Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Chronicle Wine Competition continues in apparent defiance of Sonoma County health order

The Chronicle Wine Competition posted these photos on Jan. 12

On Monday, Jan. 10, Sonoma County issued a health order prohibiting gatherings of more than 50 people indoors, effective Wednesday, Jan. 12 at 12:01 a.m.

The San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition began Monday Jan. 10 in Cloverdale in northern Sonoma County, and as of Jan. 12 in the afternoon, it is still going on, despite apparently being in violation of the order.

In fact, on Wednesday the competition website was updated to announce "Wine Judging is Underway!" Clicking on the link took readers to another page, "Photos of the SFCWC Wine Judging," that shows judges in white coats sniffing at wine glasses. (I saved a PDF of this in case the competition directors read this post and take the photos down.)

Were there more than 50 people at the competition, including judges and volunteers? The photo page shows 51 judges, so, yes. 

For people who have not been to a wine competition, the judges are just the tip of the iceberg. You need volunteers to open the bottles, pour wines into glasses, bring the glasses to the judges, and collect and dump spit buckets. Glasses must be washed. You also need people to keep track of which wines won which medals. There is usually a very large ratio of volunteers to judges.

Something else about wine competitions: they involve people without masks, spitting constantly, hundreds of times in a day.

I don't know how many volunteers and judges the Chronicle Wine Competition had working indoors together this week., which runs the competition, did not respond to my email query.

In fact, nobody wants to talk about this. I know several judges at the competition, but none would speak on the record (though I could confirm that the competition is ongoing and more than 50 people are there.)

Sonoma County's health officer wouldn't return my calls; I don't see an exception for wine competitions in the order, though. The competition is only scheduled to run through Friday, Jan. 14. Ignore it for two more days and the problem goes away. I doubt that the sheriff is going to show up on Friday morning.

The San Francisco Chronicle doesn't run the competition; it is only the naming sponsor. Nonetheless, I emailed Chronicle publisher Bill Nagel; he hasn't responded (yet) either.

You might wonder why I'm breaking this story and The San Francisco Chronicle is not. Well, I wonder that too.

I also wonder how a building full of journalists, wine educators, sommeliers, wine buyers, and local volunteers can all hold the mutual belief that the law does not apply to wine competitions. Maybe gold medals make everything legal?

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Mike Dunne said...

Why is this called the "Gray Report" when you are so intent on painting each and every issue in black or white? Never mind, I think I know why. As to the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition under way in Cloverdale, you skid across your remark that the gathering is "apparently being in violation of the order" by Sonoma County health officials to help halt the spread of the latest surge of coronavirus by restricting large groups. Whether the competition constitutes a large group is open to definition and debate. Furthermore, a little more exploration would reveal that the order is compromised by several exceptions, one being "workplace." (Houses of worship, fitness centers, malls also are excepted). As you know, a wine competition, while popularly perceived as more lark than work, does involve much serious engagement and deliberation, like, you know, what is expected at a job. I am not a judge at Cloverdale, but I am here in another role, and can assure you - as I did earlier today, though you chose not to include that perspective in your rant - that many safeguards are in place to preserve the well being of all participants, including masking, distancing, cleansing, vaccination certification, no sanctioned group gatherings and the like. We are mature adults as concerned about the spread of the virus as anyone, and probably fret more about the well being of students who continue to attend classes at the school adjacent to the Cloverdale fairgrounds than our own well being. I don't want to suggest that you maybe should be picking on those kids, but...

Bob Henry said...

Within recent days, I learned that the annual Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux trade tastings (showcasing the 2019 vintage white Bordeaux, red Bordeaux and Sauternes) have been postponed from this month (January) until late June.

Napa Valley based PR firm Balzac Communications, which organizes the annual stateside tour, had this to say via a January 10th dated e-mail:

"Due to increased Covid cases, the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux 2022 U.S. Tasting Tour is postponed until late June 2022.

"If you are registered for any of the cities, your registration will carry forward, and we will let you know as soon as we have the specific dates for each city in case you need to change your attendee status.

