HOW DO YOU MEASURE WINE QUALITY IN AN APPELLATION OVER TIME?
by Andrew Chalk
How do you assess how an appellation is doing in its pursuit of higher wine quality? For an individual wine we can use critics’ scores. For an appellation, an AVA, or a state, or some other geographic entity this approach excludes most states in the United States, as major critics confine their attention to California, Oregon, and Washington, with maybe an occasional mention of others.
One alternative metric is medals won by the appellation’s wine at wine competitions. For all their warts, these shows do offer a relative ranking of the wines presented. They do pit different appellations against each other. They are held each year, allowing trends to be mapped, and they do judge wines ‘blind’ (i.e. without the taster knowing the identity before scoring).
Below is an example I did for a book. A few years ago, after hearing numerous colleagues and professionals tell me that ‘Texas wines have improved’, I started to collect medal counts of Texas wineries at wine competitions. As a first cut I ignored the level of each medal awarded (i.e. gold, silver, or bronze). I also included all competitions that met a fairly general ‘bona-fide’ test (i.e. I did not just track the same competitions each year). And, in order to eliminate charges of `in-state bias’, I included only out-of-state wine competitions.
The results, reproduced below, show a trend. Prior to 2011 the total number of medals won by Texas wineries was fairly constant at about 20 a year. Starting in 2011 the number of medals won annually by Texas wines increased by a factor of 5 in 3 years. Furthermore, that level was sustained going forward. There is vintage variation, as one would expect. For example, the weather in 2013 was the worst in 50 years and the medal count in 2015 reflects it.
The data were obtained from surveys sent to Texas wineries for their results, which were compared on a sampling basis with published results. Most of the medals came from the San Francisco International and San Francisco Chronicle shows, but New York’s Finger Lakes show is popular too. Other shows in U.S. cities and in Europe pop up occasionally. Even with reliance on such self-reporting, and the possibility of missing data in older vintages, the trend of a quality improvement is strong.
This approach, the secular trend in medals won, could be applied to other states, or AVAs, or grape varieties. Such numbers are important not just to the wine industry, but can be used to make tourism decisions (such as tourist board funding), governmental budget decisions (e.g. cross-crop agricultural research spending) and by consumers deciding what wines to taste