CLOVERDALE, Calif. — Family-owned Barnard Griffin Winery in Richland, Wash., rose to the top of the field of 176 rosé wines as the 2021 Rosé of Sangiovese captured the sweepstakes award at the 2022 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.
“Beats a nail in the foot!” quipped founding winemaker Rob Griffin. “I’m pleased that we won with a robust color.”
It marked the seventh time since 2008 that Griffin, a graduate from the University of California-Davis winemaking program, has produced the top rosé at the nation’s largest wine competition. This winter, judges from across the country swirled, sipped and spit more than 5,800 entries from nearly 1,000 wineries during the four-day competition, held at the Cloverdale Citrus Fairgrounds in California’s Sonoma County.
A total of 431 medals were bestowed upon wines produced by vintners in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. The impressive haul for the Pacific Northwest wineries and growers included 16 best-of-class designations, 41 double gold medals, 71 gold and 273 silver medals.
The Barnard Griffin 2021 rosé ($14) from the Columbia Valley American Viticultural Area lit up the judges’ palates. While he’s adjusted the color over time, this winter marked the 14th time in the past 17 years that Griffin’s rosé program earned at least a gold medal.
Griffin says that his wife/co-owner Deborah Barnard and daughters Megan Hughes (assistant winemaker) and Elise Jackson enjoy keeping things rolling at their lively, engaging “circus” — which includes the winery tasting room in Richland and satellite tasting room in Vancouver, Wash.
Washington grapes turn into 12 BOC awards
Winemakers in Washington — and beyond — continue to use grapes grown in the Evergreen State to achieve national success.
Walla Walla-trained winemaker Aaron Peet came to national prominence during the 2019 Chronicle judging when he collected 10 gold medals on behalf of Cellardoor Winery in Lincolnville, Maine.
In 2022, he produced three best-of-class awards for winery owner Bettina Doulton, who buys West Coast grapes and has Peet and his wife, Christina, turn them into award winners in the Polar State.
This time, the Washington-grown 2018 Malbec and 2017 Syrah-led Aurora Red Wine finished atop their categories at the Chronicle. (Their 2019 Teroldego came from California’s Lodi region.) There were six other gold medals made from Washington vineyards, including a Grenache rosé. Expect at least a few of these Peet-produced golds to turn into Platinum this fall, adding to Cellardoor’s career total of 17 in the past three years.
Ste. Michelle Wine Estates pulled in best-of-class honors for the racy, citrus-scented 2019 Sauvignon Blanc ($15) under its H3 project. The vines for this striking gem are rooted in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA (hence the H3 label). Other highlights from Ste. Michelle’s portfolio in Washington included four gold medals for 14 Hands, led by their flagship 2018 Hot to Trot red blend, and Columbia Crest’s remarkably priced Grand Estates program, which earned gold medals for its 2020 Chardonnay, 2018 Gold Red Wine and 2018 Syrah.
The Mercer Estates rich, cassis, blackberry, tobacco-accented 2018 Small Lot Cabernet Sauvignon ($32) with finely grained tannins earned a BOC accolade. The 2018 Reserve Cavalie, a Right Bank Bordeaux-inspired red, received a gold, as did the Subsoil 2018 Cab ($17).
There was a best-of-class award for the husband/wife team of Justin and Katy Michaud, whose citrusy, white-fruit focused Michaud 2020 Riesling ($22) enlivened judges’ palates in the medium-dry Riesling category.
Among medium-sweet Riesling, Spokane’s Latah Creek Wine Cellars won for its energetic 2020 Riesling ($12). The Conway family pulled in a second BOC with their perfumed, vibrant, palate-pleasing 2020 Orange Muscat ($16) from the Yakima Valley. Founding winemaker Mike Conway and his wife, Ellena, established Latah Creek in 1982. Their daughter, Natalie, joined the team in 2005 as winemaker. Her 2020 A Toast to Best Friends White Blend ($15) also earned a double gold.
Family-owned L’Ecole No. 41 gained bragging rights for its smooth olallieberry, plum and spice-scented 2019 Columbia Valley Merlot ($27), which brought another BOC back to the Walla Walla Valley. It’s approachable now and promises more time ahead, too.
Barrage Cellars in Woodinville also hit the jackpot with two best-of-class awards by Kevin Correll. There was multi-layered, varietally spot-on 2015 Cease & Desist Cabernet Franc ($37) and the velvety, well-defined and juicy 2015 Blacklisted Merlot ($32).
