The Judgment of Paris – Mt Aukum Style

Our beautiful wine region, the Sierra Foothills which includes Amador and El Dorado Counties with the corresponding AVA’s of Shenandoah Valley and Fiddletown in Amador and Fair Play in El Dorado has always suffered from a lack of true recognition for its potential to make world class wines. Looking back we are now at the same place that Napa was in the sixties and early seventies. In 1976 a miracle happened that moved Napa to the forefront of wine regions in the world.   This was a result of the 1976 Paris Wine Tasting, better known as “The Judgment of Paris”. The story which sounds almost like a fairytale goes like this:

Steve Spurrier, a British wine merchant living in Paris, owner of a wine shop and a prestigious wine school named L’ Académie du VIN, had an idea to compare Napa with Burgundy Chardonnays and Napa Cabernet Sauvignons with Bordeaux’s.   On May 24, 1976, he assembled a group of 9 French judges, all wine aficionados with credentials representing la crème de la crème of the French oenology community.     The judges were asked to grade the wines which were presented to them incognito on a scale of 20 points. The results were astounding. The Napa Chardonnays and the Cabernets were preferred over their French counterparts. This incident was reported by Time under the heading of “The Judgment of Paris” hit the wine world like an earthquake.

The question is whether “The Judgment of Paris” can happen for the Sierra Foothills. Could we have our own guardian angel “Steve Spurrier”? To me, what happened at “The Judgment of Paris” is like winning the lottery – a chance in a million that will never happen again. How is it that 9 French wine aficionados could not tell the difference between Napa Cabernets and Bordeaux’s? How could have they missed the regional identity of Bordeaux’s?   The differences between these wines, especially the ones from the 70’s are striking.   If they knew which wines were Bordeaux and which were from Napa, wouldn’t have they picked the Bordeaux’s to be the winners?

That’s why “The Judgment of Paris” will always remain a mystery. That’s why there isn’t much that we can learn from it. To advance the cause of our region, we should build on our strengths and educate our customers and the wine judges to accept the diversity that different wine regions offer. In California we are very fortunate to consistently have warm weather enabling the grapes to ripen on time for harvest. Within California there are regional differences in the weather and soil composition that affect the styles of wines that are created. This diversity gives each region an identity which should be celebrated. This diversity can only enhance the pleasures of drinking wine. The wine judges should be educated to accept this diversity so that they can judge wines not based on their region of origin but on their true attributes.

Rather than waiting for miracles to happen, let us all in unison communicate this to the general public to get the Sierra Foothills from anonymity to fame.   Cheers!


Chaim Gur-Arieh
February 2014