Bottles of Growing Esteem

Recognition and experience help to put Kentucky vineyards on the vintner’s map

Lexington, KY – When Lexington winemakers Ben and Jeanie O’Daniel bottled Jean Farris’ 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, they suspected it was going to be good. In January, they discovered it was good enough to win a Double Gold at the 2012 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

The prestigious wine contest is the largest competition for American wines in the world. The 2012 event set a new American wine competition record, with 5,500 entries from 1,379 wineries.

There are hundreds of large and small wine competitions held all over the country, and the opportunities for wines to be judged range from state fairs to prominent events such as the Indy International Wine Competition and the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, which Eric Degerman of Wine Press Northwest calls “the Super Bowl of judging wines.” To win a Double Gold designation, a wine must be unanimously judged Gold by a five-member panel of judges in a blind tasting.

For Ben O’Daniel, this award is the “feather in the cap” that he is most proud of. Jean Farris entered the San Francisco competition to assess how their wines stack up against other American wines.

“Crazy little guys like me send our wines in just to see how we compare to the larger conglomerate-owned wineries,” Ben O’Daniel said. “We were the only winery from outside the major wine-growing regions of California to take a Double Gold.”

In San Francisco, winning a Gold designation or higher comes with obligations. The O’Daniels we asked to bring three cases of wine and to fly to California to pour wine for a public tasting.

At the tasting, they were amused by the feedback from the Californians. As they poured the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon at a table decorated with the Double Gold plaque and a banner reading “Classic Wine with a Southern Drawl,” tasters asked where the O’Daniels lived. They answered, “Lexington, Ky.” Tasting the wine again, the participants would ask where the wine was made. Again, the O’Daniels answered, “Lexington, Ky.” Still a bit incredulous, the tasters would ask where the grapes were grown, to which the patient O’Daniels responded, “We can see the vines from our front porch — in Lexington, Ky.”

“Yeah, we were a bit of a freak show,” Ben O’Daniel said, but he added that people were excited about the wine and reacted as though they had found “this neat little jewel.”

The judges brought VIP guests to the table and explained to them “how miraculous it was” that Kentucky had produced “a phenomenal wine.”

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