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Early round of judging Harvest Fair wines begins

  • Ellen Landis tastes a syrah wine during the Harvest Fair wine judging, Wednesday Sept. 25, 2013 at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat)

Faced with a daunting 975 wines to taste and score in just three days, judges at the Sonoma County Harvest Fair Wine Competition on Wednesday quickly resumed their yearly ritual of politically correct discord — agreeing to disagree.

The identity of the winners in this tasting will be announced Saturday night at the Sonoma County Harvest Awards for participating wineries and their industry partners. As for the public, they'll get a chance to elbow their way to the winners next week during the Harvest Fair, Oct. 4 to 6.

In Wednesday's early round of tasting, the judges began their genteel sparring in the Showcase Cafe at the Sonoma County fairgrounds.

Sonoma County Harvest Fair Wine Judging

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Dr. Gerry Ritchie, a professor of enology at Cal Poly, and Ron Washam, a former Los Angeles sommelier, didn't see eye to eye on a sauvignon blanc. Ritchie gave it a bronze while Washam gave it a gold.

“I think it's a varietally pretty sauvignon blanc with melon and fig and a nice, long finish,” said Washam, who also writes the playful blog HoseMaster of Wine. “It's a lovely wine.”

Meanwhile Ritchie said, “I thought the wine was too drying and a little bitter. … We differ and that's natural and it's important that it happens.”

Contention is built into the competition to ensure each wine is analyzed from different perspectives, said Bob Fraser, head coordinator of the competition. There are 20 judges and each panel of five is comprised of a professional in the field of wine journalism, education, food, trade and tourism. The educator on each panel has a chemistry background to serve as quality control, there to detect any flaw in a wine, Fraser said.

This collaborative system of judging has been used since the Harvest Fair's initial competition in 1975. Organizers were advised by UC Davis enology professors that this was a better method than secret ballots, which were popular at the time.

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