Should medal floods be slowed to a trickle?

Over the years I've been involved in a variety of spirits and wine judgings that use sharply different methods for awarding medals.

Some are known for being stringent with the honors. Others are known as treasure troves of medals for winemakers and distillers panting after gold, silver or even, heaven help us, bronze trinkets to feature in their advertising.

The most recent major event where this cropped up was the San Francisco World Spirits Competition where 88.5% of the entrants got a medal of some sort (749 of 847) after the competition was split, then split again and again, into 439 categories.

As one reader e-mailed me, "Don’t you think it odd that out of 847 entries 88.5% win an award?"

Odd, no. Untoward, yes. And it's not the only such example. A few others from this year:

• In the Florida State Fair International Wine and Grape Juice Competition, held in Tampa, entries were judged by individual state and one group of "foreign" entries, resulting in the awarding of a whopping 155 gold medals.

• In the Newport (OR) Seafood & Wine Festival's Commercial Wine Competition, a mere 156 entries won 99 gold medals.

One of the original judges in the San Francisco competition, who I ran into on a recent business trip to Kentucky, said there is anything but unanimity among the judges about the number of medals handed out.

He confirms that event founder Anthony Dias Blue pushes them hard every year to hand out a large number of medals. He also confirms that, although he'd prefer not to be publicly identified because he likes the gig, he and others will continue to be somewhat resistant to being responsible for a medal flood.

There are two schools of thought on that topic. One is that lots of medals guarantee lots of entries for the following year, and thus a better income stream for such events. The other is that too many medal awards ends up cheapening the value of the honors.

I'm a proponent of the latter school. I understand it is more difficult to get a new event ratcheted up if you don't give out a decent batch of medals right from the start to attract even more competitors. However, if you're too generous right away, you're stuck being just as generous as the field grows, which proportionally gets rather sticky and the event reputation comes under suspicion of being nothing more than a medal factory.

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