The Monterey AVA took Best of Show honors at this year’s 2019 Harvest Challenge, the only competition that judges wines by viticultural areas. After taking Best of Show White, the 2018 Hive & Honey Gewürztraminer beat out the Breathless Brut sparkling (Best of Show Sparkling, Best of Sonoma County); San Sebastian Wine Company Niagara Cream Sherry (Best of Show Dessert); 2018 Intercoastal Pinotage Rosé (Best of Show Rosé and Best of Lodi); and the 2016 OVIS Cabernet Franc from Shannon Ridge Family of Wines in Lake County (Best of Show Red, Best of Lake County); to claim top honors.

2019 Harvest Wine Challenge [Duncan Garrett Photography]

Voting for Best White is always exciting in this competition, as there are so many different regions represented. Going head to head were eight wines, from geographically diverse regions. There was a 2018 Guadagni Family Wines Marble Cliffs Sauvignon Blanc (Best of Dry Creek); 2017 Nicholson Ranch Cuvée Natalie Chardonnay, (Best of Sonoma Coast); 2019 Posted Accord Chenin Blanc, Capetown (Best of South Africa); 2018 Thirsty Owl Wine Company Diamond, Cayuga Lake, NY (Best of Finger Lakes); 2017 Fortunati Vineyards Viognier (Best of Napa); 2018 Thirsty Owl Wine Company Riesling, Cayuga Lake, NY (Best of Class Riesling, Finger Lakes); and 2018 Gray Monk Estate Winery Siegerrebe, Okanagan Valley, Canada (Best of British Columbia).

Outstanding here were the Diamond for its flash flood of sweet fruit and bracing acid; the Siegerrebe for its pretty floral and lemon notes, along with lychee and yellow plum; the peachy keen and very clean chenin blanc and the classic spice and honeyed sweetness of the gewürztraminer besting the lot handily in the first ballot round, with 12 votes. Boasting an RS of 3.39, it’s no wonder it stood out.

Many thanks to Bricoleur Vineyards for hosting a lavish judges dinner.


Red and Dessert Winners

In the Best Red category, the 2016 OVIS Cabernet Franc from Lake County prevailed after two rounds of voting to claim Best of Show Red. But it wasn’t an easy fight.

2019 Harvest Wine Challenge [Duncan Garrett Photography]

First, it had to reach the top of the red ladder by beating out several worthy candidates, among them, 2017 Frank Family Pinot Noir (Best of Carneros); 2017 St. Anne’s Crossing Tripi Zinfandel, Russian River Valley (Best of Class); 2017 Tsillan Cellars Malbec, Lake Chelan (Best of Columbia Valley); 2015 Trecini Barbera (Best of Italy); 2015 Merriam Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Gloeckner-Turner Ranch (Best of Rockpile); 2017 Trecini Merlot, Russian River Valley (Best of Class); 2018 Miro Cellars Petite Sirah (Best of Dry Creek); and 2018 Goldschmidt Vineyards “Fidelity” Red Wine (82% Merlot; 15% Cab Sauv; 3% Petit Verdot) from Alexander Valley (Best of Alexander Valley).

In the first ballot round, which is done by acclimation (meaning judges can vote as many times as they like for the wines they choose); the pinot had 5 votes, the merlot 4, the malbec 3, the zin 9, the barbera 6, the cab franc 8, the red wine blend 5, the cabernet 5 and the petite sirah 3. In a tasteoff, the 2017 St. Anne’s Crossing Zinfandel got 7 votes, while the 2016 OVIS Cab Franc got 9.

Voting for the Best Dessert Wine was an interesting faceoff between a 2019 Thirsty Owl Wine Company Cabernet Sauvignon Ice Wine and a NV San Sebastian Wine Company Niagara Cream Sherry, with the latter taking 11 votes and the former 5. Niagara is such a pretty grape, and it translates nicely into a beverage that warms you with its flavors of caramel apple dipped in walnuts.

2019 Harvest Wine Challenge [Duncan Garrett Photography]

This year, chief judge and competition owner, Debra Del Fiorentino says 26 percent of the medals awarded were Golds, and 84 were Double Gold, a sure sign that the judges found a lot to appreciate in this year’s field.


