I remember when I was growing up in Toronto (Canada, eh) that one of the annual events that I always wanted to attend was the Canadian National Exhibition at the Exhibition fairgrounds. Locally this event is affectionately called “The Ex”, and the slogan was “Let's go to the Ex”. I thought this was the biggest fair in the world and I thought it was the only one of its kind. Of course I was 10 at the time and didn't have access to the internet. I would find out later that every community has a fair like The Ex.
The Sonoma version of this is called the Sonoma County Harvest Fair. With its roots in agriculture it makes sense that this type of event is tied to the annual harvest. The event is held in Santa Rosa at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. Unlike the Ex, the Sonoma County Harvest Fair does have a rural, farm feel to it and no cheesy games that are impossible to win. There is a farmers market, a petting zoo, live shows and horse racing. However, with no disrespect to the sheep dogs, the real draw of the Sonoma County Harvest Fair is the wines. In conjunction with the harvest most wineries will release their fall wines. The goal of having these newly released wines medal at the fair and create a buzz around the winery. For a winery to compete for medals it must meet only one condition, the wine that is submitted must use grapes from Sonoma County. This means that it is possible for a Napa based winery to actually compete. Although, it is rare it is not unheard of.
For this year, I was lucky enough to work the wine event. It is a great place for winery to “show off”, show how many medals you won and talk about how good your wineries wines are.
There are a few things you should know about wine competitions and the way medals are awarded. A wine competition isn't like the Olympics. There isn't one gold, silver and bronze awarded. Wines are not judged against the competition, they are judged on their own merit. This means that in a particular class, style and varietal of wine there can be multiple gold winners. Not intuitive but kind of makes sense. So what are rankings and what do the mean? Here is a cheat sheet based on my definitions:
The wine tasting pavilion is the place where visitors can taste all the wines that won medals. 913 wines were awarded medals. Okay, not quite that many were available for tasting. Wineries usually pour the wines that won Gold or Silver medals and there were 446 wines that won Gold or Silver medals. So roughly half the wines that medaled should have been available for tasting. However, wineries usually attend if two or more of their wines got silver or above. I noticed a bunch of wineries that didn't attend so, let's just say that there were 400 wines to taste from. I managed to try 31 of them. Don't ask me what my strategy was for the wines I tasted. You'll be disappointed.
Overall, it was a great event and when I got home, I got to thinking about how the medals were distributed by things like grape, winery and appellation. There as a nice set (913 elements) data to play with. I decided to do a bit of analysis. For my full time job (the mortgage paying job as I call it) I have access to a Business Intelligence product called Spotfire. It allows me to look into large sets of data and do analysis and find some nuggets of information. Using Excel and then Spotfire to play with the data I came up with some very interesting pieces of information.
First off I did some basic counts on the medals. As expected Chardonnay and Pinot Noir lead the way in terms of number of Golds awarded. What was surprising though was the number of Cabernets that received gold medals considering that Cab is not considered a primary grape in Sonoma.
Then I thought, does the cost of wine really affect judging … well I looked at the most expensive and least expensive wines to get medals.
Next, I decided to look at medals by appellation and the average price for a wine that medal class. Interestingly enough the average wine price fall in the $20 to $40 range. Gotta love Sonoma!
Then I took that data above, which is consolidated and took a look at it more granularly. Below is a scatter plot of all the wines that medaled. Each of the squares represents a single wine. On the left we have the price of the wine and along the bottom we have medal type and vintage with each medal type.
Again, it is interesting to see that most wines that got medals were under $50. And the most popular vintage was 2005. The last thing I wanted to see is what appellation earned the most amounts of medals. Not a big surprise, Russian River Valley, the current Rock Star of Sonoma County, is the big winner. Then, we are followed up by Dry Creek Valley (the home of big zins) and then Alexander Valley, the mini-Napa, the region in Sonoma that can make big cabs.
So there you go … the Sonoma County Harvest Fair from a statistical point of view. I bet you didn't see that coming.