Wine Competitions


Gold Medal, Best of Show, Two Silvers and a Bronze…. Who enters these wine competitions; why do they do it, and how do all these medals get awarded?

Join us as we talk with Larry Graham, President of the Orange County Wine Society to see what goes on behind the scenes of a top flight wine competition.

For More Information:

– List of Wine Competitions:

– Orange County Wine Society:

Sponsor: The Beaches of South Walton:

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Show #116
(52:49 min 24 MB)

View The Events of the 2006 OCWS Wine Competition.











20 Responses to “Wine Competitions”

  1. 1 Antonio Oct 30th, 2006 at 6:45 am

    guys, isn’t it medals? :-p

  2. 2 GrapeRadio Bunch Oct 30th, 2006 at 7:45 am

    I do believe gold is a METAL!

    Nothing gets by you guys. 🙂

  3. 3 Doug Smith Oct 30th, 2006 at 12:41 pm

    So … 45% of entries get medals? They throw out low scores but not high scores? They can give out more than one gold per category? They ask their judges both for a score and a medal suggestion? Golds are 90 pts. and above?

    This all sounds to me more like marketing than judging …

  4. 4 GrapeRadio Bunch Oct 30th, 2006 at 6:40 pm


    This is exactly the reason we did this show. I had no idea what the medals represented. It’s not the Olympics, gold medal is not the top award – It’s Best of Show (for each category) -news to me.

    Let’s face it – there is a lot of good wine out there and it is all subjective. This award system is just one more indicator, one more hint at helping the buyer make an informed decision. I don’t think I would buy a wine just because I saw a gold medal or two, but if I saw a gold medal and good score from a critic and maybe a recommendation from a friend I would try it out.

    I am not sure what you mean by marketing? These guys are judging thousands of wines in a few days trying to indicate the good over the not so good. They have no vested interest in who wins. Just getting the best to bubble to to the top.


  5. 5 Doug Smith Oct 30th, 2006 at 7:18 pm

    What I mean by marketing is that the medal winners — virtually all — can use the fact to help sell wine. The public will normally assume that there is one gold, one silver, one bronze in an event.

    Since the OCWS clearly doesn’t force winners to clarify the precise category in which they won the medal (or the fact that 45% of all entrants win them), the assumption from the buying public is that a gold medalist *won* the competition, and was the only gold medalist. Actually they could be one of well over a hundred gold medalists.

    If 45% of entrants are medalists, this is basically marketing material for sales purposes rather than a real competition. Not to say the medalists aren’t better than the non-winners, but frankly the results are a little misleading.

    And the fact that they don’t throw out outlier high scores shows that they really want to boost scoring.

    In beer competitions they even have some categories that are open only to the largest breweries, to guarantee medals for the Millers and Buds of the world every time … not saying OCWS is doing precisely the same thing, but it’s a bit suspect …

  6. 6 GrapeRadio Bunch Oct 31st, 2006 at 5:41 am

    Doug, are you suggesting that the OCWS should change the number of awards because some of the producers might end up confusing the consumer by mentioning/promoting the fact they won an award?

    How do you come to the conclusion that the consumer would think that the wine won the competition Vs won an award? Do you feel consumers do the same with a Parker score? I am not convinced that the consumer is as uninformed as your post suggests.

    Most of these wines will never even be reviewed by a major critic, so they and the consumer benefits by these competitions.

    That being said, I would prefer that the OCWS raise the bar. By being lumped in together, those wines that really outperformed others do not get the recognition they deserve. In short, I agree with your position, but not for the same reason.

  7. 7 Doug Smith Oct 31st, 2006 at 11:33 am

    Again, it is normal to assume that a gold medal is a single winner, as is a silver and a bronze. That would total three medals per category. Not one of roughly half of the wines entered! This is pretty clearly misleading, and I can’t think of a reason why anyone would structure a competition this way (rather than just choosing the single best point-score for gold, the #2 for silver and the #3 for bronze) except that it makes the wineries happy.

    Why does it make the wineries happy? Because they know on entry that they have roughly a 50% chance to win some medal. And they know they can market that medal win, because the public will not assume it was so easy!

    I don’t see the similarity with Parker scores. He has only a vanishingly small percentage of 100s, for example.

    The comparison to Parker would be apt if the OCWS only released the point score of each wine without a ‘medal’. But that would also be less marketable.

  8. 8 Doug Smith Oct 31st, 2006 at 11:36 am

    … sorry, that last sentence was misleading. I meant to say that the comparison to Parker would be apt if the OCWS only released the point score of each wine INSTEAD OF using medals.

    There could conceivably be some years in which no wine from a certain region garnered over 90 points, for example. But I suspect there will never be a year without gold, silver and bronze medals.

  9. 9 Chris Oct 31st, 2006 at 6:13 pm

    I agree with the spirit of what Doug is saying. I was surprised – and somewhat disappointed – with the disclosure of how many medals are awarded. The bar seems to be set very low.

  10. 10 GrapeRadio Bunch Oct 31st, 2006 at 7:24 pm

    Doug and Chris,

    You’re right that there is a high % of people getting awards/medals from this sort of competition – probably at all Fairs and shows for that matter. You’re also right that this is indeed a “marketing” opportunity (to a degree) for smaller producers. But in the same sense so is submitting one’s wines to the Spectator or Wine Advocate for review. I think it’s safe to say that most of the wines submitted to competitions such as this are unlikely to get reviewed by either of these publications – so this is obviously their best recourse for attention and judgement by peers. In the interview, I think Larry explained this reality quite well.