"Please feel free to reach out with any questions, and stay tuned - fresh invitations will be sent out in the coming days.

"We look forward to seeing you this summer!

"The Balzac Team


Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux"

We wine trade professionals await word if the annual Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri awards "road show" scheduled for February will likewise be postponed.

W. Blake Gray said...

Hey Mike, thanks for your comment.

Is the Cloverdale Citrus Fairgrounds a "workplace" for the wine competition when it's only open for the wine competition for one week a year, and when almost everyone there is not being paid?

Isn't it more akin to a professional convention -- except in this case, most of the people aren't being paid, and many people have their masks off and are spitting all day?

I'm not here to judge why Sonoma County's health order doesn't apply to schools. But it does seem to me that the impact of delaying students' education, compared to delaying the awarding of medals to wineries, are not the same.

Stay healthy, Mike!

agamemnon said...

well, i think the lack of response from and the sf chronicle say something. i'm not sure what, but it's saying something for sure.

as far as the "workplace" issue, despite folks volunteering for the gig, the wineries pay to submit these wines. the sf chronicle also supports this competition, so it is in fact a business venture for no doubt it would be very, very difficult and messy (and costly?) to stop mid judging...

Roger King said...

This just seems a bit tacky edit. Grinding an axe of some type??

Covid is serious and Sonoma County Health is charged to manage that. Report it there as appropriate to do and then report the results of action or inaction, if desired. Just not a good show.

Joel said...

Oh Hell,
the Horse (the competition) was already out of the barn before the new regulation's effective date began. Comparing a business event like this to regulating schools' being open with more than 50 people is apples and oranges. Among other things kids are not entitled to vaccination below a certain age.
Everyone at the Competition (I am not a judge there) no doubt had to prove their vaxx records, test negative, keep distanced etc.
Seems to me that if Sonoma County didn't give a few week's, nay months' warning that this policy would be instituted, and just sprang it on businesses etc at the last minute, then organizations can hardly be faulted for proceeding with plans already set in motion.

Unknown said...

The jury is out as to whether this is truly a “spreader” event. Or whether above the magic number 50 can truly limit any virus activity. The hypocrisy of any number above zero is plain. In the meantime, life goes on, with tragically few of the past traditions carried forward. Time to get real. The published numbers indicate the virus has claimed a high percentage of persons with comorbidities. If you have any underlying health risks, you should stay home. However, if a group wishes to conduct business and takes acceptable precautions to ensure the health of participants, I say let it happen. We should only be our brother’s keepers if our brother also watches out for himself. Thank You.

Bob Henry said...


I wrote:

"We wine trade professionals await word if the annual Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri awards 'road show' scheduled for February will likewise be postponed."

Apparently, the Gambero Rosso awards "road show" is going forward.

In an e-mail sent January 13th, the organization stated:

"Ciao, Los Angeles! Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri showcase is returning to your city and you’re invited to taste the top Italian wines.

"Please join us for the Tre Bicchieri showcase to taste Italy’s 'best of the best.' Gambero Rosso is excited to return to Los Angeles for this premier industry-only tasting of Italy’s highest-rated wines. This event will showcase the top 1% of Italian wines given the coveted Tre Bicchieri designation and a variety of wines from the top producers of Italy.

1:00 PM - 6:00 PM

Additionally, Gambero Rosso will offer two masterclasses featuring exceptional wines of Italy. Masterclasses have limited space and guests interested in attending must apply. An application does not guarantee a seat at a class; you will receive a confirmation once a seat has been reserved in your name.



Please note, all Gambero Rosso events are FULLY VACCINATED events and will require guests to provide a valid government-issued ID and proof of vaccination status. Please have your identification and proof of vaccination queued up upon arrival at check-in to expedite the check-in process.

"Additionally, all guests, producers, and staff are required to wear masks indoors at all times except while actively eating or drinking. For full details, please review our health and safety guidelines and confirm your compliance upon registration."

Bob Henry said...

From Lewis Perdue's Wine Industry Insight (January 12, 2022):

"Here’s how long it’ll take you to get a COVID infection dose based on various types of masks (or lack thereof)"

Exhibit URL: