Pros give tips and honors to the
amateurs of winemaking

Thursday, July 16, 2009 6:38 AM PDT

As winemakers and other wine experts tasted through flights of wines Wednesday, they jotted down notes for what could be considered the wine industry's minor leagues.

Countless professional winemakers first started out as hobbyist home winemakers, and it's events like the state fair amateur winemaking competition where they receive invaluable feedback on their wines.

"We want to help the home winemakers," said G.M. "Pooch" Pucilowski, the organizer of the contest. "That's probably why our numbers are up."

Judging took place Wednesday at Wine and Roses and a crew of more than 50 volunteers were hustling all day to ensure the judges received the right wines, at the right time and in the correct order.

Pooch said judges fill out detailed forms to describe the wine's characteristics and add comments such as "needs more sulfur," or "too tannic" to help the winemakers improve their wine.

The tasters were assisted by three technical judges, who moved throughout the room to offer their expertise and help the panel judges add even more detailed comments.

Pooch said other wine contests have seen a drop in entries, but the amateur competition received an additional 200 entries bringing the total number of wines submitted to 1,011. Judges also reviewed entries in a label contest.

Barbara Bentley, who volunteered to assist with the competition, said she and her husband had a few entries in the blind tasting.

Bentley, a Walnut Creek resident, said the feedback she and her husband have received at various home winemaking competitions have improved their wine.

"Oh definitely, that's why we enter," she said.

The fair awards coveted "Golden Bear" awards for best in show, and Bentley said a few of the statuettes are displayed on her mantle.

Joe Coughlin was one of the tasting's judges. The cellarmaster at Jessie's Grove Winery, Coughlin said he was a bit apprehensive at what he'd taste at a home winemaking competition.

He said home winemakers have greater latitude to experiment with wine and that experimentation can work or it can go very wrong.

"I'm actually pleasantly surprised," he sad. "I've noticed a lot of good wine."

Lodi News-Sentinel