Homemade wines please the palate at Yolo County Fair
By ELIZABETH KALFSBEEK / Special to the Daily Democrat
Steve Graham and Mike Taylor, from left, assess the qualities of wine at the Yolo County Fair. (Elizabeth Kalfsbeek/Courtesy) Oak. Blackberry. Acidic. Fruity. Cherry. Brine.
Such were some of the reflections Tuesday morning when a panel of five Nugget Market wine stewards donated their time to judge 40 entries from 12 home winemakers in the 11th Annual Yolo County Fair Amateur Wine Competition, which will be on display tonight in the Ag Business Building, and throughout the fair. Attendees of this evening’s Ag Gala will have a sneak peek at the winners.
“This year, the quality of the wine is better than ever and we’re bigger than ever,” said Dirk Brazil, Amateur Wine Competition founder, of the number of entries received. “There’s a lot of talent out there and it takes a lot to put it out on the line like that (for professional feedback).”
Davis resident Hibbard Williams earned 2011′s most prestigious honor, Best of Show, for his 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon. Williams also earned a First Place ribbon for the same wine in the “Cabernet” category.
Other first place winners include Danyal Kasapligil, also of Davis, for his 2010 Sauvignon Blanc as well as for his 2010 Chardonnay, in their respective categories of the same name. David Gilmer’s 2008 Petite Syrah won in the “Other Red Wine” category, while Chip Sundstrom’s 2008 Syrah earned a title in the “Syrah” category. Both men are from Davis.
James McCully, of Vacaville, shined in the “Other White Wine” category for his gewurztraminer, and West Sacramento’s Robert Gould won for his 2010 Zinfandel in the “Zinfandel” category.
Last year, McCully earned top billing with his cabernet sauvignon, and Kasapligil took home awards in the “other whites” category, syrah, traditional sauvignon blanc and was featured as “Best of Show” for his syrah.
“The key is always balance; nothing should be out of whack,” said wine judge Mike Taylor.
Hank Beal, Steve Graham, Sean McNerney and Shannon Rock rounded out the judging panel, who brought with them experience in wine even prior to working at the Nugget.
The judging panel used the UC Davis 20-point scale, an industry standard, with categories for appearance, color, aroma and bouquet, acescent, total acid, sugar, body, flavor, astringency and general quality.
But, according to Rock, what they are especially looking for in the “amateur” bottles is, “is it drinkable?”
“With the price of commercial wine, (people are) often looking for more complexities, and here we’re looking at, ‘is this an enjoyable wine?’” said Graham.
Brazil, who is also Yolo County’s deputy administrator, began making his own small batches of wine, mostly zinfandel, 20 years ago. He founded the Yolo County Fair Amateur Wine Competition a decade ago to provide a venue for people who want to do something with their homemade wine, whether it be receiving feedback from professionals, or appealing to the competitive side. The home winemakers receive judging notes when they receive their ribbons.
“The judges know these are home wine makers and not professionals,” Brazil said in a previous interview. “The bar is kept at a level I think is very fair to the home winemaker and they look for ‘this is something I’d like to drink’ versus ‘this is something I’d like to sell.’”
Classes included: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Zinfandel, other white wines and other red wines. Awards include first, second and third places, honorable mention and “Best of Show.”
As in years past, the majority of the entries were red wines, as white wines are more difficult to produce at home, taking into account temperature control. Only one year since the competition began has a white wine won “Best of Show” – a chardonnay.
The judges noticed the quality of the wines are getting much better over the years, which may be due to the crafters starting with better raw materials, or grapes, or perhaps taking more care in the sanitation process, which can affect oxidation. They also saw colors across the board were much improved, a lot less brown.
“It’s good to taste anything and everything and to have a reference point to what is out there,” Taylor said of taking the time to evaluate the competitors.
Judge Beal suggested the same advice for aspiring, or practicing, home winemakers.
“Taste a bunch of wines so you have a reference of what your varietal should taste like,” he said.
Start with the best fruit, and provide minimal intervention, Taylor added, while Graham suggested home winemakers focus on making the types of wine they love, rather than just “making wine.”
People interested in competing in next year’s competition are encouraged to provide their contact information on a sign-up sheet in the Ag Business Building at the Yolo County Fair. Entries are accepted from Colusa, Solano, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba counties and an “amateur” is considered a person who does not work in, or own, a commercial winery.