Re-engineering the 20th FLX International Wine & Spirits Competition in the Covid-19 Era

Twenty years ago, Camp Good Days & Special Times initiated the first Finger Lakes International Wine & Spirits Competition (FLIWC).  The objective was to establish FLIWC to raise money for programs for children and their families impacted by cancer, and to provide a platform for finger lakes wineries to showcase the quality of finger lakes wines.

Today the FLIWC has an international reputation for excellence and attracts wine from all over the US, Canada and Europe.  The monies raised from the competition and the gala auction that follows are a crucial source of funds for the programs that are provided free of charge to participants.   Over 90% of the funds raised go directly to programs.

Last year 2800+ wines & spirits were judged by 54 judges from the US, Canada and Europe organized into 18 panels and who were supported by 100 volunteers and staff over 2 days of judging.  A complex dance of logistical flows organized & moved wines, glasses, flights and scoring documents.

The 2020 FLIWC was completely re-engineered to enable 15 judges in five panels of three, supported by 30 volunteers and staff, to evaluate 1700 wines in three days and safely for all.  To further simplify logistics, the wine and spirits portions of the FLIWC were separated into individual events.

Basic principles:

  • Reduce the potential for a source of infection by requiring that all participants live within a region of low infection rate, driving (not flying) to the venue; and administering a daily health check before entry.
  • Reduce the possibility of contamination by establishing rigorous ppp standards (for example, wearing masks at all times when not seated, eating or drinking).
  • Reduce the possibility of cross-contamination by establishing activity workflows and one-way travel lanes that completely separate the handling of clean and used implements.
  • Implement standard commercial kitchen practices and equipment for safe handling of glasses, foods, etc.
  • Reduce the number of people as much as possible by implementing ‘mise-en-place’ practices. For example, prior to the competition, flighting all of the wines and organizing them in separate boxes by flight with flight numbers in order of service.
  • Maximize physical distancing while radically increasing service efficiency through the use of paired tables for each panel. Tables must be placed such that controlled movement is possible by judges and service staff while keeping sufficiently physically distanced at all times.
  • Control movement in the judging venue so that interactions are minimized if not completely prevented. For example, while panel A is seated at Table A-1, Panel A’s Table A-2 is being cleaned and set with a flight.  Panel A is not allowed to move from Table A-1 to Table A-2 until all service staff are distanced and no other Panel is moving.
  • Establish separate venues and staff/volunteer assignments for each major function. Reception, wine storage, closure removal, flight preparation, cleaning, food service.


In summary, to conduct a safe competition – ensure that all members of the team are on the same page and well trained.  Plan, plan, and plan.  Implement thoroughly in detail and with oversight and compliance measures in place.

The 20th FLIWC was conducted successfully and safely and respectfully.  We all enjoyed the experience and completed a very important event on behalf of people whose lives are in such dire circumstances.

Cancer does not stop during a pandemic & neither do we.

Picture of Bob Madill

Bob Madill

Bob Madill is a founding Partner of Sheldrake Point Winery (1997), Finger Lakes, NY. He serves as Brand Ambassador for the Glenora family of wineries and Wine Director for Red New Winery & Bistro. Bob is Chair of the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance, a member of the Board of the International Riesling Foundation and co-chair for the Wine Symposium of the Finger Lakes. Bob received the New York Wine & Grape Foundation's Unity Award in 2009. Being AWS and WSET certified he judges at US and international wine competitions and is an instructor for the AWS Wine Judge Training Program. Bob's international travels include ProWein, the London and Hong Hong International Wine Fairs and wine growing study tours in Europe.