Oregon Wine Competition judges toast the winemakers at the public forum (from left): Ashley Myers, OWC
Moderator; Andrey Ivanov, MS; Maximillian Kast, MS; Peter Marks, MW; Ellen Landis, CS, CSW; Ashley Hausman, MW;
Bruce Nicholson, OWC Chair. Missing, Deborah Parker Wong, DWSET. ##Photo by Maureen Battistella

Judgement Day

OWE competition recruits impressive panel

By Maureen Flanagan Battistella

In late July, over the course of a weekend, six judges evaluated 325 Oregon wines representing 42 varietals from 91 wineries. The 2019 Oregon Wine Competition, a key event of the Oregon Wine Experience in Jacksonville, decided the winners — announced Aug. 22, after this publication went to press — and featured an informative wine industry panel discussion, moderated by Asante’s Ashley Myers and attended by winemakers. 

Two Masters of Wine, Ashley Hausman and Peter Marks; two master sommeliers, Andrey Ivanov and Maximilian Kast; and two wine educators, Deborah Parker Wong and Ellen Landis, made up the esteemed panel divided into two groups.

“We’re balancing out the [two] panel [groups] with one Master of Wine, [one] master sommelier and [one] writer or educator, giving us a nice distribution of judges from different market segments and with different industry experience,” explained Bruce Nicholson, chair of the Oregon Wine Competition. “Master sommeliers typically control market programs for distribution to restaurants, and they become excellent ambassadors for Oregon wine, just as writers and Masters of Wine do.”

The Oregon Wine Competition remains rigorous. Judges evaluate each wine, first independently, using the 20-point criteria developed by UC Davis, followed by a comparative assessment by the team. The contest restricts the number of entries from each winery based on the number of judges, so no evaluation is rushed but, instead, thoughtful and considered.

“When we compare these wines, we all judge them on the quality of the wine and also against the wine of that same varietal from around the world,” Ivanov explained. “We may say, ‘Yes, this is a good wine. But is it a great wine within the world of wine?’”

Four of the six judges were also involved with last year’s TEXSOM International Wine Awards, in which 170 Oregon wines from 17 different AVAs were tasted. The Oregon Wine Board paid shipping for the participating wineries, ensuring the state was well represented at one of the most influential U.S. wine industry events. That move seems to have paid off for Oregon wines, pre-exposing some of the judges to the state’s varietals, terroir and basic geography of the diverse grape growing regions.

“Oregon is very well known for Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley, but there are so many other varietals that show extraordinarily beautifully: Syrah, Tempranillo, Grenache; just amazing,” said Landis. “It is so fascinating to discover these small AVAs, these small pockets exhibiting such varietal correctness that I am so very impressed with.”

Returning from last year, Hausman observed, “There’s a cleanliness, a clarity and a purity across the board.”

 While the judges expected fine Pinot Noirs, they were delighted to taste widely and each seemed to champion a different varietal, like Syrah for Marks, who said the ones he tasted would stand up to any Syrah in the world. For Kast, the grape of the hour was Grenache. He found a stylistic consistency among the wines of this varietal. “There’s a balance of ripened fruit and spice, and the secondary aromatics — [the Grenache] is super beautiful.”

Landis seemed impressed by the whites, saying many were expressive and representative of the region. She particularly enjoyed the Gewürztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc, which she called “exquisite.” During several moments in the evening, Hausman called herself a poster child for a favored Albariño that she could not name until the judges’ findings were made public.

“The beauty and varietal correctness of multiple varieties were amazing,” Landis said. “It was quite an experience to choose out of 12 double-gold wines the top best wine because there were so many beautifully crafted wines, and it’s showing what happens here in Oregon.”

The winners were revealed at the Oregon Wine Experience Medal Celebration in Jacksonville on Aug. 22 (after this magazine was published; look for officials winners in OWP October edition). The 2019 Oregon Wine Experience continued through the weekend with the Founders’ Barrel Auction on Friday, the Miracle Auction and Salmon Bake on Saturday and the Grand Tasting on Sunday. Last year, the Oregon Wine Experience raised more than $1.3 million to benefit the Asante Foundation and Children’s Miracle Network. More than 4,500 wine enthusiasts attended the 2018 event.

For more information on 2019 Oregon Wine Competition and the Oregon Wine Experience, visit

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