Gold-medal winning wine? Take it with grain of salt

NEW YORK Tue Sep 1, 2009 3:30pm IST

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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - What does a gold medal on a bottle of wine mean? For a winemaker, it means confidence but for a consumer it may not convey much at all.

Robert Hodgson, a retired professor from Humboldt State College in California who owns Fieldbrook winery, said entering contests to win medals was a way of reassuring himself about the quality wine he makes.

"When we started to enter competitions, my main concern was whether or not our wines were competitive. Eventually, I discovered that we were as good as anyone else. So, I did gain confidence that we were producing very good wines," he said.

But what confounded Hodgson was winning a gold medal for his Sangiovese and entering the same wine in another contest and coming up empty handed.

"That's the thing that got me," he said in an interview from his winery that makes about 2,000 cases annually.

"I could understand winning a gold medal, but then to have the very same wine not even win a silver or a bronze in another competition made no sense. So I had taught statistics and decided to apply it."

Using data from the trade journal California Grapevine, Hodgson examined the results of 13 of the 29 major U.S. wine competitions. He found that the odds of winning a gold medal were about 10 percent, which mirrored those of chance alone.

After reviewing the results of more than 4,000 wines entered into competitions, he said of the 2,440 entered in three or more contests nearly half received gold medals. But 84 percent of those same wines were medal-less in another competition.

Wineries spend more than $1 million annually on contest fees in the belief that winning a gold medal and putting it on their bottles' labels will increase sales.

Hodgson believes people, not medals, sell wine. But a medal can help when meeting with buyers for retailers and restaurants.

"If your first words mention the fact that this wine received a gold medal and best of class at la de da, so-and-so wine competition, the buyer will at least try the wine. So winning a gold medal gave me confidence and provided an introduction that the buyer would not ignore," he said.

"Now having said that, when you finally make the personal connection with a buyer, the dynamics change. Some buyers will then greet you with a smile. And, if you get to that point, they will really sell the wine," he said.

But what do the medals mean for the wine drinker?

"My advice to wine consumers is just to be a bit skeptical when they see a gold medal on a bottle. They should take it with a grain of salt."

(Editing by Patricia Reaney)

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