Unlike any other wine competition in the country, Grand Harvest Awards takes a deconstructionist approach to wine judging. You sit down before a flight of wines and start to swirl, sniff, sip and spit not only to evaluate the sum of the parts but to figure out what the parts have to say on their own.
Is that citrus smell grapefruit or lemon? Is that earthy flavor mushroom or dust? And if it's one or the other, is it consistent from wine to wine in any given class?
If so, maybe that says something unique of the region where the grapes were grown. It's rather like looking at the nuts and bolts that hold together a BMW rather than just sitting back and enjoying the air conditioning, the sound system and the power that can be engaged so easily.
This is Bill Moffett's idea not only of a good time but of an educational adventure. He conceived of Grand Harvest Awards 17 years ago as a way to use a wine competition not only to recognize outstanding wines but to determine whether wines from a particular area, such as Napa Valley or the Sierra foothills, have some characteristics in common to set them apart from wines of other regions.
That's why I'm in Santa Rosa, helping gather data in his quest. In other words, I'm participating in my first major wine competition of the year. The 2007 edition of Grand Harvest Awards is under way at the Flamingo hotel. It's chilly and dreary outside, but inside each panel is being warmed by some 120 wines a day. Our panel began with a couple of flights of cabernet franc and then swung through classes of cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and pinot grigio. We know neither the identity of the producers nor the identity of the regions where the grapes were grown. Our task is to find wines of high quality and to determine whether there are any threads in any one class to say that these wines can come from one particular region and nowhere else. Even after more than 120 wines it's too early to draw any conclusions.