The largest wine competition in the Northwest concluded April 25 at Timberline Lodge and one of the 16 judges was Lee Ast, co-owner of Gorge Wine Merchants in Bingen.
Ast was one of eight judges selected from the Northwest wine industry to evaluate and score approximately 1200 wines from Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and Idaho. Other judges traveled from New York, Atlanta, North Carolina , and Australia to participate in one of the pre-eminent wine competitions in the United States.
In 2006, local producer Maryhill Winery won Best of Show with its 2005 Viognier. This year, that honor went to La Frenz Winery, Naramata, BC for its 2005 Merlot. Over 50 grape varietals were judged in three days of competition that resulted in the normally strong showing for Oregon and Washington wines and the best showing ever for British Columbia.
Ast credits his exposure to the wide variety of wines produced by Gorge area wineries and vineyards as a key reason why he was selected as a judge.
He said, "The east coast experts have a world-view of the wine industry, so they're used to seeing specialized varietals on the international market. The Gorge area is able to produce the widest range of top quality wine grapes possible within the United States and I get to work with these wines on a daily basis. This was a real plus."
Other Northwest judges included Michael Etzel, owner and winemaker for the internationally acclaimed Beaux Freres Winery in Newberg, Ore., Frank Roth, winemaker for Tagaris Winery in Richland, and Robert W. Bentley CWS, a nationally published wine critic and educator from Port Townsend.
Ast sums up the experience, "This was an unexpected honor and a great opportunity to experience the best wines from one of the top wine producing regions in the world; our own back yard. Our local winemakers and growers are producing fantastic wines with authority and elan and we are in a great place to enjoy the fruits of their labor. These wines are so good, they're usually bought up by Northwest connoisseurs before they can get out of the region. That's why you see the East coast people coming to this competition. They love to get their hands on our wines."