Judging SARWG Competitions
When SARWG first started having home wine competitions (Circa 1977), we would invite people to judge who had a known knowledge of wine. Often the judges were military officers who had been stationed in Europe and were known to have extensive wine experience. We would also invite local personalities and media types -- radio, TV and newspaper journalists -- who wrote about wine or grapes and mentioned them in a positive manner.
This continued for several years until one Sunday afternoon, at a SARWG meeting, a group of members were lamenting the judging scores of our non-grape wines and comparing notes on the various judges. It was noticed that there was a great disparity among some judges on the same wines, especially when they evaluated non-grape wines. Further, we noticed (from their own comments) that some judges didn't understand what a high acid wine or oxidation tasted like. Finally, some judges had never tasted agaritas, prickly pears or other non-traditional fruit from which home wines are made and thus did not know if the aroma of the wine was indicative of the fruit. We concluded that some of our own members were more knowledgeable about certain wines than the so-called experts.
The straw that broke the camel's back was a certain wine writer who referred to SARWG in a derogatory manner in his column. This same wine writer couldn't even pick a California commercial wine out of a small group of home made wines at one of our meetings. Based on a review of his scores, we decided that he was a "label reader" and couldn't tell anything about a wine until he read the label first and then consulted his preconceived opinions.
After that, we started judging our competitions ourselves using the American Wine Society's version of the UC Davis 20-point scale. Eventually, we developed our own form for the judging. The only rule was that you couldn't judge a category you had entered. This worked out quite well, especially when we started to break out the wine by ingredients and categories (sweet/dry) and match judges with categories they knew and preferred.
Then, a dozen or so years ago, Ron Confer of the Grape Press Supply Shop became involved with SARWG. Ron possessed superior wine knowledge, was an excellent winemaker and also had a Ph.D. in Chemistry. Under his tutelage a group of us began training for the Home Wine and Beer Trade Association's (HWBTA's) home wine judge certification. When the time came, we pooled our resources and flew in a guy from California named Ralph Hausley (Circa 1991). Mr. Hausley administered the HWBTA test to 13 of us and seven passed.
About two years ago, our seven HWBTA-certified judges prepared a process for SARWG Home Wine Judge Certification, but that is another story (see Certification for the rest of the story).