Every year at this competition, a new record of some sort is set. This time, it was an all-time high of 262 wine entries from a record 50 participating wineries. Competition organizer Bernadette Byrne, executive director of Mendocino Winegrowers Association in Northern California, had reason to be pleased with both the number of wines entered and the volume of guests in attendance as she announced the results at the awards ceremony at Roederer Estate following the judging. Catered by Croux & Co, the reception was a chance to sample many of the winning wines and enjoy an excellent array of great bites. Roederer graciously provided a Bubbles Bar, stocked with magnums: yes, life in Anderson Valley is pretty sweet.
A dinner and reception the evening before the judging was held at Greenwood Ridge, where guests were invited to bring older vintages of Mendocino wines. Among the standouts were a 1986 Duncan Peaks cabernet sauvignon, a 1982 cabernet sauvignon from Navarro, a stupendous 1982 claret from Bonny Doon, which was totally fresh and amazing (that’s what 11.5 percent alcohol will do for you), and several 1980s zinfandels from Fetzer.
This year’s judging panelists, an assemblage of journalists, sommeliers, and wine buyers, awarded an impressive 28 double gold medals, 34 golds, and 114 silvers. The judging, presided over by Competition Director Allan Green, took place at the Mendocino County Fairgrounds in Boonville, Calif.
Best of Show Awards
Drum roll, please, for the Best of Show Awards for 2019:
Best of Show Sparkling: NV McFadden Sparkling Cuvée Brut Rosé
Charlie Barra Award/Best of Show White: 2018 Navarro Vineyards Edelzwicker
Best of Show Rosé: 2018 Pennyroyal Farm Anderson Valley Rosé of Pinot Noir
John Parducci Award/Best of Show Red: 2017 Foursight Clone 05 Charles Vineyard Estate Pinot Noir
Best of Show Dessert: 2018 Navarro Vineyards Late Harvest Riesling – Cluster Select
Navarro Vineyards was once again the big winner with two Best of Show awards, six Best of Class crowns, two double golds, three golds, and 2 silver medals. Veteran Navarro winemaker Jim Klein once again claimed the Charlie Barra award for Best White Wine, an award established in 2018 to honor Mendocino wine pioneer Charlie Barra, who passed away earlier this year at the age of 92.
Guinness McFadden was delighted to once again best the ever-increasing sparkling field to take the win in the bubbles category, for his McFadden Sparkling Cuvée Brut Rosé.
My panel sent Foursight’s 2017 Clone 5 Pinot Noir up to sweepstakes. We whittled our 26 wine flight of mostly outstanding Pinots down to three, and then set about deciding on Best of Class. My panelmates, Chris Sawyer and Jon Sverko, and I had a tough choice, as there were two that really stood out. After some discussion, we agreed which would fare better in the final sweepstakes—yes, there is strategy at play!
Pennyroyal repeated last year’s win for best rosé, again made from pinot noir.
Speaking of rosé, this category set another record this year with 27 entries. Of those, 18 received medals: four double gold, five gold, and nine silver. Most were made of pinot noir (a good bet in these parts), although there were a few made from grapes such as petit verdot. Clearly, this category is showing robust growth and popularity, and the fact that Mendocino winemakers appear to approach making rosé with the same finesse and grace as they do white wines, it’s a good bet you’ll like pretty much anything pink from the region.
One would expect pinot noir to be the largest field of entries for red wines: This year, there were a total of 39 varietal entries, representing vintages 2014-2017. The 2017 Foursight Clone 05 Pinot Noir was the judges’ favorite by a wide margin, earning the coveted John Parducci Best of Show Red Wine in the final sweepstakes voting.
The Other Whites category also continues to grow, with 19 entries, almost all of which received medals. Judge Mike Dunne remarked, “A strong showing by such varietal wines as muscat blanc, vermentino, and pinot blanc showed that grape varieties other than gewürztraminer, pinot noir, and riesling are comfortably at home in Mendocino.”
The Other Reds category also made a vibrant showing with 16 entries, the vast majority of which received medals. Among them were multiple examples of carignane and grenache.
The Big Winners
For the 2019 sweepstakes, each judge selects a first- and second-place choice from among the following Best of Class white wines. The voting, as you can clearly see, shows stylistic preferences, as the edelzwicker is the sweetest of the lot. The Handley Cellars gewürztraminer, with engaging spice and alluring orange peel, showed really strong here as well, and may be one of the best winemaker Randy Schock has made yet.
2018 Navarro Pinot Blanc: 2 First
2018 Navarro Pinot Grigio: 4 Second
2018 Navarro Chardonnay: 1 First
2018 Handley Cellars Gewürztraminer: 2 First, 2 Second
2014 Bee Hunter Greenwood Ridge Riesling: 1 Second
2018 Navarro Muscat Blanc: 1 First, 2 Second
2018 Navarro Edelzwicker: 4 First, 1 Second – WINNER
Choosing the Best of Class red wine was made easier by the brilliance of the Foursight pinot. Here’s what it was up against. The Handley pinot gave it a good run, though. Both are excellent examples of why Anderson Valley is so beloved for pinot noir, and why so many Napa brands are moving in here.
2016 Navarro Grenache: 2 First, 1 Second
2014 Bee Hunter Docker Hill Pinot Noir
2016 Handley Cellars Anderson Valley Pinot Noir: 2 First, 1 Second
2017 Foursight Clone 05 Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir: 4 First – WINNER
2017 Jaxon Keys “GPS” Blended Red: 2 Second
2016 Seebass Grand Reserve Merlot: 2 Second
2016 Navarro Barbera: 1 First, 1 Second
2017 Girasole Estate Organically Grown Cabernet: 1 First, 2 Second
2016 Paul Dolan Vineyard Estate Zinfandel
2017 Bonterra Organic Zinfandel: 1 Second
2017 Jaxon Keys Petite Sirah
A complete list of 2019 Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition Awards is available online at: www.mendowine.com.