Keith Bodine was still recovering Tuesday from a 17-hour flight from South Africa and tasting nearly 500 different wines in just six days.

Bodine, co-owner of Sweetgrass Farm Winery and Distillery in Union, returned Monday from serving as the only American judge at the 2015 Michaelangelo International Wine and Spirit Competition. The other judges – there were 20 in all – came from Europe, Australia, Brazil, New Zealand and India.

Bodine said the prestigious wine competition was expanded in recent years to include spirits, especially brandies and liqueurs, and organizers were looking for someone who knows both spirits and wine. They contacted him a couple of months ago to see if he’d be willing to hop on a plane during his harvest season and serve as a judge.

The experience was “a bit of an honor,” Bodine said, “but for me, I really do like to travel so it was a good chance to see a new place I’d never been. It’s also good to get out and try lots of wine that I wouldn’t have been able to try.”

The results will be announced Sept. 18 at the Lord Charles Hotel in Somerset West, South Africa.

The Michelangelo competition is made up of 48 wine and spirit classes, including dry chardonnay, pinot noir and varietal blends for wines, and brandy, grappa and fruit liqueurs for the spirit categories. There were about 1,700 entries in all, Bodine said.


There were five panels, each of which had four judges. Bodine was assigned to sauvignion blanc and Bordeaux blends – wines made with cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc. He and his fellow judges tasted as many as 90 wines each day. It took four days to get through them all, before switching to some “miscellaneous reds.”

“The very last day was Saturday, and I was switched over the brandy, liqueurs and other spirits,” Bodine said. “And even off things, like grape juice, were thrown in there.”

The tastings were blind. Judges only knew the category, vintage, and pertinent details, such as whether the wine had been aged in oak.

Bodine said drinking so much wine, for so many days in a row, wasn’t too difficult, although it could get tiring.

“Fortunately for me, I really like sauvignon blanc,” he said. “It’s a wine we drink often at our house, so that was good. There’s other varieties I’m not going to name that I wouldn’t have been as happy to taste four days in a row.”

It was the end of winter in South Africa, but the weather was good. The judges were given just one afternoon off to explore Cape Town, but they did get to visit several of the 600 or so wineries in the region.

Bodine received a masters degree in enology (wine making) from the University of California-Davis in 1995. He built and managed wineries and distilleries in the United States and China before moving back home to Maine in 2005. At Sweetgrass Farm, he makes fruit wines, bitters and spirits, including the popular Back River Gin. He and his wife, Constance, also have a tasting room on Fore Street in Portland.

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