Who will compete in France in 2021? The independent spirit, winning, and who made the USA Wine Team

the brilliant logo on the back of my USA Wine Team jacket

July 4 celebrates the independent spirit of the United States of America. 

For me, July 4 was really all about the fireworks and family gatherings, although the Bicentennial in 1976 was special, after our country survived Watergate.

As a parent, participating in the City of Ventura Push-Em Pull-Em Parade on July 4 with my family and my community filled me with pride and joy as we walked down a closed Main Street toward downtown. 

But I have to say it really meant a lot to me to represent the USA at the 2019  World Tasting Championship, a blind wine tasting challenge sponsored by the French magazine La Revue du Vin de France..

2019 USA Wine Team at Chateau Chambord in the Loire Valley, France

The moment in France when I saw my USA Wine Team jacket, and I put it on, I felt a special thrill. I was really proud to represent my country, and to don the red, white, and blue after several years of embarrassment by the former president’s shenanigans. 

In high school, I didn’t compete in team sports. Instead, I was the editor of the school newspaper and an elected member of student government, so I had lots of leadership and team experience.

But it’s not the same as having a team uniform and traveling to a destination to compete together against another team. 

First you taste 6 wines to determine grape, country, region, year, producer… photo courtesy of Wine Acuity

I competed for the spot on Team USA with Sue Hill, who was on a high school competitive team– Color Guard; talk about requiring coordination and communication! Sue and I met in Girl Scouts when we were 12 years old; we shared a love of the outdoors, and soon we were rock climbing, backpacking, sailing, hiking, camping, and cooking together. Many years later, last week we returned from a seven day wine related road trip in my VW van: a press trip to El Dorado then researching wineries for the Slow Wine Guide from that region as well as from the Lodi AVA. 

…and then you taste 6 red wines… photo courtesy of Wine Acuity

For ten years now, Sue and I have been getting together weekly to sample, pair, and record our tasting notes for this blog. That’s at least 500 times! Prior, we both do research about the wines, the regions, and the cuisine that pairs with the wine, and then I take the notes and turn them into articles for this blog and beyond as a journalist and a content provider.

To say we taste a lot of wine in a year is an understatement. In a typical year, we head to Los Angeles once or twice a month for tastings and winemaker lunches in addition to tasting and pairing wines for 100 or more posts a year.

During most of the pandemic, we’ve upped our at home tastings, and I’ve attended a hundred or more hours of ZOOM winemaker and wine oriented educational events. 

While Sue and I may not be practicing “blind” tasting, we are certainly tasting wines from all over the world and paying attention to what we are tasting, where it comes from, and how it compares to other wines made from the same grape or the same region. And we’d never really practiced tasting blind before the 2019 contest either– the important point is we’d tasted a lot of wine together. We know each other, we listen to each other, we trust each other. 

In 2019, we tasted for the first time together with our Wine Acuity coach and the other members of the team AT THE COMPETITION in France. No surprise we did terribly as a team. 

Likewise, Kristen Shubert and Lisa Stoll have tasted together for years, and they were team mates who competed in France in 2018. 

Gwendolyn Alley, Sue Hill, Kristen Shubert, Lisa Stoll

Last year the four of us practiced once it was safe and in COVID safe ways, because we felt the strongest team would be one that was a TEAM, a team that could get together and taste together. We also felt there was a lot of potential for us to be a strong team; we’re all very good at tasting and describing what we’re tasting.

In 2020, Wine Acuity cancelled the US Open, and contacted finalists from previous years of the US Open to see whether or not we were interested in going if we could go. Wine Acuity then chose Ulf Palmnas of Sweden (TEAM USA, 2016), Kristen Shubert of Los Angeles (TEAM USA, 2016, US Open Champion, 2018), Lisa Stoll of Camarillo CA (US Open Champion, 2018), and Taylor Robertson of Texas (US Open Champion, 2019) with the rest of us as alternates. 

Even with COVID, many teams around the world held competitions in 2020 to determine a team and the championship was held as scheduled. USA fielded a DIFFERENT team with individuals who didn’t need to travel to Europe. Read the results here of the 2020 Blind Wine Tasting Championship.

We figured with COVID restrictions being lifted and a vaccine being widely distributed that the US Open would be held again in 2021.

With no word from Wine Acuity about WHEN, we four tried emailing them but the emails bounced back. Rumor had it that Wine Acuity was going to try a “Moneyball” approach (remember the Oakland A’s? and the movie with Brad Pitt? Not sure how it was going to work but…)

Kristen, Lisa, and I held a practice at Lisa’s and planned others, because we strongly believe that a winning team is one that’s a TEAM. We four women could get together, practice together, bond, and make a strong team because we live within an hour of each other. When you taste together, you understand each other’s strengths and trust each other.

While it may be the INDEPENDENT SPIRIT of the United States of America that makes us winners, not so when it comes to winning a team event like this one.

Like they say, there is no “I” in “team.”

Then, as I working on this blog post, I found the following on the Wine Acuity website:

Due to COVID-19 the 2021 Wine Tasting US Open was cancelled.The World Wine Tasting Championship in France is still presently scheduled to occur in October 2021. Should travel to Europe be allowed in October, TEAM USA will be represented by past winners of the Wine Tasting US Open, as well as team members from TEAM USA who finished in an astonishing Third Place at the World Wine Tasting Championship in 2016.

TEAM USA for 2021 includes Ulf Palmnas (TEAM USA, 2016), Kristen Shubert (TEAM USA, 2016, US Open Champion, 2018), Lisa Stroll (US Open Champion, 2018), and Taylor Robertson (US Open Champion, 2019). We are very excited to be sending this team of champions to represent the USA in the World Wine Tasting Championships this Fall.

Given the volatile nature of this year, previous TEAM USA members are standing by should any members of TEAM USA not be able to participate in the World Wine Tasting Championship.

Interesting to say that past winners of the US Open are standing by when no one I know has been contacted in 2021… I guess technically I’m on the team as an alternate, just not on the travel team yet…

Congratulations to Ulf, Kristen, Lisa, and Taylor for making the 2021 USA Wine Team! Good luck!  Cheers! 

Subscribe for more breaking news on this topic! 

You never know — I just might end up going to France to cover the contest anyway… anybody need a harvest intern? 

UPDATE 7/4/21 2pm:

Kristen just spoke to someone from Wine Acuity who confirmed that no one had been contacted about 2021 to determine interest.

AND no team has been chosen yet for 2021. 

Just as I was getting used to the idea that I wasn’t going. Maybe we four gals have a chance to compete together after all! Stay tuned! 

And for more about the competition, check this trailer about the team from Zimbabwe — they really show the importance of teamwork! I’ll be sharing more about this documentary film soon.

PS You’re invited to a ZOOM tasting on Weds 7/7 where I’ll be interviewing Portuguese winemaker Luis Duarte; learn more about him here. You can purchase the tasting set with shipping included and add on the Port for free shipping. Learn more and RSVP for the event here; you can also order your wines here so you can sip along with us! 

Ventura locals, you can pick up the three Portuguese wines  at the warehouse on Olivas Park Drive across from the golf course. The discount code is IWILLPICKUP and then coordinate to pick up the wine by emailing verovinogusto@gmail.com).

 

 

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