South County wineries taste victory

Vince Trocki, Clos LaChance Tasting Room Assistant, helps load a

The results of the 2011 San Francisco Chronicle wine competition
were announced last weekend, and almost everyone in Santa Clara
Valley is a winner, as some local wineries won every category they
entered and have become fixtures on the medal list for one of the
world’s largest wine contests.
The results of the 2011 San Francisco Chronicle wine competition were announced last weekend, and almost everyone in Santa Clara Valley is a winner, as some local wineries won every category they entered and have become fixtures on the medal list for one of the world’s largest wine contests.

“It’s time to stop looking at us as an up-and-coming wine region,” said Maria Bruhns, director of operations at Kirigin Cellars on Watsonville Road between Morgan Hill and Gilroy. “We’re the oldest wine region in California, and people need to start recognizing that.”

Kirigin Cellars placed in all seven categories it entered, including a gold medal for its 2009 Malvasia Bianca in the “Italian and other white varietals” category.

This was the first year that Kirigin entered the Chronicle competition, and Bruhns, who also serves as treasurer of the Wineries of Santa Clara Valley association, said making the leader board in every category it entered was unexpected.

“We had no idea we would do so well,” Bruhns said.

The valley’s heightening improvement in the annual Chronicle competition continues from last year, when the area, which encompasses South County, boasted 61 awards from 11 local wineries. This year, 13 wineries from Morgan Hill, San Martin and Gilroy took home the same number of medals.

The reign of Santa Clara Valley at the Chronicle competition solidly places the local, family-owned wineries in the ranks of longtime big-winning powerhouses like Target, Gallo and Beringer.

The big local winner this year was Clos LaChance Winery, also on Watsonville Road, which took home nine medals. Following close behind was Jason-Stephens, whose vineyard is just down the road from Clos LaChance and placed in eight categories, including a “Best of Class” award for its 2007 Estate Select Merlot.

Another local “Best of Class” winner – second only to the Chronicle’s “Showcase” winners – was Solis Winery, whose Fiano garnered that honor in the “Italian other white varietals” category for the third year in a row.

“That has been an incredibly popular wine,” said Vic Vanni, owner of Solis Winery in Gilroy. “It’s a southern Italian varietal, which seems to do really well in this climate.”

Solis won a total of four medals this year – one for each varietal the winery entered, Vanni added.

The Chronicle competition boasts itself as the “largest competition of American wines in the world.” More than 5,000 wines were entered in the 2011 contest by wineries from 23 states, and the number of entries continued to grow from previous years, according to the competition website, winejudging.com.

This year’s competition concluded with a week of judging Friday at the Cloverdale Citrus Fairgrounds in Sonoma County. More than 60 wine experts hailing from the media, trade, hospitality and education industries from around the country named the winners.

Local wineries enter a number of similar competitions all over the country every year.

Guglielmo Winery’s marketing director said the contests – and more importantly, placing in the contests – are valuable publicity victories.

“It’s very important, because our job is to create awareness, and draw people into the tasting room to try all our wines,” said Greg Richtarek of Guglielmo Winery on East Main Avenue. “Like any other business, you want recognition.”

First-place awards listed on Guglielmo’s website include those won at last year’s Denver International wine competition, San Francisco International wine competition, Los Angeles International wine and spirits competition and the Orange County Fair wine competition.

Guglielmo won three medals at last week’s Chronicle competition, most notably a gold for its 2007 Estate Petite Syrah – the winery’s year-over-year flagship varietal, Richtarek explained.

Local vintners are “still getting there” when it comes to gaining the notoriety for wine production that Santa Clara Valley deserves, Richtarek said. Joint marketing efforts include biennial “Passport” weekends in which visitors can make the rounds at more than 20 local wineries for tastings.

Plus, Richtarek said he and the Wineries of Santa Clara Valley association are in the process of developing a smart-phone application that informs users where they can find all the local vineyards and tasting rooms.

But it’s difficult with world-renown Napa Valley to the north, and surrounding areas such as the Santa Cruz Mountains, Livermore valley and Paso Robles also improving their vintages in recent years.

“We have our work cut out for us,” Richtarek said.

List of winners

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