Fielding Hills Strikes Gold

A quick update on Fielding Hills winery (see below). Mike and Karen Wade earned three gold medals for their 2004 wines — the Merlot, Syrah and RiverBend blend — in the recent Seattle Wine Awards competition.

What does it mean to win a gold at a wine competition? Karen Wade pointed out to me that it means different things to different people. To the Wades, for example, wine competitions are a way for them to see how they are doing relative to other boutique wineries (Fielding Hills bottles just 800 cases per year). Winning a gold is good for them, but what it really means depends upon what other wineries also entered the competition and which of their wines they entered. It would be possible, I suppose,for the Wades to win a meaningless gold medal if there were no other boutique wineries in the competition. I notice a number of high-end wineries represented on the Seattle Wine Awards list, so this is probably a satisfying win for the Wades.

I naturally think about wine competitions in terms of their market value. Success in wine competitions is one of several factors that can be used to differentiate a wine in the marketplace and so sell more of it or charge a premium price. Since most buyers are not able to taste wines before they buy them, I think that they look for independent quality indicators, such as wine magazine ratings, wine competition medals and regional or vineyard designations, to assure them that they are making a good choice.

I’d like to know what a gold medal is worth — how much does a medal increase the demand for a given wine? My intuition is that it is a complex problem. Some wine competitions are probably more important to buyers than others. And a medal is probably worth more to a wine that has not received any other distinction than to one that has plenty of laurels. And I suspect that all the medals in the world are not as economically significant as a good rating from or The Wine Advocate or Wine Spectator. But it would be interesting to know what the numbers look like. I notice that some of the judges at the Seattle Wine Awards competition head up the wine programs at prestigious Pacific Northwest restaurants including Salty’s, Canlis, Rover’s, Ray’s Boathouse and The Herbfarm. They are people who know wine, obviously, but they are also people who can influence wine sales.

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