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Indy International Wine Competition celebrates winemaking excellence around the world

Last week’s 2015 INDY International Wine Competition marked Steve Somermeyer’s 40th year as a judge, making him the longest serving judge in the competition’s history.

Steve has a long association with the INDY that began in the Farm Bureau Building at the 1972 Indiana State Fair. He was actually a member of an informal Indianapolis tasting group with Dr. Charles Thomas that promoted the event with a modest 34 wines and judges recruited from fair attendees. 

When I asked Steve what the biggest difference was over those years, he highlighted more consistent quality.

In the 70s, he said, as much as 30 percent of the submitted wines were flawed. These days, he estimates 98 percent of submitted wines are well made, which makes awarding of medals — double gold, gold, silver and bronze — increasingly nuanced. He observes that it is now “rare to find faults.” 

It was in 1991 that the Indiana State Fair Wine Competition became the INDY. The coordinator at that time was Richard Vine, renowned wine expert and emeritus enology professor at Purdue University’s Department of Food Science.

By the mid-90s, the contest was attracting fine wines from around the world to compete against Midwest and Indiana entries. The INDY became a big deal at both the national and international levels. The contest was moved to Purdue’s West Lafayette campus in 2010.

Purdue wine professor Christian Butzke, current chairman and chief judge of the competition, touts the event as “the nation’s largest scientifically organized and independent wine competition.” There are no commercial interests involved while operations are directed by the Purdue Wine Grape Team.

More than 2,000 wines (6,000 bottles) from 40 states and 12 countries were submitted this year. Wines were organized into eight commercial panels or tables with four judges assigned to each and two panels made up of three judges for amateur winemaker entries. Additional nonvoting “judge in training” participants were added to each panel to give the public a first-hand wine judging experience. 

During the course of the first two days, a series of flights (chardonnay, red blends, fruit wines, etc.) ranging in size from two to 14 wines and identified only by a computer generated number were brought to assigned panels for evaluation of medaling merit.

At the end of each day, taste-offs (pitting the double gold and gold of one category against each other) determined the “best of class” winners. On the final day, 38 wines were set out for each judge, who then narrowed the field to best sparkling, white, rose, red and dessert wine by a stand-up vote. The finale had the judges voting for their favorite among these remaining five to bestow the “Wine of the Year” title.

This was my fifth year as a Pit Cru volunteer. It is a wonderful opportunity to learn more about wine, network with industry people and simply enjoy a fun but grueling event. Sharing the experience with my friend, Janet Buccicone (her third year) and my brother, Andrew (his first year) made this year even more exceptional. 


  • The 2015 Wine of the Year taste-off occurred was from 11 a.m. to noon on July 31. It was open to the public for viewing at the Purdue Memorial Union, north ballroom off State Street. Easley Winery’s 2014 Traminette received the honor this year.
  • The Indiana Wine Grape Council sponsors the Purdue Wine Grape Team. As part of its mission, the team of Purdue specialists is charged with improving the quality of Indiana wines and promoting Indiana wineries. Based on what I saw, the team is succeeding. 


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