Left Foot Charley, Doug Frost and the Jefferson Cup

Left Foot Charley 7th Hill RieslingThe Jefferson Cup Invitational wine competition features the best of the best from all of America’s wine regions. On the weekend of November 21-22, 2013 in Kansas City, Missouri the judges tasted 700 wines selected to showcase the best in viticulture and winemaking from twenty-two states.

The top honor, the Jefferson Cup, was awarded to just 25 wines. Among the recipients were winemakers Bryan Ulbrich and Drew Perry and growers Tom and Linda Scheuerman for Left Foot Charley’s 7th Hill Riesling (2012), the second time in two years that the single vineyard Riesling has won the Cup!

Ulbrich says, “There’s only a handful of competitions we enter, and we’ve just entered this one twice. I like this one because it’s not just a pay your way in – they have to invite you.”

Jefferson Cup Invitational founder Doug Frost feels that the winning wines represent some of the most compelling wines made in America. In 1991, Frost passed the rigorous Master Sommelier examination and two years later he became America’s eighth Master of Wine. He was the second person in history to complete both exams and 20 years later he is still one of only three people in the world to have achieved both these remarkable distinctions. Doug likely knows as much as anyone in the world about how to make, market, serve and identify wines, and I really encourage you to check out his writing on wines at dougfrost.com.

Doug Frost

Doug Frost

He took a moment  to talk with us about the Jefferson Cup, the current U.S. wine scene and Left Foot Charley.

It seems that much of the wine world feels there’s little of interest outside of California and Washington. How do you think competitions like the Jefferson Cup Invitational help to change that perception?

We established the Jefferson Cup 14 years ago because I was frustrated that the rest of the U.S. wasn’t getting a fair shake for their wines. The only way to combat that was to bring in highly regarded, experienced judges and have the wines tasted blind in a fair setting. I’m not calling out other competitions because there are others who have the same intentions. But other competitions allow the West Coast to dominate by sheer numbers, and so those wineries tend to dominate the medals as well. My methodology is to try to balance each flight of wines amongst differing U.S. wine regions. In so doing, we give each region a chance to shine, instead of seeming like an odd man out in a flight of big, powerful wines.

Do you see conventional opinion of other regions like Michigan rising? 

In my opinion, the wider wine world is very ready and willing to accept that excellent wines happen elsewhere. We are simply acting as a megaphone to highlight those wines and wineries we think are particularly deserving of attention. Anybody who has tasted top Michigan wines has already concluded that there are exciting and important wines to be found there. 

How do you think an appreciation of the wide range of wines produced by U.S. wineries helps at the table?

The great fallacy of wine reviewing is that a single palate somehow applies to all palates. We each have differing sensitivities to sensory stimuli, particularly when it comes to aroma and flavor, so we end up liking different things. Another fallacy is that big and powerful wines are somehow pleasing to everyone who drinks wine. It’s just not true, but you wouldn’t know that from reading the big wine magazines. The effect is to alienate or at least confuse a significant chunk of the population who figure they must somehow be ignorant of wine since they don’t like the big wines they read about.

Michigan, like the cool parts of California, makes wines with more delicacy than the better known areas. There are some people who want those flavors more than the kind of knock-you-over-the-head wines that Napa excels in producing. No one’s right in this and no one’s wrong. But having more choice and diversity in the market place should be our goal.

This is the second year in a row that Bryan Ulbrich of Left Foot Charley has taken home a Jefferson Cup for his 7th Hill Riesling. Do you feel that there’s something special about his wine or the Rieslings of Traverse City?

Harvest Festivus

I had been begging (literally) Bryan to enter the competition for years because I believe in his wines. They have a purity of fruit expression and a filagree that is unusual and even thrilling at times. Of course, that’s just my palate. But I know my judges: they like wines of balance. So I figured they would fall in love with his wines too and they clearly have. Nearly all of them had never even seen his wines before, so it’s pretty fun for me to turn them onto the wines.

This year the Jefferson Cup raised more than $100,000 for Angel Flight Central, a nonprofit group of pilots who have arranged 7,000 flights “free of charge” covering over 8 million miles in the Midwest. 

PS: Bryan says his favorite pairing with 7th Hill Riesling is mellow Asian food (not super spicy) and also the traditional pork and German-style chicken pairings. I think the photo to the right from LFC’s annual Harvest Festivus explains the German part.

Tom Scheuerman of 7th Hill Farm

Tom Scheuerman of 7th Hill Farm