The Central Coast Wine Competition included several winning Bakersfield connections.

The Kern Connection

The recent Central Coast Wine Competition showed both the rapid growth of wineries in the Central Coast American Viticultural Area (AVA) and high quality of wines produced there.

Graveyard Vineyards’ 2014 Syrah
Graveyard Vineyards’ 2014 Syrah

More than 760 wines were entered in the competition that is open to any wine made from grapes grown in the AVA, comprised of Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Benito, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties. This competition also includes wines made from grapes grown in Ventura County. The entry total is the highest ever for the CCWC, exceeding last year’s entries by more than 100.

An experienced group of judges swirled, sniffed, tasted and spit for two days before choosing San Marcos Creek Winery’s 2014 Fling’s First Crush, a stylized blend of Grenache, Zinfandel and Petite Sirah as the best wine of the competition. A small family operation between Paso Robles and San Miguel off U.S. 101, San Marcos Creek also won gold medals for its 2014 Epiphany Estate Cuvee, a blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah; and its 2014 Petite Sirah.

Best white wine of the competition was Eberle Winery’s 2015 Viognier, which missed being the sweepstakes winner by two votes. Eberle also had the best dessert wine, its 2015 Muscat Canelli.

Sextant Wines’ 2015 Rosé was best pink wine. The winery is owned by Bakersfield’s Craig and Nancy Stoller.

And Sextant wasn’t the only Bakersfield-connected winery to do well in the competition. Others winning gold medals were:

  • Croad Vineyards’ 2012 Taranaki, a proprietary blend of Mourvedre and Zinfandel. Owners Martin and Patti Croad also own Croad Electric in Bakersfield.
  • Graveyard Vineyards’ 2014 Syrah. Owners are Rob and Paula Campbell-Taylor of Bakersfield, and Rob still consults as a petroleum engineer. In addition to the gold medal, Graveyard also earned five silver medals among its other entries.
  • Grey Wolf Cellars’ 2015 Grenache Rosé and 2014 Chenin Blanc. Shirlene Barton and her son, Joe Jr., are originally from Bakersfield.
  • Liberty School’s 2014 Merlot and 2014 Treana, both from the Hope Family Wines portfolio. The Hope family moved from Bakersfield to Paso Robles and founded its wine business in the late 1970s.
  • Michael Gill Cellars’ 2015 Vermentino, 2014 Tempranillo and 2015 Counoise. The Bakersfield dentist is producing some of the best wine on the Central Coast. He entered eight wines in the competition, and all eight won medals. In addition to the three gold medals, including a best-of-class, he took home four silver medals and a bronze.
  • Pear Valley Vineyards’ 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon. Owner Tom Haas spent some of his early years in Bakersfield.
  • Scott Family’s 2014 Arroyo Seco Chardonnay from Monterey County, and 2014 Silver Buckle Ranchero Red, a blend of Syrah, Merlot and Zinfandel. The wines are under the Rutherford Wine Co. umbrella, owned by Bakersfield’s Marko Zaninovich.
The Central Coast Wine Competition included several winning Bakersfield connections.
The Central Coast Wine Competition included several winning Bakersfield connections.

Of the 760-plus entries, some 20 percent won gold medals. Typically, the medal distribution at wine competitions is about 10 percent gold, 20 percent silver, and 30 percent bronze. Skeptics may question the high number of gold medals at the CCWC, but I counter that the judging panel was well experienced. I’ve been judging with many of them for years, including Mike Dunne from the Sacramento Bee, Ellen Landis, certified sommelier and wine blogger; Tim McDonald, the chief judge who’s been a wine judge as least as long as I have (29 years); Michael Cervin, Santa Barbara wine columnist, author and wine buyer; Ron Rawlinson, Cal State Bakersfield graduate and longtime wine industry professional. I was also delighted to have Karen Bennett on my panel, the wine buyer at Café Med. It marked the first time that I’ve judged with someone else from Bakersfield at a major wine competition. Karen has as discerning a palate as there is in the industry. So no cheap medals here. The judges recognize a gold medal worthy wine when they taste it, and scored accordingly.

Croad Vineyards’ 2012 Taranaki gold winners
Croad Vineyards’ 2012 Taranaki gold winners

The results show the wine quality found on the Central Coast across the board, old wineries and new, corporate and family-operated. That’s good news for those of us living in Bakersfield because much of the Central Coast is day-trip distance.

Cherry picking the winners, here are some examples of the Central Coast’s diversity:

  • Alapay Cellars in Avila Beach—Owners Scott and Rebecca Remmenga’s small winery was founded in 2001, and routinely hauls off gold medals at wine competitions. The Remmengas entered 16 wines at the CCWC, and won four golds (25 percent of their entries): 2014 Pinot Noir, 2011 Zinfandel (this one came from my panel and had classic zinfandel flavors), 2014 French Camp Vineyard Lagrein (also from my panel), and 2014 Cinsault. Seven of their other entries won silver medals. Annual production is 5,000 cases.
  • Broken Earth Winery in Paso Robles—This winery was originally Arciero, transitioned to EOS, before becoming Broken Earth under new ownership. Chris Cameron, an Australian who has a global portfolio of award-winning wines, is director of winemaking. It entered 18 wines and won four golds: 2015 Verdelho, 2015 Vermentino, 2012 Petite Sirah and 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon. It also won nine silver medals.
  • Cass Vineyard & Winery—It was good to see them haul off three gold medals for their 2015 Viognier, 2015 Roussane and 2015 Marsanne, three white Rhone varietals.
  • Chronic Cellars—I wasn’t surprised to see this young winery win a gold for its iconic Sofa King Bueno, a blend of Syrah, Grenache, Petite Sirah, Mourvedre and Tannat (see Bakersfield Magazine, Winter 2016). Terrific winery, terrific people.
  • Donatoni Winery—Former airline pilot Hank Donatoni makes some excellent zinfandel, as evidenced by the gold medal for his 2011 Sauret Vineyard Zin.
  • Lazarre Wines—Adam Lazarre is one of the best winemakers around. His 2014 Chardonnay won gold at CCWC.
  • Michael Rose Cellars—A tiny upstart with a San Miguel address, though it’s in Monterey County by a stone’s throw, took a gold for its Alicante Bouschet Rosé.

Other gold medal winners worth finding: Baileyana, Zocker, Peachy Canyon, San Simeon, San Antonio, Maddalena, and Victor Hugo.

For results, go to centralcoastwinecomp.com, and click on “results.” CHEERS!

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