Drunk with Pleasure
First annual Monterey County Fair Wine Challenge drips with fun.
Thursday, August 18, 2005
Robert Mondavi, one of the godfathers of wine in the modern era, is quoted as saying, “Wine is an art and a science.” Wherever and whenever people have tried to harness the process that turns grapes into wine, there have been struggles, frustrations, rewards and occasional moments of ecstasy. One of the most fascinating aspects of it all is those feelings might apply to the same wine, coming from different people’s perspectives. Even more fantastic is they may come from the same person about the same wine, sampled at different times, in different settings.
So it is always with that uncertainty that anyone serious about trying to judge wines should approach the exercise and not take it too too seriously; but it sure is fun to hang out with a bunch of winos and powertaste 115 wines in two hours like we did this past July 16th for the First Annual Monterey County Fair Wine Challenge. (The wines were served up for a people’s choice tasting at a gourmet dinner on Aug. 17 at the Turf Club.)
Fred Crummey is his name. Long time amateur winemaker here in Monterey County, lover of our wines and obviously our area, he is also a member of the Board of Friends of the Fair. So our man Fred figures out that we can have an annual wine judging event that showcases what Monterey County is all about.
He said, “I always felt that there needed to be something with the wine industry in Monterey County and I thought the Fair would be the venue.”
Naturally, the next step was to figure out how to do this thing. At that point Fred called Steve Pessagno, local winemaker and winery owner, for some practical advice. Signore Pessagno, among other things a bona fide engineer, has the sort of organizational mind that can whip this type of event into shape. He knows all about what Crummey was trying to conceptualize: “Fred brought it to attention that Monterey County wines are under-represented. I started the King City competition, now up to 1500 entries, so I knew what to do.”
They both felt the retail, restaurant and hospitality industry in Monterey County should drive this one. So invitations to judge went out not to winemakers or winery representatives, but to those people in the community who directly influence how and how much Monterey County wine is sold to consumers.
Into the Monterey Room at 10am we congregated on that sunny, cool morning. There were round tables set for four tasters each, clusters of glasses gleaming, old industry friends and new friends chatting lively, joking comfortably, Crummey humbly and genuinely thanking everyone, Pessagno coordinating—dispensing instructions, exhorting the group. The system we would use was simple; wines were judged in flights, for example: Chardonnays under $20, etc. With each flight, which contained anywhere from five to 15 wines, we would mark half of them with a plus (+), half with a minus (-).
Aided by a team of volunteers who poured, cleared, etc., led by Kelly Baldwin, Deputy Manager of the Monterey County Fair, Pessagno kept things moving. Thomas Nash, a local attorney, wine consultant and food/wine writer said, “It was extremely well run, one of the largest and most comprehensive tastings I’ve attended in 30 years of local industry involvement.”
Mac Gregory, effervescent Food and Beverage Director at the Hyatt Regency, called it “awesome.”
“It was a lot of wine. It showcased Monterey’s strengths and weaknesses,” he said. “Chardonnay is definitely our power, Pinot Noir has some bright spots, many of the reds need improvement. The format was done well and there was good representation among tasters.”
To which Joe Cingari, Key Accounts Specialist for Young’s Market Distributors, added, “I thought it was quite interesting, all the different palates in the room that know their customers. A lot of our palates are formed by our clients.”
Everyone there was really excited to be part of it. Marc Cutino, caretaker of the Sardine Factory wine fortress, thought it was “a great idea, very well organized, just how it should be done.” Fabia Massaro, of Terranova Fine Wines in Monterey, said, “I thought it was just a great experience. It was an honor to be asked to attend. It opened up my eyes to the world of competitive judging. I liked that Pessagno was there because he’s very knowledgeable, very instructive.”
Make no mistake about it, the First Annual Monterey County Wine Challenge was a rousing success and left a couple of dozen professional wine folks beat but happy and proud to be part of it. The one and only Patrick Schrady, longtime wine buyer for Nielsen Brothers Market in Carmel, a man whose superior wine knowledge is matched by an acute intellect and Mojave Desert wit, succinctly wrapped up the experience: “Wonderfully brutal.”