Wineries’ big leap

Satori Winery, Sandy and Tom Moller, winemakers

South County wineries enjoyed their strongest showing on record
at the 2010 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, winning a
total of 61 medals.
South County wineries enjoyed their strongest showing on record at the 2010 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, winning a total of 61 medals.

“Each year, there is more notoriety and more success on the part of the wineries here. It shows that the region is starting to get some credibility,” said Vic Vanni, owner of Solis Winery in Gilroy and president of the Santa Clara Valley Winegrowers Association, whose membership has risen to 25 wineries from 13 only a few years ago. “The wines here are certainly able to compete with the wines from around the state and probably around the world also.”

Solis won gold medals for its 2008 Muscat Canelli, Estate and 2009 Fiano, Estate and a silver medal for its 2006 Merlot, Estate. Vanni takes pride in the medals not only because they were awarded at the largest competition for American wines in the world, but also because the wines are estate wines, made from grapes grown in the Solis vineyards or by family on different vineyards.

“That’s all our product,” Vanni said. “That’s rare these days. You’ll find so many wineries that are buying grapes. To me, there’s no story behind that.”

The Solis property was originally planted with grapes by Italian immigrants in the 1920s. The Vanni family purchased the land along Hecker Pass in 1980 and has been producing grapes and making award-winning wines since.

Also along the charming Hecker Pass Highway west of Gilroy, Fortino Winery is owned by the Fortino family’s fourth generation of winemakers and won a gold for its 2006 Estate-grown Cabernet Sauvignon and three silver medals for its 2005 Central Coast Sangiovese, estate-grown Charbono and Maribella Red Table Blend. Staying true to their Italian heritage, Fortino makes its wines in a European style and grows its grapes in old-vine, dry-farmed vineyards.

In contrast, many of the San Francisco Chronicle winning wineries from the South County are newcomers to viticulture. Entering competitions and winning awards is one way to help people hear about them and take their wines more seriously.

“I believe Napa, Sonoma and Paso Robles will continue as well-known wine regions. However, the awards our wineries are winning and hopefully continue to win in the future will be noticed by more and more wine consumers,” said Jane Howard, director of the Gilroy Visitors Bureau.

“I would love to hear the buzz out there stating ‘Gilroy is a must-stop to enjoy garlic, shopping and wine,’ “Howard said.

Satori Cellars in Gilroy released its first vintage in 2008 and won four medals in this year’s competition, including the one of the highest honors – the double gold given when judges are unanimous in their decision – for its Hallelujah Cabernet Sauvignon. Although clearly pleased with the recognition received by her boutique family winery, owner Sandy Moller admitted she doesn’t take the awards too seriously.

“Wine tasting is a highly subjective and personal experience. One person’s bronze is another’s gold,” she said.

Another new winery, Sycamore Creek in Morgan Hill, won five medals, including double gold for its 2007 Zinfandel, in its second year of entering the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

“Many times people may stop by a winery and judge it based on their one experience even though it may have been many years ago,” said Ted Medeiros, who manages the property owned by his mother- and father-in-law, Bill and Carolyn Holt. “Since we took over in 2005, many people still think of us as the older ownership because they are not aware of the change that has gone on here. A third-party judging of the quality of wines provokes them to take another look.”

Several wine competitions exist, but the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition tends to be a favorite for South County wineries to enter because it is local. Held the first week of January in Cloverdale, the competition received 4,913 entries from across the country.

“It’s hard to say which system has more validity, so I always tell people to follow their own palate,” said Jason Goelz, owner and winemaker at Jason-Stephens Winery. Jason-Stephens won three silver medals for its 2006 Dorcich Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon (Santa Cruz Mountains) and 2008 Estate Chardonnay, and a bronze medal for its 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon (Santa Clara Valley).

“There are many great wines for all wine drinkers’ tastes. Even in our area, with 20-plus wineries, I’m sure the most avid wine drinker can find something they enjoy,” Goelz said.

Jason-Stephens wine club member Frank Manocchio agreed.

“Martin Ranch is a great winery. There’s Creekview Vineyards. There are a lot of really great local wineries making world-class wine,” said Manocchio. “I prefer to stay down here. There’s almost no reason to go up (to Sonoma and Napa) unless I have relatives from out of state that want to go up there. Last year we had visitors, and we took them to the events at Jason-Stephens and that was the highlight of their trips. Most people out of state – even in state – don’t know about this wine-growing region.”

Some of the gold medal wines from South County will be featured at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition Public Tasting on Feb. 20 at Fort Mason Center’s Festival Pavilion in San Francisco.

The award-winning wines can be found at local restaurants, D’Vine Jazz & Wine in Morgan Hill, and at the wineries’ tasting rooms.

“Everyone should be proud,” said Therese Martin, owner of Martin Ranch Winery, which won five silver and three bronze medals. “We are in an up-and-coming wine area that will be showing a lot of great wines for several years to come.”

