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An exciting new arrival

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Posted: Friday, March 7, 2008 10:00 pm

Tuesday, the Lodi-Tokay Rotary Club rushes to the delivery room with its new baby: the Lodi International Wine Awards.

It is an event that sweeps aside all the clichés of fundraising and public service.

Before we spell out the details, however, we ought to disclose that our publisher, Marty Weybret, and circulation manager, Gary Greider, are both members of the club and will play peripheral volunteer roles in the wine awards. So if our delight strikes readers as excessive, now you know the reason for our pride and pridefulness.

Anyway, the Lodi International Wine Awards are the brainchild of Rotarian Dave Akin and some of his wine buddies who have been hired to run the thing. But this event is the volunteer creation of Mark Hamilton, a new Lodian who joined the club in June. He has virtually put his business on hold to direct the volunteer legions who have been phoning wineries, stacking and hauling wine cases and who will tally results for this first event.

It all begin when Akin, winemaker and owner of Akin Estates Vineyards, pitched Lodi-Tokay Rotary Club on very different fund raising ideas. He wanted to create a revolutionary wine judging, one that does away with the effete reverence for bold wines.

The event was the brainchild of Tim Hanni, a food and wine consultant from Napa, and G. M. "Poochâ€A Pucilowski, manager of the California State Fair wine judging. Hanni has been working with university researchers on the idea that people taste things differently. Most of us know this intuitively. But still, when we read that Wine Spectator magazine or the "wine headâ€A down the street just loves Seven Deadly Zins or 10-year-old Opus cabernet, we accept their judgment as truth.

Hanni says don’t.

There’s no more truth in the idea that wines with lots of acid and oak are "bestâ€A than there is in saying black coffee is better than coffee with cream and sugar.

In wine, as in all food, quality is a preference.

So unlike all other wine judgings, the Lodi International Wine Awards, groups entries into three (or four, we’re still not quite sure) preference categories. Awards will be given for wines that appeal to hypersensitive tasters who just hate all that oak and tannic acid but love subtle overtones of fruit, sensitive tasters who take it all in and tolerant tasters who miss the subtleties but crave the bold features of "big wines.â€A A fourth category for overtly sweet wines has also been discussed.

The judging is for wines from around the world, not just wines from Lodi.

Hanni’s and Akin’s idea is to improve the way wine is marketed. The club’s purpose is to raise Lodi’s reputation as an innovative wine region and make a little money for charity from the entry fees. (If there are a few half-empty bottles left at the end of the day, well how else do you pay volunteers?)

It started as just talk a year or so ago, after the club burned out on the Ooh Ahh Festival at Lodi Lake. It was risky. There were doubters. Break-even was 400 entries.

Friday, there were 522 wines entered.

The San Francisco Chronicle covered the event yesterday in its wine section; others papers in the region have also picked up the buzz, and the Wall Street Journal has been calling.

Not a bad promotion for a bunch of volunteers.

(Last note: Although the Lodi International Wine Awards is not a public event, per se, three small tour groups will get to peek behind the curtain as the wines are tasted by 38 judges at Hutchins Street Square Tuesday. Call the Lodi Conference and Visitors Center first thing Monday, 365-1195, if you’re interested.)

â€" The Lodi News-Sentinel

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