To commemorate its 40th year, the Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition honored Charlie Barra, one of the pioneers of Mendocino County winegrowing. In 1945, when he was still in high school, Barra leased his first vineyard. Now his Redwood Valley Vineyards encompasses more than 175 acres. In 1997, Charlie and Martha Barra established Barra of Mendocino and began producing wines made with 100 percent estate-grown grapes from organic-certified vineyards. Today, at 91 years young, Barra still provides insight and farming consult from the comfort of his armchair.
Henceforth, the Best of Show White Wine each year will be known as the Charlie Barra Award. We wish you good health and happiness, Charlie.
So how did the competition play out this year? No surprise: After 40 years of consistently awarding excellence to aromatic whites and pinot noirs, Navarro Vineyards & Winery of Philo, Calif., swept two of the top awards, winning Best White for its 2017 Deep End Blend Anderson Valley Gewürztraminer and Best Red for its 2016 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir.
If this was a Formula 1 race, we’d be listening to the Navarro national anthem—whatever that might be—as the winners waved from the podium. Congratulations to longtime winemaker, Jim Klein, who’s been turning out award-winning vintages for nearly four decades.
Best Rosé went to the Pennyroyal Farm 2017 Rosé of Pinot Noir—fitting, as Pennyroyal is the sister vineyard of Navarro. Located in Boonville, it’s the vision of Sarah Cahn Bennett (daughter of Ted Bennett and Deborah Cahn, who founded Navarro in 1973). Pennyroyal is an integrated farmstead, with goats and sheep working in the vineyard to control weeds and sucker the vines. It’s also a creamery, producing a variety of cheeses, while chickens provide fresh eggs. The vineyard produces chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, and pinot noir.
Best of Show Dessert went to Greenwood Ridge for its 2013 Late Harvest Riesling, made by winemaker Allan Green, who sold the brand to Wilson Artisan Wineries in 2016. Green, known for his iconic silkscreened bottles featuring imaginative dragons, established Greenwood Ridge in 1980 and produced consistently beautiful late harvest rieslings and merlots.
Roederer Estate’s NV Brut, crafted by winemaker Arnaud Weyrich, took Best Sparkling honors.
This year’s competition saw 247 wine entries from 45 wineries, with a record number of medals awarded. There were 23 double golds, 44 gold medals, and 127 silvers. There were nine white and nine red wines in the sweepstakes judging, from which the best of show winners were selected by blind ballot (judges ordered their top two choices on each ballot).
At the outset, the wines were divided among the three panels of 15 judges. Each panel had a moderator keeping up the pace—as well as the peace—and, equally as important, tracking the scores. Each panel chose a best of show outright, with Panel 1 evaluating all the sparklings, Panel 2 choosing a finalist from its flight of rosés, and Panel 3 selecting the best of show dessert wine.
Best of Show Showdown
When we arrived at the final red and white sweepstakes round, there was little doubt we were dealing with dominant greatness—little did we know how many wines were from the same producer, however. Navarro had literally stacked the deck with half the whites in the final round. Jaxon Keys, host of the pre-competition judge’s dinner on Thursday evening, represented with two reds in the sweeps.
The number of votes cast for each sweepstakes whites wine was:
2017 Navarro Pinot Gris (2 first place votes, 2 second place votes);
2017 Navarro Deep End Blend Gewürztraminer (7 first, 2 second);
2017 Greenwood Ridge Sauvignon Blanc (1 first, 2 second);
2015 Seebass Family Chardonnay, Brigitte’s Block, Mendocino (3 second);
2016 Blue Quail Chardonnay, McFadden Family Estate, Potter Valley, Mendocino (1 first);
2017 Navarro Chardonnay Table Wine, Mendocino (no votes);
2017 Handley Cellars Riesling, Green Ranch, Anderson Valley (1 first);
2017 Husch Vineyards Chenin Blanc, Mendocino (2 first, 3 second); and
2017 Navarro Edelzwicker, White Blend, Anderson Valley (2 second).
Voting among the Best of Show reds netted out as follows:
2015 Pennyroyal Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley (2 first place votes);
2016 Navarro Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley (5 first, 2 second);
2015 Bliss Family Vineyards “Blissful Red,” Blended Red, Mendocino (2 second);
2014 Monte Volpe Sangiovese, Mendocino County (2 first, 2 second);
2016 Barra of Mendocino Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendocino (2 first);
2014 Graziano Zinfandel, Mendocino County (1 first);
2015 Shooting Star Zinfandel, Mendocino County (1 first, 3 second);
2016 Jaxon Keys Zinfandel, Mae’s Block, Mendocino (2 second); and
2016 Jaxon Keys Petite Sirah, Mendocino (3 second).
Meet the players
This year’s distinguished judges were Dan Berger, Barry Herbst, Larry Van Aalst, Mark Bowery, John Sverko, Mike Dunne, Chris Sawyer, Ziggy Eschliman, Laura Ness, Greg Richtarek, Debra Del Fiorentino, Deborah Parker Wong, Traci Dutton, and Ellen Landis.
The Mendocino Wine Competition alternates between Anderson Valley and Redwood Valley as its judging site. This year, the competition took place at beautiful Mendocino College in Ukiah, Calif., which gave us all a close-up view of the fire-fighting efforts on the Mendocino Complex Fire, which was still actively burning in the near 100-degree heat.
At the judge’s dinner at Jaxon Keys (another recent acquisition by Wilson Artisan Wineries), the sun glowed a mellow shade of reddish orange, as it set over the haze. We quietly thanked the first responders and brave firefighters who contained the blaze, preventing widespread damage to vineyards in the Hopland area. Redwood Valley and Lake County vineyards were not so fortunate.
Gold medal wines from the Mendocino Wine competition will be poured at the Mendocino County Fair in Boonville, September 14-16, 2018.
A complete list of 2018 Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition Awards are available online at www.mendowine.com/events/wine-competition.php.