Sonoma County Harvest Fair


I remember when I was growing up in Toronto (Canada, eh) that one of the annual events that I always wanted to attend was the Canadian National Exhibition at the Exhibition fairgrounds.  Locally this  event is affectionately called “The Ex”, and the slogan was “Let's go to the Ex”.  I thought this was the biggest fair in the world and I thought it was the only one of its kind.  Of course I was 10 at the time and didn't have access to the internet.  I would find out later that every community has a fair like The Ex.

The Sonoma version of this is called the Sonoma County Harvest Fair.  With its roots in agriculture it makes sense that this type of event is tied to the annual harvest.  The event is held in Santa Rosa at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds.  Unlike the Ex, the Sonoma County Harvest Fair does have a rural, farm feel to it and no cheesy games that are impossible to win.  There is a farmers market, a petting zoo, live shows and horse racing.  However, with no disrespect to the sheep dogs, the real draw of the Sonoma County Harvest Fair is the wines.  In conjunction with the harvest most wineries will release their fall wines.  The goal of having these newly released wines medal at the fair and create a buzz around the winery.  For a winery to compete for medals it must meet only one condition, the wine that is submitted must use grapes from Sonoma County.  This means that it is possible for a Napa based winery to actually compete.  Although, it is rare it is not unheard of.

For this year, I was lucky enough to work the wine event.  It is a great place for winery to “show off”, show how many medals you won and talk about how good your wineries wines are.

Wines Competitions

There are a few things you should know about wine competitions and the way medals are awarded.  A wine competition isn't like the Olympics.  There isn't one gold, silver and bronze awarded.  Wines are not judged against the competition, they are judged on their own merit.   This means that in a particular class, style and varietal of wine there can be multiple gold winners.  Not intuitive but kind of makes sense.  So what are rankings and what do the mean?  Here is a cheat sheet based on my definitions:

The wine tasting pavilion is the place where visitors can taste all the wines that won medals.  913 wines were awarded medals.  Okay, not quite that many were available for tasting.  Wineries usually pour the wines that won Gold or Silver medals and there were 446 wines that won Gold or Silver medals.  So roughly half the wines that medaled should have been available for tasting.  However, wineries usually attend if two or more of their wines got silver or above.  I noticed a bunch of wineries that didn't attend so, let's just say that there were 400 wines to taste from.  I managed to try 31 of them.   Don't ask me what my strategy was for the wines I tasted.  You'll be disappointed.

Overall, it was a great event and when I got home, I got to thinking about how the medals were distributed by things like grape, winery and appellation.  There as a nice set (913 elements) data to play with.  I decided to do a bit of analysis.  For my full time job (the mortgage paying job as I call it) I have access to a Business Intelligence product called Spotfire.  It allows me to look into large sets of data and do analysis and find some nuggets of information.  Using Excel and then Spotfire to play with the data I came up with some very interesting pieces of information.

First off I did some basic counts on the medals.  As expected Chardonnay and Pinot Noir lead the way in terms of number of Golds awarded.  What was surprising though was the number of Cabernets that received gold medals considering that Cab is not considered a primary grape in Sonoma.

Then I thought, does the cost of wine really affect judging … well I looked at the most expensive and least expensive wines to get medals.

Next, I decided to look at medals by appellation and the average price for a wine that medal class.  Interestingly enough the average wine price fall in the $20 to $40 range.  Gotta love Sonoma!

Then I took that data above, which is consolidated and took a look at it more granularly.  Below is a scatter plot of all the wines that medaled.  Each of the squares represents a single wine.  On the left we have the price of the wine and along the bottom we have medal type and vintage with each medal type.

Again, it is interesting to see that most wines that got medals were under $50.  And the most popular vintage was 2005.  The last thing I wanted to see is what appellation earned the most amounts of medals.  Not a big surprise, Russian River Valley, the current Rock Star of Sonoma County, is the big winner.  Then, we are followed up by Dry Creek Valley (the home of big zins) and then Alexander Valley, the mini-Napa, the region in Sonoma that can make big cabs.

So there you go … the Sonoma County Harvest Fair from a statistical point of view.  I bet you didn't see that coming.

Mentioned in this article


  • Cheap Wine Finder

    Great info, thanks for explaining that. I remember when I first got into wine I thought the gold medal went to only one wine.

    Oct 20, 2008 at 4:34 AM

  • Snooth User: Philip James
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    1 12,575

    John - great data. What did you mean by the phrase you “worked the event” - you were a judge, or you presented your wines?

    And…can we have a CSV of results that we can load into snooth, so people can see the latest results when they stumble across an award winning wine?

    Oct 20, 2008 at 4:54 AM

  • Snooth User: RachelNYC
    Hand of Snooth
    46023 466

    Was the Internet even in existence for you to access when you were 10? ;)

    Oct 23, 2008 at 2:41 AM

  • sun valey idaho

    sun valey idaho…

    I found your site on bookmarking site.. I like it ..gave it a fave for you..ill be checking back later…

    Oct 23, 2008 at 8:23 AM

  • Snooth User: Philip James
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    1 12,575

    if it was around i'm sure it was called “inter-net” or something. I have a friend who still writes email with a dash, like so: e-mail

    best part is that he works for a digital advertising agency

    Oct 23, 2008 at 8:54 AM

  • Snooth User: RachelNYC
    Hand of Snooth
    46023 466

    The Internet was kind of around when I was 10, it may have been ARPANET when John was 10. Ok… he isn't actually that old.

    Though, I think you may have your John's confused. I was with him all week at the headquarter office of the software company we both work for. :)

    Oct 23, 2008 at 11:50 AM

  • Snooth User: John Andrews
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    36106 3,448

    hahhahaha … finally getting a chance to catch up on Snooth posts … :-) Sorry the graphics didn't really show up cleanly. I'll need to figure out a better way of submitting them.

    @Philip, the CSV of the data will be heading your way in an email shortly. And I wish I worked at digital advertising agency, I just work for a regular enterprise software company.

    @Rachel … yes, I do remember ARPANET and yes, I remember War Games (the movie) too. :-)

    @Cheap Wine Finder … for the life of me I never really understood how wine medals were awarded. Now that I know, things make so much more sense.

    Oct 26, 2008 at 7:24 AM

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