In the Red Blend Merlot-leading category, the Cedergreen Cellars silky, Bing cherry and fall spice-tinged 2012 Thuja ($29) scored BOC honors. Underlying oak adds depth while staying in the background, and subtle crushed black peppercorn notes linger nicely on the finish.
Justin Michaud’s day job is with Coyote Canyon Winery in Prosser, Wash., where he produced five gold medals, an effort led by a double gold for the H/H Estates 2017 Michael Andrews Red Wine.
Peet’s alma mater, College Cellars of Walla Walla, reeled in a trio of double gold medals for its 2018 Clarke Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, 2018 Clarke Vineyard Petit Verdot and 2020 Anderson Vineyard Roussanne. Both vineyards pay tribute to previous instructors, and the wines were made by students under the direction of viticulturist Joel Perez and winemaker Tim Donahue, who recently resigned to become a consultant.
Barrister Winery in Spokane picked up three gold medals, led by the double gold for the 2018 Petite Sirah, its first commercial bottling of the bold Rhône variety.
Restaurateur/vintner JD Nolan of Schooler Nolan adds to the award-winning reds on his wine list at Fat Olives in Richland via the double gold for the Merlot-led 2018 Reserve Red Wine from Mercer family plantings and gold medals for 2018 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and 2018 Reserve Syrah off the Hedges family’s vines on Red Mountain.
Precept-owned Gruet, the renowned sparkling wine house in New Mexico, featured Washington fruit in the non-vintage Brut ($16.99) that merited a double gold.
Hamilton Cellars on Red Mountain received a double gold for its 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon, a fitting tribute by the winemaking team of Charlie Hoppes and Mitch Venohr on behalf of the late Stacie Hamilton.
Mike Scott of Martin-Scott Winery, downstream from Wenatchee, earned a double gold for its 2018 Needlerock Vineyard Montepulciano ($32), which is only the most recent acclaim for his work with the obscure Tuscan red. Port Townsend Vineyards on the Olympic Peninsula used its 2019 Grenache from the Rattlesnake Hills for a double gold.
Eleven Winery on Bainbridge Island continued to burnish its reputation for Mourvèdre when Mike Albee’s 2018 The Deputy earned a gold medal to go along with its 2019 Red Mountain Cab in the ultra-competitive $60-$64.99 Cabernet Sauvignon flight. Rolling Bay Winery, another Bainbridge Island producer, drove home in 2018 with grapes from the Yakima Valley that turned into gold medals for Malbec ($38) and Tempranillo ($39).
Above the Curve Vineyard, a tiny project near Prosser, pulled off a rare double when the 2020 Old Vine Sèmillon made by Ron Bunnell received a gold medal while Kennewick artist Sara Nelson earned a gold medal under the “Modern Illustrations” category for packaging.
Oregon wineries awarded best of class 8 times
Oregon tallied eight best-of-class awards, including three in packaging categories — two of those by King Estate Winery products.
Under Precept Wine’s Battle Creek Cellars brand comes a vivacious NV Yamhela Vineyard Blanc de Noirs ($45) best-of-class winner. This exhilarating gem is crafted from fruit in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA, and it’s loaded with Rainier cherries, lemon zest and crisp pear fruit while boasting a tiny, persistent bead.
In the Syrah/Shiraz $35 to $39.99 category, the Garvin family’s Cliff Creek Cellars took home the top prize for its floral, juicy blackberry, bacon and oak nuanced 2017 Estate Syrah. This deep, well-balanced wine comes from their Sam’s Valley Vineyard in the Rogue Valley, a site they established in the early 1990s grown to nearly 70 acres under vine.
The Schmidt Family Vineyards bold and rich 2018 Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($40) was voted best of its class. Divine aromatics lead to black plum and black currant with hints of leather and oak spice amid well-integrated tannins. Their remarkably diverse program also led to double golds for its 2020 Sparkling Rosé and nonvintage Wilderness White in addition to golds for the 2020 blush, 2018 Reserve Malbec and 2020 Sauvignon Blanc. Three generations take part in the winemaking — Cal, daughter René Brons and grandson Duncan Brons. Schmidt established his Applegate Valley vineyard in 2001, and his family produces about 5,500 cases annually.
Patrick Spangler in Roseburg, who earned Oregon Winery of the Year in 2018, achieved a BOC for his succulent 2018 Carménère ($39). Red and black fruit at the core join a twist of multi-colored peppercorns, and the mouthfeel is heavenly. His 2018 Cabernet Franc earned a gold medal.
Harry and David Vineyards, which hired winemaker Linda Donovan a decade ago to complement its delicious culinary gift baskets and boxes, now offers plush, mouth-filling 2019 Merlot ($21.99) that topped its group. There was also a double gold for its 2020 Reserve Pinot Noir and gold for its 2020 Pinot Noir.
