Retired professor, winemaker questions wine awards

wine journalThe lead papers in the last two editions of the “Journal of Wine Economics” have drawn the ire of winery owners and the attention of media from The Los Angeles Times to The Wall Street Journal.

The journal papers, which analyzed the award-winning wines and the reliability of judges in 13 U.S. wine competitions, were authored by Robert Hodgson ’59, a retired professor of oceanography and statistics at Humboldt State University in Arcata, Calif., and owner of Fieldbrook Winery in Fieldbrook, Calif.

“A few years ago, Mr. Hodgson began wondering how wines, such as his own, can win a gold medal at one competition, and ‘end up in the pooper’ at others,” according to The Wall Street Journal article.

“I was able to convince the chief judge at the California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition to begin some exploratory analysis regarding the consistency (or lack thereof) of wine judges,” Hodgson said recently. “My thought was that the variability in medals awarded in various competitions might simply be the result of the inability for any judge to give consistent marks for an identical wine. This is not rocket science. Any student having an introductory course in statistics could see this. I just happened to be at the right place at the right time.”

For readers interested in the topic, Hodgson suggests the book, “The Drunkard’s Walk,” by Len Mlodinow, author of The Wall Street Journal article. The book “chronicles how chance underscores our interpretation of extraordinary (actually ordinary) phenomena,” Hodgson said.

Hodgson is scheduled to do a TV interview with BBC about his wine research while in Rome visiting his daughter, Olivia Hodgson Jorgani ’01, in December 2009.

The “Journal of Wine Economics” is published by the American Association of Wine Economists. The journal’s managing editor is Karl Storchmann, Whitman associate professor of economics. See the journal and Hodgson’s papers at