Wine Openers: Governor’s Cup features some great wine, but there is room

Having the opportunity to sit in judgment of Colorado wines, or wines from any region or country, for that matter, is a privilege no one takes lightly.

At least, no one with whom I’ve sat on any judging panel.

My most-recent judging experience came a few weeks ago for the 2016 Colorado Wine Governor’s Cup competition.

I’ve watched and reported on the Colorado wine industry since 1990, when it was a small handful (like four or five) of wineries.

Since then it’s grown to more than 140 wineries across the state, and over the years the quality of winemaking continues to improve.

True, a few wines of the 250 or so wines we tasted should not have been bottled, but that can be said of any wine competition, and each year the unremarkable wines are fewer and fewer.

More importantly, the judges had opportunities to taste some amazing, beautiful and fascinating wines, sometimes all at once, in the same bottle.

Many of the red wines made from Grand Valley AVA grapes, particularly the Cabernet Sauvignons, were lauded as “Gorgeous, with completeness at all levels, beginning, middle and end,” by the esteemed Warren Winiarski, winner of the 1976 Judgment of Paris and a winemaker who knows a thing or a million about red wines.

Not as many white wines won double-gold medals as in years past, but much of that likely had to do with many of the whites we might have tasted would have had to come from 2014, the second of two consecutive very poor harvests due to extraordinary winters.

And just when most of us totally were confused by the intense and multi-layered flavors of mead, it took Glenn Exline, director of the Mazer Cup International Mead Competition, to tell us that these “were (some of) the best examples I’ve ever tasted.”

But what struck me is that so many Colorado winemakers again sat out the only wine competition dedicated solely to Colorado wines. Of the state’s 140-plus wineries, only 35 sent entries to the Governor’s Cup. That’s about the same number as last year, and the year before, so while each year the number of Colorado wineries continues to increase, the number of wineries entering the Gov’s Cup stays about the same.

The reasons vary: Some wineries didn’t have their wine bottled at the time entries were requested, others forget to sent their entries on time, and some winemakers simply don’t like contests.

And at least one winemaker has passed on the Colorado contest in favor of larger competitions with a national or international focus.

“Why would I want a gold medal from Colorado when I can get one from San Francisco (International)?” she said. “It has more marketing value.”

As more than one winemaker has said, customers like to see bling, and it’s arguable if the casual customer differentiates between the Governors Cup, the Eastern International or the San Francisco International.

Participating in the state’s namesake wine competition allows you to see where you and your winemaking skills are in relation to other Colorado winemakers.

And if you’re already an established and well-respected winemaker but feel the Colorado competition isn’t up to your level of winemaking, it may be that your participation and the wines you bring would be enough to raise the level of accomplishment in everyone’s wines.

A “rising tide” pertains to an ocean of wine, as well.

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