Brent Stone’s work inside the bottle for King Estate yielded a trio of double gold medals — 2017 Estate Brut Cuvée, 2020 Rosé of Pinot Noir and 2019 Pinot Noir. There were also golds for the splashy 2020 Sauvignon Blanc program, the NEXT 2018 Red ($13) out of Washington’s Columbia Valley and the Soldier 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon ($23), which adds up to six gold medals from the cellar of the 2021 Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year.
Maragas Winery north of Bend reached north into Washington and across to Southern Oregon for grapes it transformed into three double gold medals and one gold, led by its 2015 Anna Petite Sirah ($60), 2016 Swingin Zinfandel ($45) and 2017 Chardonnay ($42). The 2016 Reserve Tempranillo from the Applegate Valley received the gold.
2Hawk Winery earned four gold medals — two of them double golds for the 2017 Darow Series Tempranillo and 2019 Darow Series Viognier.
Furioso Vineyards in the Dundee Hills continued its rise with double golds for its 2019 Trovato Vineyard Pietro Pinot Noir and 2019 Trovato Vineyard Gina Pinot Noir, the latter in the elite $67-and-over category.
Iris Vineyards winemaker Aaron Lieberman continued his award-winning run when his Aréte 2018 Chardonnay earned a double gold medal. His 2020 Pinot Gris was voted best of show at the 2022 McMinnville (Ore.) Wine Classic.
Erath Winery, Ste. Michelle’s storied brand in Oregon, saw its 2020 Rosé earn a double gold — topped only by Barnard Griffin’s sweepstakes winner.
Planet Oregon by acclaimed Soter Vineyards returned a double gold for its 2020 Rosé Bubbles ($24).
Valley View Winery in Southern Oregon garnered a double gold for its 2020 Red Red Wine ($18). Rellik Winery’s dry 2020 Raven Rosé earned a double gold, while its Syrah-led Odin’s Shoulders Red Wine received a gold.
Another historic Rogue Valley producer, RoxyAnn, was awarded a double gold for its 2017 Petite Sirah and a gold for the 2018 Claret. Schultz Wines, also in Southern Oregon, worked with acclaimed Steelhead Run Vineyard for its double gold 2020 Grace Pinot Gris and gold 2018 Shepherd Syrah.
Lady Hill in the Willamette Valley earned gold medals for its 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon from famed Red Willow Vineyard in the Yakima Valley and 2020 McDuffee Vineyard Chardonnay out of the Columbia Gorge. Walla Walla Valley producer Zerba Cellars in Milton-Freewater received gold medals for its 2018 Barbera and 2018 Cockburn Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.
Best Ornate Packaging went to King Estate’s King James 2019 Pinot Noir label. Ed King’s marketing team also won the Minimal Packaging award for work on the 2017 Seven Rows Pinot Noir. Firstleaf’s Whale Light brand emerged as the best in the Packaging Series, based on its 2019 Oregon Pinot Gris and associated labels.
Lewis-Clark Valley producers lead Idaho
Two Bad Labs Vineyard in Lewiston, Idaho, was judged to be home to the country’s most delicious Sèmillon, a 2020 example of the lesser-known white Bordeaux grape. Owner/winemaker Paul Sullivan and his wife, Heidi, planted vineyards in the Lewis-Clark AVA in 2012 and now produce 4,000 cases a year. They raised their children in Oregon, along with many four-legged family members, and two of their pups frequently got into mischief, which inspired the winery name.
Clearwater Canyon Cellars, also in Lewiston, produced the precisely structured, ageworthy 2019 Coco’s Reserve Blend No. 5, a Malbec-led blend ($38) grown in Washington state. The expressive, beautifully textured and irresistible NV Waha II red blend — also driven by Malbec — earned a gold for winemaker Coco Umiker. She views it as “the riskiest, most-rewarding wine” of her career.
Another L-C Valley producer, Lindsay Creek Vineyards, captured gold for its lively, minerally and refreshing 2021 Dry Riesling ($21).
Bitner Vineyards, established in the Snake River Valley west of Caldwell back in 1981, garnered a gold medal for its spicy, dark berry focused 2018 Erlexte (“air– leche”) Tempranillo ($30). Three miles to the east, Huston Vineyards owners Gregg and Mary Alger scooped up a gold medal for their intensely flavored 2019 Malbec ($32).
For full results from the 2022 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, visit WineJudging.com.
- Ellen Landis is a certified sommelier, journalist and wine judge based in St. Petersburg, Fla.