LAS VEGAS — A year that’s already brought a number of nice headlines for Rocky Pond Estate Winery now includes news that the Washington state producer won best of show this summer at the Las Vegas Global Wine Awards for its 2019 GSM blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre.
The question “So where is Orondo, Washington?” was popular among judges after the 2019 Stratastone Red Blend was announced as the winner. The 2020 vintage of Stratastone can list “Rocky Reach” on the label because in June the federal government established the American Viticultural Area, which is along the Columbia River upstream from Wenatchee.
“Beginning with the 2019 vintage, the messaging has been around quality, a sense of place and sustainability,” John Ware, president of Rocky Pond, told Great Northwest Wine.
The sweepstakes victory in Vegas is yet another feather in the winemaking cap of Chelan Valley native Shane Collins. The graduate of Washington State University and The Institute of Enology and Viticulture at Walla Walla Community College helped bring acclaim to Tsillan Cellars before Rocky Pond owner David Dufenhorst hired him in 2017 to be head winemaker and oversee the family’s three vineyards — one overlooking the south shore of Lake Chelan and the other two within the Rocky Reach near Orondo.
For one panelist, the showing of the 2019 Stratastone was not a surprise. That blend of Grenache (56%), Syrah (30%) and Mourvèdre off Double D Vineyard — named for David Dufenhorst — earned a Double Platinum and received 97 points from judges at the 2021 Platinum Awards by Great Northwest Wine. Alas, what was left of the 380 cases got snapped up earlier this summer by the savvy Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.
“Entering the Las Vegas competition gave us access to world-class influencers and an opportunity to re-introduce the Rocky Pond brand and our Rocky Reach AVA,” Ware said. “Secondly, we are strategically growing our out-of-state distribution for future growth. We are represented primarily in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and California.”
Several other Pacific Northwest wineries played a winning hand or two during the judging staged at the Tropicana, a casino hotel that opened on the Vegas Strip in 1957.
Owen Roe Winery in the Yakima Valley achieved Platinum status for its little-known Moscato program. The Washington-focused Aquilini Beverage Group scored gold medals for winemaker Joshua Maloney’s work on the Be Human 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon and Roaming Dog 2021 Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé. Belle Fiore in Ashland, Ore., returned gold medals for Merlot and Syrah bottlings overseen by winemaker Rob Folin. And Spangler Vineyards, the 2020 Oregon Winery of the Year for Wine Press Northwest magazine, earned gold medals for Cabernet Franc and Carménère.
Vegas judges include 3 Master of Wine candidates
This year’s panel at the Las Vegas Global Wine Awards was an illustrious one. Headliners included Will Costello, a Master Sommelier; advanced sommeliers Kathleen Thomas and Jessica Waugh; and three Master of Wine candidates — Katy Long, an executive with Vintage Wine Estates; advanced sommelier Anthony Mueller of Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, whose beat includes Washington state; and Daphne Feng, recently a wine buyer in the Bay Area for Safeway. It also featured Elsie Wolfe, senior buyer of adult beverages for Target; and Wilfred Wong, the affable chief storyteller for Wine.com who recently launched his eponymous website — WilfredWongWine.com.
Eddie Rivkin, executive director and CEO for the Las Vegas Global Wine Awards, said, “This year’s competition was not only the best for total number of entries, but also with the incredible diversity of entries from around the world. Every year, I say there is no way to top the quality and diversity of wines we receive, and every year I have to happily walk that statement back. I have every expectation that 2023, our sixth year, will be the best yet.”
And it’s a safe assumption Rivkin can count on Ware entering wines next year. The Rocky Pond 2019 Malbec also was awarded best of class, and the 2019 Syrah received a Platinum award.
“Rocky Pond will work with Premier Cru Solutions to leverage paid advertising in the Las Vegas market to attract new wine and travel enthusiasts,” Ware said.
Shane Collins crafts best-of-show GSM
In January, Dufenhorst hired Elizabeth Keyser from HALL Family Wines in California’s prestigious Napa Valley to take over as the Rocky Pond winemaker, so rosé and white wines from her first vintage would be represented at the 2023 Vegas judging. Keyser’s three vintages with Cornell University in New York’s Finger Lakes region and experience in the cellar at A to Z Wineworks in Oregon’s Willamette Valley will serve her well with the delayed harvesting of the 2022 vintage.
“I’d say we’re 10-14 days behind the last few years,” Collins said recently. “If this was 10 years ago, it would likely be ‘normal.’ ”
During the summer of 2020, Dufenhorst brought on consultant Steve Leveque, a decorated Napa winemaker whose credentials include famed Chalk Hill, Opus One, HALL and a decade with Robert Mondavi Winery.
This year, Collins took on the roles of director of viticulture and vineyard relations as more of the Dufenhorst vines mature and grapes make their way into the cellars of wineries throughout the Northwest — including Syrah to Sean Boyd of buzzworthy Rôtie Cellars in The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater. Collins also is spearheading efforts surrounding the SustainableWA initiative throughout the state. Dufenhorst recently served on the board for Long Live the Kings, an advocacy group focused on habit in Washington state for wild salmon.
This fall, Rocky Pond is scheduled to open its third satellite tasting room in the state — this one in the popular outdoors community of Leavenworth. A year from now, Dufenhorst expects to be pouring at a downtown tasting gallery in his hometown of Boise, Idaho.
Rocky Pond’s two chefs — Doug Setniker and Austin Harmon — operate kitchens both in downtown Chelan and in Woodinville’s upscale Woodin Creek Village.
“The culinary team suggests pairing the 2019 Stratastone with Miso Glazed Fish or Herb-Crusted Pecan-Smoked Tenderloin,” Ware said.
2022 Las Vegas Global Wine Awards results
Best of show / Best red wine / Best of red Rhône
Rocky Pond Estate Winery 2019 Stratastone Red Blend, Columbia Valley, $45
Rodney Strong Vineyards
Best Cabernet Sauvignon
1849 Wine Co. Cabernet Sauvignon
Best Cabernet Franc
Wakefield Taylors Wines
Rocky Pond Estate Winery 2019 Double D Vineyard Malbec, Columbia Valley, $60
Best Pinot Noir
Rodney Strong Wine Estates Knotty Vines Pinot Noir
Rue De Perle rosé
Top Northwest award winners
Rocky Pond Estate Winery 2019 Double D Vineyard Syrah, Columbia Valley, $45
Owen Roe Winery Moscato, Yakima Valley
Aquilini Beverage Group Be Human 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon
Aquilini Beverage Group Roaming Dog 2021 Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé
Belle Fiore Winery Belle Arte Merlot
Belle Fiore Winery Classic Syrah
Francis Ford Coppola Diamond Collection Appellation Series Cabernet Sauvignon
Spangler Vineyards Cabernet Franc, Oregon
Spangler Vineyards Carmenere, Oregon
Firesteed Pinot Noir
Rocky Pond Estate Winery 2019 Double D Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, $75
Spangler Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon
Spangler Vineyards Petite Sirah