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In 1992 I became a State of California Certified Profesional Wine Judge, evaluating wines at the California State Fair Commercial and Home Wine Competitions, the El Dorado, Amador, and Calaveras County Fair Wine Competitions, the Lodi International Wine Competition, and other events.

Martin Maxwell - Wine Judge

In the above picture I'm judging several 'Best of Region' wine flights on the third day of the 2008 California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition. With about 50 glasses in front of me on a white tablecloth (which helps in evaluating wine color), eye-hand coordination gets extra attention. The wines were all gold medal winners in their category, then pooled together and sorted by region based on the source of the grapes (North Coast, Sonoma, Napa, Lodi, Sierra Foothills, Greater Bay Area, North Central Coast, South Central Coast, South Coast, other California, and California State Appellations).

several wine flights being judged
Above is my 'birds eye' view of the table and glasses. The 4-digit codes on the bottom of each wine glass match to the code column on the score sheet, one of several covering the flights on the table I'm working through. I've just finished evaluating the 15 red wines in a flight of 'Best Red Wine of Region'. I've circled five, those votes are pooled with the other judges to narrow it down to approx 3-4 wines to be judged again, and from those the wine with the most votes will emerge as the 'Best of Region - Red'.

Also on the table are the glasses for 'Best of Region - White', 'Best of Region - Dessert', and 'Best of Region - Sparkling Wine'. To bottom right is a small plate of food items used to help clear the palate as needed. Celery, french bread (which quickly turns hard), rare roast beef (which works wonders at stripping tannins out of your mouth), and big Graber green olives (one whole, three pits). Graber olives have the perfect saline balance to restore the mouth feel back to neutral - we go through lots of them. That they taste excellent also helps, and the judges consume large quantities of them (at about a quarter per olive).

Several staff wander around the tables keeping the little plates topped off. Others empty the 5 gallon dump buckets at each judges feet. Each four judge panel judge has a clerk, part of the 130 pourers, stewards, panel assistants, communications staff, data entry staff, repourers, cellar staff, champagne squad, administrators, and glass coordinators (consider the logistics of running 10,000 large wine glasses through dishwasers several times). In 2008 there were 2817 wines from over 600 wineries facing 68 judges. In the first two days, my panel evaluated, amongst other things, three flights of Petite Sirahs - totaling 110 wines. Massively tannic wines are one of the reasons we are paid to judge....


  • Sugarstand Morning Sweet and Sticky
  • 2006 California Home Wine Competition and some additional photos
  • Mike Dunne's column and 2006 archive.
  • ijudgewine.com Wine Competition Software