Wine expert Chandler talks judging, foothill varietals

Mark Chandler

Mark Chandler has been on the Lodi City Council since 2014, where he is serving his second term. He served as the vice mayor in 2015 and mayor in 2016. He is a fourth-generation Central Valley farmer. He earned his bachelor’s degree at California Polytechnic State University in agribusiness as well as a Masters of Art in organizational management.

More than all that, what would interest most wine lovers is the fact that Chandler is a certified specialist in wine through the Society of Wine Educators. He has served 20 years as the executive director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission.  

Among his trades, Chandler has been involved in the wine business for over 30 years in roles such as winemaker, grape grower, marketer, educator and chief executive officer, according to the website for his consultancy business, Chandler & Company Wine Consultancy.

One of his best-known affiliations is from being on the Lodi Winegrape Commission, where he is credited in making the Lodi wine region a successful California appellation, putting it on the wine map. Chandler helped increase the demand for Lodi grapes; more than 100 wineries now exist in that area.

Calaveras Enterprise reporter Crystal Carson was able to catch up with Chandler, who is a wine expert and fair judge, to have a quick discussion and gain some insight into his passion for wine and the industry. Chandler will be judging wine at the California State Fair, in addition to the Calaveras County Fair and county fairs in Amador, Marin, Central Coast and others.

Calaveras Enterprise: How did you get involved in the wine industry?

Mark Chandler: My family grew grapes and I worked in the vineyards from an early age. And my dad let me taste wine at holiday dinners even when I was a teen. Then, while studying ag business at Cal Poly, I was a waiter at a fine dining restaurant where I got to know more about wine so I could help customers make selections from the wine list. After college, I took a job in a winery and I have been in the industry ever since.

CE: How long have you been judging wine?

MC: Since the mid-1990s, when I was asked to judge the Los Angeles International Wine Competition, which I did for about 15 years. Along the way I began judging for the (San Francisco) Chronicle, Sunset Magazine, the California State Fair and many other regional competitions.

CE: What does it mean to you to be asked to judge wine in competitions?

MC: It is very validating to be asked to sit with industry peers to evaluate the wines. When I judge wine I act as a consumer advocate. If we give a gold or silver medal, then it has to be very good, so that the consumer is not disappointed in relying on our recommendations. If the wine gets a bronze or no award, it is a signal to the winery to do a better job.

CE: What has been your contribution to the Lodi appellation?

MC: I helped the Lodi appellation improve the quality and reputation of its wines. We increased the demand for our grapes by increasing the number of wineries from eight in 1991 to over 100 today, and launched a vibrant wine tourism industry.

 CE: When you judge, what are the main categories of wine you will be judging?

MC: Mostly red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel, but also whites like Chardonnay and Albarino.

CE: What are your criteria for judging wine categories?

MC: In all cases you are looking for true-to-variety color, aroma and flavor, good balance between fruit and acidity, and no defects in winemaking. And sometimes it all comes together and the wine will exhibit a real wow factor.

CE: You will be judging at the state fair – do you judge at all county fairs?

MC: I am the chief judge at the California State Fair, which is a big responsibility that I have been doing for five years now. I judge at many county fairs – Calaveras, Amador, Marin, Central Coast and more. I used to do a dozen or more per year; now I do six or eight. I have also judged in other states and internationally.

CE: How do you view the foothill and Gold Country wine region? Would you consider it to be an up and coming region?

MC: Yes, the foothills are always evolving, as most California wine districts are. What is important is that they determine what grape varietals do best in their region, and then work together as a group to promote their area and wines.

 CE: Additionally, would you consider the foothill/Gold Country region to be a contender for the Central Valley growing area, as these areas have been compared to Napa in the past?

MC: All the wine regions are in a state of becoming, improving as they progress. It is more important that they hone their identity and wine styles than that they compete with Napa. Most consumers would rather have a really good bottle of wine for a reasonable price than spend a lot of money on a bottle of wine they don’t really appreciate.

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