In Ventura on Bastille Day, July 14, 2019, a different battle took place: a competition between palates. 

The wines came out in plain glass carafes, one after another after another. First there were six white wines, then six red wines, all carefully poured by Pierpont Inn staff — wines from around the world.

The challenge? Figure out what these 12 wines were, where they were from, who made them, and when — and score the most points in the process to win a trip to France.

No notes. No Google. No books.

Just a team of two people sniffing, swirling, swishing and spitting to narrow down which one of thousands this wine could be.

Once organizer Wine Acuity called time, 11 teams of competitors and 24 spectators/tasters turned in score cards, headed to the buffet, compared conclusions, and waited to see who would make the 2019 U.S. Wine Tasting Team to compete for the World Wine Tasting Championship (WWTC) in Loire, France.  

Competitors included two local members of last year’s four-person team who competed with new partners (Lisa Stoll of Camarillo and Kristin Shubert of Chatsworth).

And I was competing, too, with partner Sue Hill of Cantara Cellars. We felt confident about the whites, but the reds?

Wine Acuity CEO John Vilja, who led TEAM USA in the 2016 WWTC to third place, says blind wine tasting is difficult to master. But he’s quick to add that “It isn’t about being a wine expert.” Instead he says it’s about “being passionate for wine, having a desire to represent the U.S. in a world event, and most importantly, it is about having fun.”

Being relaxed also helps you compete: according to the Wine Acuity site, “placing too much pressure on yourself reduces your sensory acuity.” So they suggest that you “remember to sit back and relax.”

I don’t know how nervous other teams might have been; in general, everyone seemed to have a good time. While Sue and I get together weekly to taste for my Wine Predator blog, we didn’t expect to win, so we didn’t feel any pressure.

First they announced third place: Lisa Stoll and Elan Gasser with 59 points.

Second place went to a team with 92 points. When they called my name and Sue’s, we looked at each other in disbelief and then started jumping up and down and hugging each other.

First place went to Texans Taylor Robertson and Jacob Fergus, who scored 101 points. We will be joining them in France to compete as a team of four for the World Championship.

Congratulations also to Colleen Murphy, who came in first among non-competing tasters. If she had competed, she would have come in at fourth place.  

According to Wine Acuity, “Team USA looks to be very strong for this year’s World Wine Tasting Championships!”

“We were very pleased with the event,” said Wine Acuity representative Kathy Greene. “We felt all contestants were really enjoying themselves, which was most important.”

Curious about the wines or other aspects in the competition? Learn more at or

Ventura College writing instructor Gwendolyn Alley blogs at Wine Predator where you’ll find lots more about wines and wine regions of the world and foods to pair with them.