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INDY International Wine Competition raises the bar for local winemakers

When the 2017 INDY International Wine Competition gets underway on May 24, bottles of wine shipped from wineries as far away as Australia will stand alongside those delivered from ZIP codes throughout the United States. Those wines will be among approximately 2,000 entries that will undergo two blind taste tests for the chance to win wine of the year trophies, as well as double gold, gold, silver and bronze medals in various classes.

Over the past several years, many small, local winemakers have increasingly shown that they can compete with the best winemakers from around the world.

In many ways, the wine competition has given local wineries the insights needed to step up their game, according to Christian Butzke, chief judge of the competition and a Purdue professor of enology in the Department of Food Science.

“The competition turned out to be an educational lesson for artisan winemakers, giving them insights on what it takes to make trendier, more competitive wines,” he said. “For example, it’s been exciting to see Midwestern wineries start winning trophies in the prestigious wines of year categories. It’s very impressive.”

 The wine competition also provides a platform for winemakers to learn how to accommodate the palates of the general public, including millennials who may be influenced to make purchases for entirely different reasons than wine connoisseurs relying on wine critics and glossy magazines, said Butzke.

“When you’re buying wine, you can’t taste it first,” he said. “They may be making decisions based on social media recommendations, a stylish label, or the fact that they only have $10 to spend.”

Butzke, who has helped some of his students initiate a survey about millennials and their wine buying habits, said that’s one of the reasons the INDY International Wine Competition deliberately choose 50 judges from different backgrounds. They include winemakers, wine scientists, distributors, bloggers and chefs of different genders and ages, he noted.

“We’re encouraging winemakers to make the latest styles of wine that people really like to buy and drink,” Butzke said.

Although wine has become increasingly accessible to the general public, many people still consider ordering or purchasing wine intimidating, Butzke said. One of the ongoing objectives for the INDY International Wine Competition is to help winemakers dispel some of those perceptions by providing them with recommendations from people they can relate to.

One influential old-school wine critic, for example, has reputedly tasted more than  350,000 wines, Butzke said. “That’s useless for someone who is 22 years old, just graduated from Purdue and just wants to enjoy a glass of local wine,” he said.

 “It’s helpful to understand that tastes among people are very different and very diverse,” he said. “That’s what the Purdue Wine Grape Team is about. We’re making a relevant economic impact by helping the wine industry make better wines, locally, nationally and globally. We’re helping people understand where the wine industry is going.”

The 2017 INDY International Wine Competition will be held at the Purdue Memorial Union, 101 N. Grant St., West Lafayette, Ind. Registrants can go to to submit entries by May 19. The entry fee is $75 for each commercial submission.

State Street Redevelopment Project construction is under way. This work will close a portion of State Street and significantly affect surrounding thoroughfares in West Lafayette.

Fifty judges will conduct double blind tests on more than 2,000 wine entries during the 26th INDY International Wine Competition at Purdue University. (Purdue Agricultural Communication photo/Tom Campbell) Fifty judges will conduct double blind tests on more than 2,000 wine entries during the 26th INDY International Wine Competition at Purdue University. (Purdue Agricultural Communication photo/Tom Campbell)

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