He's pouring it on for wine competitions

G.M. "Pooch" Pucilowski certainly deserves to wind down with a glass of wine right about now. Sure, he's been surrounded by drink for the past three months, but there really hasn't been much time to kick back and taste.

Think of last Wednesday, as Pucilowski directed the California State Fair Home Wine Competition at Lodi's Wine and Roses resort. More than 1,000 wines were evaluated by about 50 judges, with the competition lasting a whopping 10 hours.

The crunch time actually started many days before the competition. Pucilowski had to secure the judging panels, get the 60-something volunteers coordinated and make sure all the paperwork was squared away.

Throwing a wine competition sure isn't about just sipping the day away.

"I'm breathing easy now," says Pucilowski. "For sure, it's been a little hectic."

This home winemaking event caps a triple whammy of work for Pucilowski. He also serves as chief judge and consultant for the California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition, which was held over three days in June and considered entries from 607 wineries.

The winners of that competition were featured at California Grape & Gourmet, a July 9 food and wine event attended by 5,800 hungry folks at the Sacramento Convention Center. Along with emceeing the awards ceremony, Pucilowski was busy with behind-the-scenes work, including designing the floor layout and assigning booth numbers for the wineries and restaurants.

It's no wonder that Pucilowski puts his popular wine-tasting classes on hold during the competition season.

"The work is nonstop, but I like doing it," he says. "You could say I like being the boss, telling people what to do and delegating. But I try so hard to do a good job with it and make sure everything works well."

Preparations for the State Fair's commercial competition started with advisory meetings in November and then reaching out to potential judges in January. By May, a Cal Expo warehouse was filled with enough wine contenders to account for more than 20,000 glasses.

The State Fair's home winemaking competition is also close to Pucilowski's heart. After all, these entrants make wine not for a paycheck but because they love the craft. Pucilowski keeps a running list of home winemaking clubs throughout the state and puts a contest entry call out to them. Word of mouth also brings an increasing number of contestants, which was up to 800 winemakers this year from 600 in 2008.

And many of these home winemakers are making quality juice, some of which I sampled on a panel last Wednesday. I'm thinking of a zinfandel with a properly spicy kick, and a crisp and fruity rosé that I'd be happy to sip on any summer's day.

When all the sipping and judging was done, these winemakers were the big winners.

• Best of show, white: 2008 Viognier by Lance Gillett.

• Best of show, red: 2007 Kings Hill Cellars Royal by Lindsay Austin.

• Best of show, other: 2008 Red Raspberry by Bentley Johnston and Barbara Rex.

(For a full list of results, check the "competitions" link at www.lodiamateurvintners.org.)

But Pucilowski won't be taking much of a break. He'll soon be off to judge in Houston and resume his wine-tasting classes on the Delta King in Old Sacramento. And by the end of the year, he'll be thinking about 2010's competition season and all the help he'll need.

"I absolutely depend on the volunteers who come in and do this," says Pucilowski. "I could not do this by myself and don't pretend to.

"I just love doing this stuff. Every day's a little different, but it all has to do with wine."