Forging on through fire

The Harvest Challenge, owned and operated by Wine Competition Management & Productions, is judged by leading wine industry professionals from across the country, who evaluate and rank wines based on terroir. This year’s competition, which took place in Santa Rosa, Calif., was delayed by a week, due to the Kincade Fire in November and the impact of PG&E Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS).

“While it was a minor inconvenience for us to have our offices closed and the competition delayed, we’re grateful there was no loss of life,” says Del Fiorentino. “Our hearts go out to Wilson Artisan Wineries on the loss of Soda Rock Winery, where we’ve held the Experience Rosé Competition for the past two years. But, we are #SonomaStrong and we’ll overcome this challenge.”

More than 1,000 entries were received this year, despite the closure of the competition’s headquarters and shipping facility due to multiple PSPS events in the weeks leading to the judging.

2019 Harvest Wine Challenge [Duncan Garrett Photography]

“The specialized nature of this competition, and the wines submitted, are what attract our judges,” says Del Fiorentino. “It’s always interesting to see the outcome, because the smallest nuance can influence how a judge will rate a wine against another in a shared terroir.

“Over the course of these competitions, judges have learned to recognize when a wine’s region is—and is not—a factor of wine quality.”


Winners by AVA

Clarksburg AVA (California): Scribner Bend Vineyards 2018 Viognier

Alexander Valley AVA (California): Goldschmidt Vineyards 2018 “Fidelity”; Best of Class

Anderson Valley AVA (California): Pennyroyal Farm 2016 Pinot Noir; Best of Class

British Columbia (Canada): Gray Monk Estate Winery 2018 Siegerrebe; Best of Class

Central Coast AVA (California): Pegasus Estate Winery 2016 Quadrille Red Blend; Best of Class

Columbia Valley AVA (Washington): Tsillan Cellars Winery 2017 Malbec; Best of Class

Dry Creek Valley AVA (California): Miro Cellars 2018 Petite Sirah; Best of Class

Finger Lakes AVA (New York): Thirsty Owl Wine Company 2018 Diamond; Best of Class

Italy: Trecini Winery 2015 Barbera; Best of Class

Lake County AVA: Shannon Ridge Family of Wines 2016 OVIS Cabernet Franc; Best of Class, Best Red, Best of Show

Livermore Valley AVA (California): Garré Vineyard and Winery 2016 “Profound Secret” Bordeaux Blend; Best of Class

Lodi AVA (California): Intercoastal Vineyards 2018 Rosé of Pinotage; Best of Class, Best Rosé

Los Carneros AVA (California): Frank Family Vineyards 2017 Carneros Pinot Noir; Best of Class

Mendocino County AVA (California): Frey Vineyards Organic 2018 Pinot Noir; Best of Class

Monterey County AVA (California): Scheid Family Wines 2018 Hive & Honey Gewurztraminer; Best of Class, Best of Show, Best White

Napa Valley AVA (California): Fortunati Vineyards 2017 Viognier; Best of Class

Paso Robles AVA (California): Vina Robles Vineyards & Winery 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon

Rockpile AVA (California): Merriam Vineyards 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, Gloeckner-Turner Ranch; Best of Class

Rogue Valley AVA (Oregon): 2Hawk Vineyard & Winery 2017 Viognier

Russian River Valley AVA (California): St. Anne’s Crossing 2017 Tripi Zinfandel; Best of Class

Santa Cruz Mountains AVA (California): Perrucci Family Vineyard 2015 Merlot, Regan Vineyard; Best of Class

Sierra Foothills AVA (California): North Canyon Cider Company 2019 Original Dry; Best of Class

Sonoma Coast AVA (California): Nicholson Ranch 2017 Cuvée Natalie Chardonnay; Best of Class

Sonoma County AVA: Breathless Wines NV Brut; Best of Class, Best Sparkling

Sonoma Valley AVA (California): St. Anne’s Crossing 2017 Shumahi Primitivo; Best of Class

Spain: Penrose Hill Alazules 2018 Airen; Best of Class

Temecula Valley AVA (California): Poggio Leano Winery and Vineyards 2017 Montepulciano; Best of Class

Virginia AVA: Casanel Vineyards & Winery 2018 Chardonnay; Best of Class

Yolo County AVA (California): Berryessa Gap Vineyards 2017 Petite Sirah; Best of Class