Michigan is now home to a new wine competition: the Governor’s Cup Competition and Awards. Announced this February, the Michigan Governor’s Cup will award medals and “Best of” designations in a variety of categories, including vinifera red, vinifera white, hybrid red, hybrid white, sparkling, fruit, dessert, and fortified wines, as well as mead and cider.
The event will culminate in a gala and awards ceremony taking place in late June in Lansing, where a representative from the governor’s office — or Gov. Gretchen Whitmer herself — will present the Governor’s Cup to the winemaker with the highest-scoring entry of the competition.
The Michigan Wine Collaborative, which is hosting the competition in partnership with the Chicago-based Beverage Testing Institute, has been planning the Cup for about a year.
“We had had a Michigan Wine Competition for many years, and when the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council dissolved, that competition went away,” says Gina Shay, president of the Michigan Wine Collaborative. “So we had been looking for something to replace that, because it’s an opportunity for Michigan wineries to showcase their wines and to show off recent vintages and to also earn accolades for what they’ve done that they can show to their consumers.”
For inspiration, the Collaborative looked to other states’ wine industries, such as those in New York, New Jersey, Virginia, and Maryland, and found that several states were hosting governor’s cups — and working with a third-party organization to run the competitions.
“Since the Judgement of Michigan [in 2021], we’ve been researching how other states do their statewide competitions,” says Emily Dockery, executive director of the Collaborative. “And we were getting really, really phenomenal feedback from states like New York and Virginia about working with Beverage Testing Institute, and we have some board members as well that were supporting that idea and encouraging us to consider that.”
After a meeting between the Collaborative and the Beverage Testing Institute, everyone quickly got on board.
“Judgement of Michigan was phenomenal and amazing and fantastic, but we just don’t always have the resources to be able to produce an event like that,” Dockery says. “This is perfect because the BTI, the Beverage Testing Institute, takes a lot of the weight off our organization by handling all the evaluation side of things.”
BTI was also enthusiastic about working with the Collaborative.
“We’re really excited to have the opportunity to work with the Michigan Wine Collaborative and the Michigan wineries,” says BTI President Jerald O’Kennard. “One of the reasons that they came to us in our discussions was that they’re looking for feedback to help the wineries improve their wines and elevate them, and we’re happy to do that. … So that’s a really important part of what we bring to the table.”
Registration for the Governor’s Cup was open until March 3, and entrants sent samples of their wines to BTI for tasting. Two levels of feedback were available for wineries: A basic entry affords wineries a score and — if the score is high enough — a medal. An enhanced entry includes constructive feedback, a review published on Tastings.com for three years, and marketing materials.
Tastings of the 299 entries are currently being conducted at BTI’s headquarters and will continue over two months, until results are compiled and sent to the Collaborative by May 31.
“What is especially cool about this setup is that we don’t have to worry about palate fatigue because they have so much time with the wines,” Dockery says. “[In] most competitions, you’re tasting wines all day long, and it’s so many wines in such a short period of time. … This is great because they can really take time with the wines and properly evaluate them.”
BTI runs tastings and competitions for alcoholic beverage industries across the U.S., “all using our blind tasting methodology that we developed years ago with Cornell University,” O’Kennard says.
The wines submitted are judged by panels of three to five experts, who taste between 25 and 35 wines each day in flights organized by BTI’s production team. After scores and tasting notes are entered into BTI’s computer system, the panelists discuss the wines. From those notes and discussions, the editorial team compiles reviews.
“We have a methodology that uses a variant of the quartermaster scale in which the wines are evaluated in their totality,” O’Kennard says. “So it’s not like we have points for aroma and flavor and length and things like that like some other competitions.
“We ask them to compare each sample with their benchmark of the best example of the type. Let’s say it’s a Riesling that we receive. We’re asking them to compare it to the best Rieslings in the world, not just Michigan.”
BTI’s algorithm turns those rankings into a score out of 100, which is then converted into a medal. Wines that receive 90 to 95 points earn a gold medal; wines that receive 96 or more points earn the highest adjudication, a platinum medal.
Uniting the Industry
In addition to “Best of” category awards and the Governor’s Cup itself, the Collaborative will give out Governor’s Case awards to 12 high-scoring wines: the top five white wines, top five red wines, and top two sparkling wines.
Those awards will be presented at the Governor’s Cup Award Ceremony and Gala in the state’s capital. The date has not yet been set, but it will take place in late June.
The event will comprise two nights of celebration. On the first night, the governor’s office will present the winners with their awards over dinner. Guests can purchase VIP tickets to mingle with the winemakers and ask questions about the winning entries as well as try small plates that pair with the award-winning wines. On the second night, there will be a showcase where the public can taste the award winners.
“We’re really excited about it,” Shay says. “We will be able to celebrate as an industry, and we’ll be able to share our wines and our enthusiasm with the public as well — and with the Michigan Legislature, too. We will have not only a representative from the governor’s office, but we will have some key people in Legislature attending as well, and we just want to remind them how much Michigan wine as an industry brings to the state economically.”
Dockery agrees and adds that the Governor’s Cup will also help propel the Collaborative’s mission.
“We want it to be super inclusive, we want it to be fun, and we want it to be a catalyst to be able to make a bigger, better, stronger Michigan grape and wine industry,” she says. “And the Governor’s Cup is going to be a really great — hopefully annual — event to continue that momentum that Michigan Wine Collaborative is trying to build.”