West Lafayette, Indiana - More than 2,000 wines from around the world have been entered in the 2016 Indy International Wine Competition, an event that blends history and culture with modern science.
Now in its 25th year, the competition is the largest independent wine contest in the United States, with participants ranging from small private winemakers to large commercial wineries. It will be held August 3-4 at the Purdue Memorial Union, 101 N. Grant St., West Lafayette.
Entries will be accepted from both commercial and private winemakers until August 1.
Richard Vine, professor emeritus of food science at Purdue, started the event in 1991. As a wine consultant for American Airlines, Vine created the competition in part as a way to find new wines to be served on first- and business-class flights, said Christian Butzke, Purdue professor of enology and chief judge of the competition.
"Dick helped the competition evolve into the prestigious event it is today," Butzke said. "The first year, there were 454 entrants. Today, we have 2,000 or more."
Submissions are grouped into 79 classes and each wine is tasted by several of the 55 professional judges on the panel. Entries are considered for Best in Class and double gold, gold, silver or bronze medals. Class winners then compete for Wines of the Year. Trophies are also awarded for the best international winery, winemaker, label and packaging. Indiana winemakers compete for state honors.
"Winners use these medals and trophies to promote their products in a variety of ways," Butzke said. "Some go the traditional route of hanging the medals around their bottles in the tasting room, some add the information to their websites and social media pages. But the common factor is that these awards lend credibility to the winners' marketing. It lets consumers know that the wine has been objectively reviewed by experts and is certified as fine wine. The feedback received from judges can be very useful for winemakers seeking to improve their processes and products and setting or responding to consumer trends."
There is an educational component to the competition as well. Each year, 12 Indiana winemakers are selected to serve on the judging panel, where they are given the opportunity to sample a variety of wines from each category. The experience helps the winemakers develop their palate and broaden their perspective, Butzke said.
As the competition enters its 25th year, organizers are looking to the future.
"Our biggest ongoing challenge is learning how to stay relevant in this age of social media and fast-paced marketing," Butzke said. "How do we make this old-fashioned, historically rich competition something that is useful for young people and busy professionals? How can we make the awards, the judges' feedback and the number and quality of the wines entered here something that regular consumers can use when they select wine at the store?"
Research and data mining will play a role in shaping the future of the wine industry, he said, ranging from how genetics may affect consumer preferences to how producers could use decision-support technology to aid consumers' wine selections. Butzke said he hopes that tracking past winners will help predict which wines are likely to be successful in the future.
"Purdue is a leader in technology, in economics, in computer science, and we need to utilize these strengths to continue leading for the future of the American wine industry," he said. "What does it take to improve a traditional value-added agricultural product that people are really excited about? How can we continue to make this wine championship something that adds value to the university, for science, as well as for the producers and consumers?"