    Personally, I don’t see any issue at all with a higher degree of “awards” in this type of venue. Nor do I think they ought to make any effort to create something of a genuine comparison to scores from the major publications. I suppose one could argue that this seems “misleading,” but we’ve come to accept the term “Reserve” without questioning it, so why not “Gold Medal.”


  11. 11 Eric Rayburn Nov 3rd, 2006 at 8:04 pm

    Loved the show! Interesting topic and you guys all sounded like you were having fun in the process. Keep it up and maybe we’ll all give you the 4-star gold!

  12. 12 paul r Nov 5th, 2006 at 9:22 pm

    i found this show very interesting, as i never really knew what goes on in a wine competition. i certainly have seen the bottles with the little medal stickers on them, but now that i know what it means, i am certainly less apt to give it much credence. in fact, i would have to agree with doug, in that these competitions are more for marketing than anything else. and i do not mean to put down the effort involved by the ocws and their judges, because it seems tremendous. but personally i would not buy any wine based on these competitions.

    eric, i think it is very different than submitting a wine to the advocate or to spectator. how many wines did your guest say 1 winery submitted? with that many wines, they are assured of x number of medals, and they in turn can use that information as part of their marketing machine. why else submit that kind of quantity? and when i read a review from spectator or the advocate, at least i know where my palate stands in relation to that particular critic. i know my palate agrees with some critics reviews of particular wines, and disagrees with some critics reviews of other wines. while i am a big fan of a book called “the wisdom of crowds” (highly recommended, although no gold medals), and it seems that ocws conforms to a number of aspects contained in that book, it just seems that too many awards get given to too many wines from only 1 region.

    i think it is very difficult to determine how to buy a wine that you have not tasted. you can take into account numerous recommendations. the bottom line for me is finding a critic/critics whose palate is comparable to your own, and developing a relationship with a reputable merchant whose recommendations in the past have worked out for you. barring tasting a wine yourself prior to purchase, that, for me, is the best way to go…

  13. 13 GrapeRadio Bunch Nov 6th, 2006 at 10:17 am

    Paul, yep, I think that’s about it in a nutshell. Lots of smaller wineries are happily putting along – not striving to be the next big thing, or even to grow. For them, there is no doubt that the marketing angle factors heavily in their decision to enter such competitions. And you’re right – the more entries you have, essentially the more door prize tickets you’ve just bought.

    Obviously, the results of such competitions will mean more to some people than to others. I know if I were a small producer with beaucoup varietals and no shelf space in most wine stores, I’d want to target that audience. It’s probably the best way to get noticed and pick up some customers for my mailing list.

    I do think one of the most important things OCWS does with its competition is keeping the tasting blind, and utilizing winemakers and vintners for the judging.


  14. 14 Larry @ OCWS Nov 11th, 2006 at 10:29 am

    Thanks again for the chance to talk about the OCWS and the Orange County Fair Commercial Wine Competition – the interview sounds great, however, it appears I made an error in the ranges of scores for gold, silver, bronze.

    I should have stated the following:

    Gold – 90 and above

    Silver 85 to 90

    Bronze 80 to 85.

    I hope this better clarifies our scoring and resulting awards

    Further I hope you were able to get some pictures from our photographer.


  15. 15 J Nov 11th, 2006 at 4:22 pm

    It’s already been said, but I just heard the show and have to reiterate.. this competition is a competition in name only. Almost half of entrants get medals! It’s like an elementary school science fair, where nobody goes home a loser and everyone feels good. I’m not sure if the competition’s organizers are simply ignorant of basic statistics or if their goals are a little more.. business-oriented, but by throwing out low scores but not high scores, you systematically bias all scores upwards. Again, everyone goes home feeling good! And why not? When winemakers choose not to enter, they get a phone call where the competition’s organizers express their “disappointment”.. and the best way to avoid disappointment is to make sure no wine leaves this competition looking bad. A wine that scores in the high 70’s is a bronze.. hmm.. I’m glad I learned that in this podcast. Though I’ve never heard of the OCWS, I’ll make sure to be on the look-out for their medals from now on.. and stay away from the bronze winners.

  16. 16 J Nov 11th, 2006 at 4:25 pm

    Oh, and by the way, “Best in Show” normally means the best dog/horse/wine in the *entire* competition. The fact that there are multiple “Best in Shows” at the OCWS competition just goes to show how irrelevant it is.

  17. 17 Zebra Jan 6th, 2007 at 8:58 am

    Wonderful website! It is nice because of the great pictures and interesting articles. I was a bit surprised – if not astonished – by the 45% ratio of medal winners. This is too much, winning has to be a special recognition, not something that has to be given to nearly half of the participants…

  18. 18 Steve LeBard Jun 11th, 2009 at 4:26 pm

    I don’t agree with Doug. Wineries are entering their best wines into the competition. There can be more than one excellent wine in a category.

    I make one wine and I enter it into competitions to see what judges think of my wine, the better the competition the better class of judges. As a small producer I get good feedback for a reasonable cost.
    If I win a medal does it help me sell my wine? Not necessarily, because I am trying to sell to restaurants, wine shops, etc… and they don’t buy based on one medal. It’s quality based on a certain price point

    Maybe we should go around the Country and take down all of the “World’s Best Hamburger Sign’s” because we all know there can be only one World Best Hamburger.

  19. 19 GrapeRadio Bunch Jun 11th, 2009 at 6:37 pm

    These days, with marketing messages plastered everywhere one turns, I wonder if consumers start becoming oblivious.


  20. 20 Charlie Jun 13th, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    Jay –
    An interesting comment for you to make…

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