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By Laura Ness

What makes this competition different from others? First of all, it’s a regional competition that judges only wines produced and bottled in Northern California’s premier winegrowing region, which includes:

  • Lake County
  • Mendocino County
  • Napa County
  • Sonoma County
  • Marin County
  • Solano County

North Coast Wine Challenge Wine Competition Director, Debra Del Fiorentino, who coordinates many of the top wine competitions in North America, explains, “The North Coast Wine Challenge is the only competition where we truly focus on the Best of the Best. Only wines rating 90+ points are awarded gold medals and they are the only wines that are eligible to move on to the ‘Best Of’ Category. Only the gold medal winners are ever published publicly. Winners are actively promoted in the pages of The Press Democrat, as well as in the award-winning Spirited Magazine. We take great pride in being able to choose the ‘Best of Lake County,’ the ‘Best of Mendocino County’ and so forth. It’s great bragging rights for the winning wineries and winemakers.”

Here’s some insight into the judges for this particular competition. They are all seasoned retailers, distributors, restaurateurs, winemakers and wine writers. Together, they represent a remarkable sphere of influence. They know how to promote the wines they enjoy and can help provide increased exposure for winning wine brands.

Each judging panel, carefully chosen by Head Judge Daryl Groom, consists of a member of the three professions: wine journalism, winemaking and wine retailing. And, unique to all other wine competitions in America, each panel also includes an associate judge, bringing fresh perspectives or perhaps just absorbing the proceedings. This unique combination of skill sets helps educate the entire panel by offering the different viewpoints each of these constituencies brings to the party.

“In Australia, practically all the wine competitions are judged exclusively by winemakers,” he explains. “It’s much more technically oriented” he observes.

The unique panels of the NCWC are a plus, though. “Having a mixed panel encourages discussion of each wine. You might miss something,” Sonoma Curter Winemaker, Mick Schroeter notes. “Others bring it to your attention.”

Doug Frost, a Master Sommelier and America’s eighth Master of Wine, lives in Kansas City where he writes and lectures about wine, beer and spirits. Only the second person in history to complete both exams, more than two decades later, he is still one of only four people in the world to have achieved both of these remarkable distinctions. He currently he serves as President of the Institute of Masters of Wine North America. Frost provides marketing consulting services, including education, merchandising and sales, to many retailers, restaurateurs, wineries and distillers.

Doug Frost

Frost had this to say about NCWC, “I love Daryl Groom’s competition, not least because it’s run by Darryl Groom, a really amazing person well beyond his broad achievements in wine. And those are enough. But the quality of judges is constantly high; that’s unusual. And Daryl and Debra Del Fiorentino are always looking for ways to make it better. They’ve introduced a mentoring program, whereby young wine professionals, particularly without judge experience, are brought on as judge apprentices, if you will. It’s a great idea and a great influence on the rest of the industry.”

Mary Melton

As Director of Beverage for the P.F. Chang’s chain, Mary Melton brings more than 25 years of industry experience to her role and has been awarded top National honors for Best Chain Restaurant Wine Program at the VIBE VISTA awards in 2018 and 2010, Best Chain Wine Program in 2011 and Best Overall Beverage Program in 2012. She is responsible for the overall strategy of the beverage program across 218 restaurants, and manages the creation of beverage menus, the wine program, drink innovation and development, wine education and bartender training. Prior to joining P.F. Chang’s in 2005, Mary worked with the Henry Wine Group as a fine wine specialist and gained experience in wine sales with the Regal Wine Company.

Melton is returning to judge NCWC this year and shared this thought from her prior judging experience. “It’s an honor to be involved in this competition which includes many of the top wine professionals in the country. I enjoy the ability to zero in on wines from the top California North Coast AVAs. It helps me to learn more about what’s happening in premier winegrowing regions and then bring the results to our wine loving consumers. It’s not every day that you get the opportunity to have over 1,000 wines in one place and taste through them with today’s wine leaders to uncover some of the best wines grown in the region.”

Judge Dan Shuette, business development manager for wine and beer at HEB Grocery Company in San Antonio, Texas, had this to share: “Needless to say, I think the Challenge is a fantastic wine judging that is managed and handled as one of the best there is. The panels are fantastic because of the involvement of writers, winemakers, and retailers, all evenly mixed across the panels. I also think it’s amazing that Daryl is using the panels to groom future leaders of our industry by adding them as associate judges.”

While Associate Judges are tasting and evaluating right along with their professional panel-mates, their scores are not counted towards the final vote tallies.

To enter, visit www.pdncwc.com.

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