Bottoms Up: Charity begins with wine

Folks in the wine business are very generous when it comes to donating time and expertise to help a charity. Such is the case with the annual Finger Lakes International Wine Competition, the only wine competition in the world that I know of where all proceeds go to charity.

Held every spring in Rochester, New York, the sole purpose of this event is to raise money for Camp Good Days and Special Times, a non-profit, charitable organization, started over 30 years ago, to provide camp for children and families, from around the world, touched by cancer and other life threatening challenges. All folks involved with this competition (judges, organizers, volunteers, etc.) donate their time.

Competition dates this year were March 24 and 25, and achieved outstanding results. It was the 12th anniversary of the event and the largest to date. More wines than ever were entered. More than 3,200 wines from 22 different countries were tasted and evaluated by 64 of the world’s top judges, including yours truly, from 15 different countries. All 50 US states were represented with wine entries. Canada alone entered wines from six provinces. Sixteen panels of four judges each made up of winemakers, journalist, wine educators and wine retailers, plus guest judges, blind-tasted these and decided, as a group, what each wine would receive. Gold, Silver and Bronze medals were awarded, as well as Best of Show. Any wine that was scored Gold by each member of a particular panel on the first evaluation received a Double Gold. For those of you who prefer scores out of a hundred instead, a Gold here is equivalent to a score of approximately 90-100, Silver approximately 80-89 and Bronze approximately 70-79. This year 77 Double Gold, 236 Gold and 1076 Silver medals were awarded. Of course, there were many Bronzes (1207) as well (see their website for details). Of the 186 medals Canada won, 117 were garnered by Ontario, 65 by Quebec and 45 by British Columbia.

The Best of Show is judged after the competition is over. Here specific judges, highly skilled with a particular style/grape, pick the best wine of its kind from the Double Gold medal winners. In other words, the Best of the Best are singled out. Best of Show this year were as follows. Best Icewine: 2008 Black Star Farms A Capella Riesling Icewine (Michigan U.S.), Best Riesling: 2011 Château Fontaine Dry Riesling (Michigan, U.S.), Best Chardonnay: 2010 Merryvale Vineyards Chardonnay (California, U.S.) and Best Cabernet Sauvignon: 2009 Chateau Ste. Michelle Canoe Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (Washington State, U.S.)

On May 5, the competition will hold its charitable gala wine auction (both silent and live) and dinner to give out the awards. Donations to the auction would be extremely appreciated. With a dozen years under its belt, this competition has reached a pinnacle beyond what anyone could have imagined. Of course any large event like this is only as good as the people working it and the folks involved here are gems. The tireless efforts of Peter Parts, Ron Dougherty, Thomas King, the amazing tireless army of volunteers and my fellow judges should be commended. A special thanks to my long-time friend Dave Male, Chairman of the competition! Having known David for decades since the days of InterVin with Andrew Sharp I’m proud to be a part of this event that provides so much for those in need! Cheers to all for an incredible job well done. This competition stands as a model for others like it around the world and I hope it’s only a matter of time until we see many more of them. For more details on the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition go to Donations to Camp Good Days in general are always welcome (

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Only 186 medals for Canada? I add up your numbers and arrive at a sum of 227 medals and you don’t include Nova Scotia, one of Canada’s Maritime Provinces. Bear River Vineyards, Bear River, Nova Scotia was awarded 4 medals…. with three other Nova Scotia wineries also submitting winning wines.

Not only does the FLIWC makes it possible for families and children to enjoy Camp Good Days, the FLIWC, with its remarkable and dedicated organizers, also enables small scale wineries from emerging wine making regions to participate along side well known and established names in the wine industry. This competition is indeed a model for providing not only to a worthy charity but also for providing wine makers a level playing field, feedback on their wine with no marketing strings attached.

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