about the manner in which competitions such as Missouri’s annual Wine Competition are completely invisible throughout the established media. Of course they ignore such competitions. For one, most of these wines aren’t available nationally, and many of those in the Missouri Competition aren’t found outside the state of Missouri. And the traditional wine media have always ignored the rest of winedom, the parts of it not found in the traditional areas. Why not? They’re in the business of promoting their own view about wine. A wine competition is, in effect, providing competition to these magazines and websites. Except here’s the thing, they don’t EVER review these wines, so refusing to report on the results of a competition covers wines they’ve never tasted is, if not willful laziness, just plain ignorance about what’s happening in America today.
Wines are being made everywhere, and some of those wines are excellent. Moreover, some of those wines are IMPORTANT. But these media outlets ignore them because they’re not actually in the business of reporting about wine. They’re in the business of staying alive a few more months, desperately hanging on to their potentially obsolete business models. They’ve decided to report on things about which they’re already reporting. Missouri? Hell, they’re not even talking about New York’s state competition results and New York wine has become mainstream subject matter. And of course, few of the articles they publish provide any historical context. That would be like admitting that they’ve been asleep while all this stuff was happening, and they did promise to report about wine, I think.
So here I am bitching about the lack of attention towards regional wines. Big deal. Nothing new about it, but I regard it as a continued failure of the decimated journalism industry: no one can afford to report anymore. They can’t hire new people to report on new areas, so they don’t. And we’re to blame, those of us who don’t pay for magazines or newspapers. We say that we receive all the information we need from websites and bloggers. Really? Few of them ever speak about regional wines, and those that do, cover only a small subsection of those regions, usually the one in which they’re based.
It’s a crime with faceless victims. Regional wineries, while numerous, remain nameless; vague notes about Finger Lakes, or Virginia, or Texas, or Missouri only highlight the institutional ignorance. But in each individual region, things are changing regardless of media ignorance. How it’s happening is mysterious; even local media offer only superficial coverage. But something gets through, because success slowly presses upon the regional mindset, even success in competitions in those states with decades of experimentation. The local culture begins to notice that certain wineries, grapes and styles receive acclaim and maybe it’s not simply regional pride.
Indeed, with hundreds of wines in the running, the Missouri Governor’s Cup Wine Competition isn’t a pushover anymore, if it ever was. Judges no longer hail exclusively from Missouri (though sometimes we locals are the toughest among the judges); the competition now includes a slate of industry veterans from around the country. But here’s the thing: the wines are deserving of this kind of scrutiny. Vintners have clearly upped their game of late; growers are far more skilled at grapes like Norton or Chambourcin and some of the most exciting grapes, such as Traminette and Valvin Muscat, weren’t part of the mix even a few years ago.
Not long ago, there were heated arguments as to which wines would be awarded the coveted status as Best in Class (as in Best Dry White Wine, Best Dry Red Wine and so forth) and though it may sound odd, the arguments are a bit less personal now, because the wines are better across the board. In the past, some of the wines under consideration might have tasted good to some judges but to others they were unbalanced or even flawed. Faced with the prospect of handing a top award to a flawed wine, conversations in the judging room got pretty testy, if not downright insulting. Aside from questioning the morals of someone’s sister, it can be tough to get through to a recalcitrant fellow judge.
But times have changed: there are lots of good wines in play. So the disagreements about the wines are based upon style not quality, and that leads to fewer bruised feelings. Norton is a particularly good example: Stone Hill’s Estate Bottled Norton 2009 beat out all other Nortons for the C.V. Riley Award as the best in the state (and by extension, the best in the world?), though I thought that others such as Augusta’s 2008, Les Bourgeois’ Reserve 2008, Mt. Pleasant’s Estate 2008 and Stonehaus Strother Ridge’s 2009 Cynthiana had plenty of offer as well. But they were differently styled (more robust, toastier, or riper; each was its own man) and the outcome became a matter not of quality, but of preference.
So change happens, as the phrase goes, and it’s all to the good. And of all of the changes, the Governor’s Cup is the biggest of them: this year, instead of a super sweet dessert wine, instead of Port or Sherry styled wine, instead of one of the rich and powerful dry Nortons of years past, the winner was a Valvin Muscat. Don’t be alarmed if you haven’t heard of it; it’s new. But if things continue in this manner, you will hear a great deal more about it, not only from Missouri, but from the rest of the country as well. Blumenhof’s Valvin Muscat remains the best I have tasted from anywhere, and it was nothing short of delicious. It has the floral intensity of its parent Muscat, as well as citrus and tree fruit notes that give it a dry and tangy finish, despite the sweet nose.
There are other stars amongst the 38 Gold Medal winners at this year’s competition: particularly Stonehaus Strother Ridge Vignoles, but also 2010 Stone Hill Dry Vignoles, St James 2010 Vignoles, Pirtle’s Premium Port, Mt Pleasant’s Villagio, Montelle’s Seyval Blanc 2010, Chambourin 2009 or their Chardonel 2010, Les Bourgeois’s LaBelle, Cave Vineyard’s White Chambourcin, Blumenhof’s Traminette, Baltimore Bend’s Arrowhead Red, Augusta’s 2010 Vignoles or 2010 Chardonel and Adam Puchta’s Misty Valley Vignoles. But I’m collecting bottles of Blumenhof’s lovely Valvin Muscat just to show my friends from elsewhere that Missouri has it going on.
I don’t expect the mainstream wine media to notice. They’re just trying to stay alive. It’s up to all of us who read about wine to talk about it, write about it and read some more about it.
#Drink Local Wine, at least sometimes.
Doug Frost lives in Kansas City, MO. He is one of three people in the world to pass both the Master Sommelier and Master of Wine exams. Doug also helped form Beverage Alcohol Resource, LLC, an educational body for the spirits and cocktail industry.
Doug’s writing, including the story above which appeared by permission of the author, can be found at http://www.dougfrost.com/