Wine judges and competition PR

Wine judging sounds like a great job, right?

Getting paid to taste a wide array of wines from all over the world – nice one. But wine competition judges open themselves up to a lot of criticism, given the tricky subjectivity related to their job.

Reading Christian Eedes’ article on what it takes to be a wine judge and taking into account all of the controversy that has been stirred up on the back of Robin Holdt’s Top 100 Wines Competition, I think that there is one simple point that commentators seem to neglect mentioning.

Competitions usually claim that part of their reason for existing is to help to inform consumers and help them to make better decisions about the wines that they buy. The competition looks to create trust in the mind of the consumer that it is targeting and thereby encourage them to purchase the wines that the contest endorses through its judging process.

Wine competitions are public relations tools. At least that is how wine brands should view them and if they don’t they’re fooling themselves. They are a tool that producers can choose to use in order to try and gain an advantage over their competitors. I have discussed this in a previous post.

If a competition wants to have impact in a particular market, it would surely seek to have as much relevance to the players in that market as possible – writers, publications, buyers and consumers alike. If organisers want their competition to have added relevance in the USA they need to have endorsement from personalities that are recognisable in the States. If these personalities are judges on the panels and willing to get behind the competition too, then all the better for the organiser and the validity of their competition to producers trying to gain foothold there.

If you take the unfortunately named Top 100 South African Wines as an example, the competition will be proportionally much more familiar to UK winos due to the fact that Jamie Goode and Tim Atkin have been vocally supportive of it in social media. They were paid to judge in the competition, but their recognisability within the target channel of the UK market makes their involvement more valuable than simply the physical act of tasting and judging.

There has been criticism from some about the fact that some South African competitions often rely on foreign judges to oversee the panels. It is seen as something of a slight on South African judging palates. But I think that this is an important element of the competition’s press value and by implication the value of the gongs and medals it dishes out.

Perhaps what producers and commentators should be pressing organisers on is where they see their competition having an impact. All PR tools have a channel and an approach to positioning within that channel. Competitions are no different.


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