For 65 years, the L.A. County Fair wine competition has showcased the finest vintages from America and countries throughout the world, and illustrated time and again why this wine tasting competition is widely considered to be one of the most prestigious in the United States.
The L.A. County Fair competition, which began in 1935, is the oldest county fair wine tasting in the nation and was named one of the Top 5 wine competitions in the country by USA Today. The event will convene for the 65th time May 12-14 in the Millard Sheets Gallery at Fairplex. Titled “Wines of the World,” it will also feature an international olive oil competition and packaging design competition.
Beginning shortly after the end of prohibition, the L.A. County Fair began awarding medals to the finest wines in California. The event quickly grew to world-class stature. In 1991, judging included not only entries representing the California wine industry, but wines from throughout North and South America. Eventually, Italian varietals were added. Then in 2002, the doors were opened to entries from around the globe.
In the formative years of the competition, only 16 judges participated and fewer than 200 wines were sampled. It was later extended to two days, and in 1981, the event expanded to its current format of three consecutive days.
The Fair introduced a public wine tasting area in 1968, and in 1998 established a wine education center where the public can participate in wine education classes, enjoy gold medal-winning wine tasting and a display of award-winning wines.
The late Harold Richardson, a noted California lawyer and wine connoisseur, chaired the inaugural L.A. County Fair wine judging. He and his wife, Ann Mayock, nationally known for her fine California-styled Los Amigos Sherry, built the event into one of the most important of its kind anywhere.
Nathan L. Chroman, author of Treasury of American Wines, columnist for Wine Times magazine and former Los Angeles Times wine critic (1968-1987) was chairman of the competition from 1967-1997.
Dr. Robert W. Small, professor and wine educator within the Collins School of Hospitality Management at Cal Poly Pomona, was elected chairman in 1998.
In 2002, the competition was widened to include wines from Europe, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. This year, an international panel of more than 80 veteran judges – including ones from Italy and New Zealand – will taste more than 4,000 wines from more than 700 wineries over the course of three days. The Fair’s tasting allows judges the opportunity to rest their palates, improving their accuracy in evaluating the wines and selecting medal winners.
The principal focus of the Fair’s wine competition is the reliance on professionally trained judges, all of who are dedicated and experienced, and who freely give their opinions. Their reflections and attitudes generally represent those of consumers, and the Fair wine judging has always been characterized as a consumer’s tasting event. Essentially, judges consider what would be best enjoyed at the table.
Judges with different backgrounds and viewpoints confer on what makes a quality wine. Their collective evaluation is then used to determine medals awarded in each category.
A variety of wines are judged in the L.A. County Fair competition, ranging from innovative new wines to generic dessert wines. In this respect, judges hold that all wines, not just major popular varietals, are equally important.