Local winners

How they’re judged: Over five days, 63 judges tasted and evaluated 4,913 entries.That’s 110 wines per day per judge. Wines were awarded as bronze, silver, gold and double gold (unanimous gold by all the judges). Each judge can pick a judge’s choice award.

Clos LaChance

– 2006 Petite Sirah, bronze in 437 B – Petite Sirah – $20 & over

– 2007 Zinfandel Double, gold in 410 A – Zinfandel – up to $19.99

– 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, gold in 451 – Cabernet Sauvignon -$15 to $19.99

– 2007 Meritage, sillver in 470 – Bordeaux Blends – up to $19.99

– 2006 Lila’s Cuvee, sillver in 439 B – Rhone Blends

– 2006 Merlot, sillver in 442 – Merlot- $15 to $19.99

– 2005 Red Wine, sillver in 492 C- All Other Red Blends – $20 & over

– 2007 Chardonnay, sillver in 213 – Chardonnay – $20 to $24.99

Creekview Vineyards

– 2008 Sauvignon Blanc, bronze in 202 – Sauvignon Blanc or Fume – $20 & over

– 2007 Merlot, gold in 444 – Merlot – $25 to $29.99

– 2007 Syrah Judges’ Choice in 432 – Syrah/Shiraz – $20 to $24.99

– 2008 Chardonnay, sillver in 213 – Chardonnay – $20 to $24.99

Fernwood Cellars

– 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, bronze in 456 – Cabernet Sauvignon – $40 to $49.99

– 2008 Chardonnay, bronze in 215 – Chardonnay – $30 to $34.99

– 2007 Syrah, bronze in 434 – Syrah/Shiraz – $30 to $39.99

Fortino Winery

– 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, gold in 452 – Cabernet Sauvignon -$20 to $24.99

– 2005 Sangiovese, sillver in 420 – Sangiovese

– 2007 Charbono, sillver in 492 A- All Other Red Varietals

– NV Maribella, sillver in 492 B- All Other Red Blends -up to $19.99

Guglielmo

– 2006 Estate Petite Sirah, bronze in 436 – Petite Sirah – Up to $19.99

– 2007 Sangiovese, bronze in 420 – Sangiovese

– 2007 Estate Zinfandel, bronze in 410 B – Zinfandel – up to $19.99

– 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, sillver in 452 – Cabernet Sauvignon -$20 to $24.99

Jason-Stephens Winery

– 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, bronze in 451 – Cabernet Sauvignon -$15 to $19.99

– 2008 Chardonnay, sillver in 213 – Chardonnay – $20 to $24.99

– 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, sillver in 453 – Cabernet Sauvignon – $25 to $29.99

– 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, sillver in 458 – Cabernet Sauvignon – $60 & over

Martin Ranch

– 2007 Zinfandel, bronze in 411 B – Zinfandel – $20 to $24.99

– 2003 Nebbiolo, sillver in 422 – Italian Other Varietals and Blends (Red)

– 2006 Cabernet Franc, sillver in 460 – Cabernet Franc

– 2006 Sangiovese, sillver in 420 – Sangiovese

– 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, sillver in 453 – Cabernet Sauvignon – $25 to $29.99

Sarah’s Vineyard

– 2007 Zinfandel, bronze in 411 B – Zinfandel – $20 to $24.99

– 2007 Pinot Noir, gold in 400 – Pinot Noir – up to $19.99

– 2007 Carignane, gold in 439 A – Rhone Other Varietals

– 2007 Grenache, sillver in 438 – Grenache

– 2008 Cote de Madone Blanc, sillver in 245 – Rhone Other White Varietals and Blends

– 2007 Cote de Madone, sillver in 439 B – Rhone Blends

– 2006 Syrah, bronze in 432 – Syrah/Shiraz – $20 to $24.99

Satori Cellars

– 2007 Harmonic Convergence, bronze in 492 C- All Other Red Blends – $20 & over

– 2007 Merlot of the Violet Flame, bronze in 443 – Merlot- $20 to $24.99

– 2006 Oh So Zin, bronze in 411 B – Zinfandel – $20 to $24.99

– 2006 Hallelujah Cab Sauvignon Double, gold in 453 – Cabernet Sauvignon – $25 to $29.99

Solis Winery

– 2008 Muscat Canelli, gold in 242 – Muscat

– 2009 Fiano, gold in 255 – Italian Other White Varietals and Blends

– 2006 Merlot, sillver in 443 – Merlot- $20 to $24.99

Sycamore Creek

– 2007 Merlot, bronze in 443 – Merlot- $20 to $24.99

– 2007 Chardonnay, bronze in 213 – Chardonnay – $20 to $24.99

– 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, bronze in 454 – Cabernet Sauvignon – $30 to $34.99

– 2007 Pinot Noir, gold in 402 – Pinot Noir – $25 to $29.99

– 2007 Mosiaco, sillver in 471 – Bordeaux Blends – $20 to $29.99

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