seal  Purdue News

July 7, 2003

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: Journalists covering the competition may sit with the judging panels and sample some of the wines. More information for journalists covering this event is available from Sally Linton at (765) 496-3842 or Beth Forbes at (765) 494-2722.

World-class wines toast of town at Indy International Wine Competition

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - For a few weeks this month, the Purdue University Food Science Building will amass a collection of wines rivaling the inventories of some of the country's top restaurants and wine shops.

The wines, some coming from as far as New Zealand and Hungary, will compete in the 12th annual Indy International Wine Competition July 24-26 at the Indiana State Fair Exposition Hall in Indianapolis. Hundreds of commercial vintners from some of the world's foremost wineries, as well as more than 100 amateur producers, enter the annual contest.

getting ready
Download photo - caption below

The Indiana Wine Grape Council, based at Purdue, oversees the competition. As the repository for all the wines, each entry is shipped to Purdue, where it is registered and stored until the contest.

"In the days leading up to the competition, we'll receive shipments of up to 650 wines a day," said Richard Vine, Purdue professor of food science and honorary chair of the wine competition.

Contest organizers expect to see more than 3,500 entries this year, including some from leading producers such as California's Kendall Jackson, Washington state's Chateau Ste. Michelle and the French winemaker Georges DuBoeuf.

"The scope of this contest puts Indiana squarely in the middle of the map of the world's wine competitions," said Ellen Harkness, Purdue wine technologist. "People have enough interest to send wines from Argentina, Germany, Italy – winemakers all over the world know about this competition."

The competition also presents a unique opportunity for Indiana wines to compete head-to-head against those produced around the world.

Last year's contest, with more than 3,200 entries from 15 countries, was the third largest wine competition in the United States – and the largest in the nation outside of California.

Entrants included Chardonnays and Cabernets from well-known producers, like Gallo of Sonoma, as well as plum, dandelion, and even tomato wines from amateur winemakers. A wine from Napa Valley's Andretti Vineyard – owned by Indianapolis 500 legend Mario Andretti – has even competed.

"The diversity of wines we see in this competition is just amazing, especially in states where, because of the climate, grapes don't thrive," Harkness said. In those states, amateur winemakers experiment with different types of fruit, vegetables, and even flower petals. "The amateurs get really creative with their wines," she said.

One of last year's more unusual entries was an onion wine from Alaska. "Perhaps not a sipping wine, but great for flavoring sauces and marinades," Harkness said.

Competition judges include winemakers, chefs, food and wine writers from various publications, and other individuals involved in the wine industry. They serve on panels of five, and each panel awards either a gold, silver or bronze medal – or in some cases, no medal at all – based on the wine's taste, aroma and appearance. Seventy judges will participate in this year's competition, and each judge will sample about 110 wines each day.

The diversity of the judges' backgrounds can make for spirited debates when the time comes to award medals, Harkness said.

"In some cases, judges need to sit and talk out their differences," she said. "If two judges say a wine shouldn't receive a medal, and three say it's a gold, that's a discrepancy they'll need to discuss. There will be quite heated discussions sometimes."

A select group of wines – those receiving a gold recommendation from each of the five judges on a panel – are awarded a Concordance Gold medal. Only 60 wines in last year's competition received that designation.

"On the last day of the contest, all the Concordance Gold wines go to the sweepstakes where all 70 judges sample them," Vine said. On that day, the judges choose one wine as "Best in Show," as well as selecting the best white, red, dessert and sparkling wines in the competition.

Contest organizers rely on a program developed by Phil Rawles, Purdue associate professor of computer technology, to keep track of all the wines entered, how they are judged and how they compare with other wines from year to year.

"Perhaps our most important resource of all is the technology we bring to this competition," Vine said. "This program is the envy of every other wine competition out there. We can log entries as they arrive at Purdue, maintain mailing lists of all entrants, log the judges' decisions, and even use this as a database of how various types of wines compare with each other."

In addition to Rawle's computer program, a group of about 60 volunteers – known as the "Pit Cru" – help out behind the scenes to organize thousands of bottles of wine, pour and serve the wines, and wash the 3,000 glasses used in the competition.

"Once the setup is all done, it's quite a sight to see. It's just a sea of wine bottles," Vine said.

Harkness said, "We even have a group of about 10 folks who dry and polish every single glass used in the competition with a linen cloth to make sure there are no water spots or lint on the glasses when the wine is served.,"

One element that sets this competition apart from others across the country is its inclusion of amateur wines.

"What's unique here is that we have the amateur competition and the commercial competition running side-by-side," Harkness said. "The amateur competition is set up with the same regulations and expectations as the commercial wines."

Amateur winemakers have the added benefit of receiving comments and suggestions from judges for improving their wines. Last year 638 amateur wines from the United States and Canada, including 228 from Indiana, were entered in the competition.

The competition is open for public viewing from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on both July 24 and July 25, and from 10-11:30 a.m. on July 26, when the winners of the competition are announced.

Award-winning wines from Indiana wineries will be featured from 6-9 p.m. on July 31 during the Taste of Indiana Agriculture Wine Reception at the Indiana State Fairgrounds Farm Bureau Building. Amateur wines will be on display as well, but they will not be available for tasting. Various foods representing Indiana agriculture also will be featured at the event.

Tickets for the reception are $20 per person, and may be purchased at the door or though the State Fair Box Office at (317) 927-1482.

Writer: Jenny Cutraro, 765-496-2050,

Source: Ellen Harkness, 765-494-6704,


Purdue seniors Jody Graf (foreground) and Justin Casterline label entries in the 12th annual Indy International Wine Competition. The Indiana Wine Grape Council, which is based at Purdue and acts as the repository for all entries, expects a record 3,500 wines for this year's event. Once sorted and refrigerated on campus, the wines will be trucked to the Indiana State Fair Exposition Hall for the competition, scheduled for July 24-26. (Purdue Agricultural Communications photo/Tom Campbell)

A publication-quality photograph is available at

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

* To the Purdue News and Photos Page