Wine Competitions: Nothing a Few Million Dollars Can’t Fix

Yesterday, Brandt Snedeker, by winning the Tour Championship golf tournament in Atlanta, also came out on top of the  season-ending FedEx Cup Playoffs. His reward? $10 Million. And it got me thinking. If you want to bring new vitality to the world of wine competitions, take the simple step of replacing shiny medals with shiny coin…Lots of it!!

Here’s what I’m thinking: “The American Wine Competition”. The producers of the best red, best white and best dessert wines are awarded $1 million each.

In the first place, you’d see a lot more wineries entering the competition that normally don’t. It’s rare that the more expensive wines enter their wines in wine competitions simply because they have so little to gain. Anyone with a $100 wine asks themselves, “what do I have to gain by getting awarded a gold medal alongside another wine costing $30 that also gets a gold medal. I understand this thinking perfectly. The $1 million prize just might move some of these producers off the dime.

Second, there are so many wine competitions today that they each get very little attention. As a result, the wines that receive sweepstakes awards, let alone gold medals, also get very little attention for their achievement. I can promise that with a $1 million prize at the end of the tunnel, the results of this competition would garner a great deal of attention.

Third, we live in a society now where so much of what passes for entertainment comes in the form of competition. And not just sports. Who the next great runway model? Who is the “Top Chef”. Who is the most Amazing Racer? Who is the biggest asshole in a house filled with assholes? At the very least, the added attention huge cash prizes would deliver would put such a competition in the mind-sight of Americans that associate significance with consequential competitions.

Of course the critical question is how would you structure a wine competition that has so much at stake. Traditionally, wine competitions judge wines in categories associated with the varietal: Best Chardonnay, best Zinfandel, best Cabernet, etc. Some competitions break it down further by price point. Best Pinot Noir over $35, Best $0.00 to $15.00 Syrah, etc. Still others add additional categories that might have to do with region of origin or alcohol levels.

If, as I imagine, this Million Dollar American Wine Competition awards three $1 Million cash prizes for best red, best white and best dessert, then I think one can and should judge entrees by varietal categories, but it would make no sense to include price points as a criteria. At the end of day, for example, the wines judged best in each white wine category (Chardonnay, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, etc) would advance to the Money Round. Same for red and dessert wine.

I’m going to further assume that no sponsor of such a competition where millions of dollars have been put up as the prize would do so with out the guarantee of exposure. This is why FedEx sponsors the $10 million prize in Golf. It’s why BMW, Hyundai, Northern Trust, Bridgestone and numerous other corporations put their names on individual golf tournaments on a weekly basis and deliver purses in excess of $8 million.

Given the necessity of garnering great exposure for the sponsor, we need to televise this competition. So, we need television network. That likely means a cable network, but one can’t count out PBS. In addition, we need to find a way to make watching a bunch of folks sitting around a table, sipping and spitting wine somewhat compelling. My thought is let’s not show much of the sipping and spitting, but let’s show the conversation that happens around the table. Let’s let viewers know the identity of wines being tasted and judged, let’s have engaging profiles of the varietal being judged. And let’s have judges that have personality in addition to palates. And of course, let’s try to make the reveal of the winners in each varietal category somewhat suspenseful. I find that quick moving cameras, quick shots of judges thinking, music that mimics a quickening heart beat and a focus in on shifting eyes does the trick.

Would all this be good for wine?  I’m not sure. What’s “good” for wine is a question that doesn’t address the various constituencies that exist in and around the wine industry. I would undoubtedly bring attention to wine in general, lots of attention to the winners and, here’s the thing, much greater attention to wine competitions.

Up until the season ending FedEx Cup and the year end playoffs associated with it were begun in 2007, the golf world sort of went on hiatus until January of the next year. Professional fall golf was uninteresting as so many of the top touring pros simple stopped playing, took a rest, and left the year-end, low purse tournaments to the also-rans. Not any more. With the $10 million dollar bait dangled in front of them, the Top golf pros are now more than happy to keep competing after the last major tournament and the attention paid to golf continues on into the fall.

Wine competitions could also use some revitalization. I’m thinking a few million dollars in prize money can help that.

8 Responses

  1. Lee Newby - September 24, 2012

    To offer a 1M prize you would have to pay your secret judges 500k each and run DNA and age testing on the wine to see they are as advertized. Hey for a million dollars the counterfeiting would be rampant, a bottle or 2 of 2009 Lafite portrayed as a Meritage would be an easy way to get into the finals. You might find that none of the final wines are as advertised.

  2. Alfonso - September 24, 2012

    did Ron Washam ghost write this post? Hilarious

  3. Debbie - Hudson Valley Wine Goddess - September 24, 2012

    As a chairperson of the Hudson Valley Wine Competition I love your post. I think UPS or FEDEX should belly up for the 1M prize money.

  4. Christian Lane - September 24, 2012

    Sounds like a fine breakeven analysis. Do we STILL have to submit 6-8 bottles, or will the realism prevail? Funny post, and smart, Tom.

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    […] competitions are boring affairs. That’s why Tom Wark thinks they should award “a few million dollars in prize […]

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  8. Fredric Koeppel - September 27, 2012

    Think how different the whole aspect of the wine judging competitions would be if they awarded ONE gold medal, ONE silver medal and ONE bronze medal in each category instead of passing the medals out like candy on Easter so every wine that enters gets a medal. The wine judging competitions in Califronia aren’t competitions at all; they’re love-fests for the industry. No wonder so many of the really excellent wines stay home.

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