A few months ago I received an invitation to be a wine judge for the Grand Harvest Awards Competition sponsored by Vineyard & Winery Management. The wondered aloud ‘do I need credentials to be a judge’? Debra Del Fiorentino, the Competition Director, assured me that my experience (almost 30 years) in the industry was enough. I looked forward to the opportunity, tasting as many wines as I could to be ‘in training’ for the big day. November 18th rolled around and I showed up at the event, my palate ready to go. My co-judges were the inimitable Larry Van Aalst (a 25 year sommelier and host of The Sonoma Report), Leslie Renaud, from Roth Estate Winery, and Christopher Christensen, from Bodkin Wines. We tasted through our first set of wines from Anderson Valley in Mendocino. Paso Robles was next with 62 (!) wines followed by what they termed the ‘Native American Red and White Hybrids’. Can you say Catawba, Seyval, Vidal Blanc, Concord and Noble? We had them all and more judging 203 wines altogether—and what a great education it was. I tasted more wines in one day than I have tried in the last year. While they weren’t all gold medal contenders it was a fascinating study of the competition and I broke new ground trying 11 new varietals and added them to my need-to-taste bucket list. In the end, my palate was sharpened by immersing myself in the wines and I now know there are so many new experiences out there just waiting for me to delve in and learn. Cheers! Or should I say ‘bottoms up’!