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County Fair’s Wine Judges Busy Accounting for Taste

Times Staff Writer

By late Saturday afternoon, Alison Green had reached her peak of concentration.

Green, a wine maker for Firestone Vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley, was one of 72 judges tasting samples from more than 2,500 California vineyards in the Orange County Fair wine competition.

“The more you do this, the more concentration you actually build,” Green said while taking a break from the 60 samples of mid-priced red Cabernets she was judging. “I’m sure other (judges) think of it differently, but this is the way it is for me. It really keeps your palate in shape.”

The judges do not actually drink the wine, but sample it for 10 traits that include color, body and astringency. Then they spit the liquid into a plastic container.

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Before the three-day event is over, Green and the other judges, all of them California wine makers or winery owners, will each sample at least 180 of the 2,500 wines entered in the ninth annual contest at Anaheim’s Disneyland Hotel.

There are 43 varieties in three price categories entered. The judges will sample about 500 gallons of wine during the three days, and gold, silver and bronze medals will be awarded in each category when the results are tallied by computer next week.

This is Green’s third appearance as a judge for the wine contest, considered the largest in the world. She was working so hard Saturday that while other judges lunched, she napped under a tree on the hotel grounds, resting up for the afternoon round.

“This is really great experience for me,” said Green, who began as lab technician at Firestone and worked herself up to wine maker in five years.

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Green also said the wine consumer has a stake in this weekend’s wine contest.

“We’re also here to screen out the bad wines,” she said. “This actually makes it easier for the consumer to go out and buy a good wine.”

Although judging wines is perhaps seen by some as a snobbish trade, Green said just about anyone can become a good judge of wine.

“Almost anyone can do this, but it takes practice,” she said. “I mean, no one can play polo the first time out.”

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