© 1997 JDM Enterprises
YEAR END AWARDSby Jerry D. Mead
It is an affliction of columnists everywhere, the writing of year-end columns using a variety of cutesy gimmicks. I am not immune.
I tried giving imaginary holiday gifts to various industry notables and entities, and to tell the truth that worked fairly well.
Then, for a couple of years, I made up New Years Resolutions that other people or companies should have made for themselves. That device was too limiting. I scrapped it in short order.
The gimmick I've stayed with the longest is my "Year End Awards." Because I frequently report on wine competitions and their results, it just seem natural to continue the theme of passing out gold, silver, bronze, "The Dregs" (the bottom of the barrel), and the dreaded "Phylloxera" award, named for that nasty little root louse that destroys entire vineyards.
So let's not fool around any longer, but go directly to the biggies, the "Winery of the Year" and "Winemaker of the Year."
GOLD to "Winery of the Year" Beaulieu Vineyards, the nearly 100 year old Napa Valley legend in its own time, that while honoring its traditions and the memory of its greatest winemaker Andre Tchelistcheff, is charging full speed ahead towards its second century with the inventive winemaking of Joel Aiken. And the award must be shared by recent management types who made it all possible.
GOLD to "Winemaker of the Year" Chuck Ortman of Meridian Vineyards, who has for two decades made some of America's best and best value Chardonnays under a variety of labels for which he worked or consulted. He gets the nod as this year's top guy for mastering the mysterious Pinot Noir and making his portfolio complete.
GOLD to "Wine of the Year" to Chappellet 1996 "Old Vine Cuvee," and also the "Silk Purse From A Sows's Ear" award. Take 40 year old Chenin Blanc vines, treat the fruit as if it was expensive Chardonnay (barrel ferment, French oak, etc), call it something other than Chenin Blanc and sell it for a reasonable $14. A pat on the back to whoever dreamed up the idea.
SILVER for "Concept of the Year" to the semi-sweet white wine, in the snazzy blue bottle, designed to accompany Asian and spicy cuisines and called "Fortune." Did I mention that your fortune is branded on the cork like a fortune cookie? It only gets a silver out of modesty...I dreamed up the idea over dinner one night. Weibel is the producer and brand owner.
DREGS to Blue Nun, the German brand, for coming out with a White Zinfandel from California and a red wine from South America. Talk about confusing the market.
DREGS to the state of Maryland for passing a law that wine journalists have to register with the state, be approved as expert by some tax collecting bureaucrat, pick up their samples from a wholesaler and return any wines they don't taste. I did not make this up.
GOLD to Napa Ridge 1995 Pinot Noir for winning more medals and awards than any other Pinot in America, and for still only costing $10. Congratulations to winemaker David Schlottman for doing it again...and again...and again.
DREGS to the many wineries which have price-gouged during the California grape shortages of recent years. Some of us may remember who took advantage as the pendulum swings to the surpluses of the next few years.
GOLD to the top four wineries in medal count, year after year...Kendall- Jackson, Geyser Peak, Windsor and Fetzer. Sometimes the specific ranking changes, but these producers are always in the running.
PHYLLOXERA to Kentucky, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Florida (and possibly New York) where one can do more time for shipping a bottle of wine than for hurting someone. Who said Prohibition was repealed?
GOLD to Coalition for Free Trade in Licensed Beverages (CFT) for challenging the above shipping bans in court and so far batting 1.000.
GOLD to those large North Coast companies which are moving full scale into Monterey, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, adding to the deserved importance of the Central Coast as a winegrowing region.
GOLD to all those wineries which got off the ground in 1972 (a miserable Cabernet vintage) and celebrated their 25th anniversary in 1997.
BRONZE to Louisiana for passing the first legislation to allow retailers in 49 other states to register to sell wine direct to Louisiana consumers, but failing to make it legal for Louisiana wineries to sell to Louisiana consumers. I really do not make this stuff up.
GOLD to William Hill winery for new package design, featuring a grape leaf motif that looks so real you're compelled to touch it and see. There have been leaf labels before, with one leaf serving for all wines. The William Hill collection includes an authentic Chardonnay leaf reproduction for that variety, and a Cabernet leaf for Cabernet Sauvignon and so on.
GOLD to Forest Glen (especially for Chardonnay), Canyon Road (especially for Sauvignon Blanc), Pedroncelli (for Zinfandel), Glen Ellen (White Zinfandel), Chateau Souverain (Cabernet Sauvignon) and Stone Creek (Merlot), for continuing to offer solid value year after year.
GOLD to Sebastiani for making the best Barbera (and most highly awarded), year after year.
GOLD to Nathanson Creek (owned by Sebastiani) for the best new tv commercials of the year...maybe the decade. Only thing is, they deserve wider exposure.
GOLD to Gallo for doing an amazing job in just ten short years of going from a Central Valley jug wine image to a super-premium, Sonoma County image.
GOLD to me for beginning my 30th year of writing this column. Would it be greedy to hope for 30 more?
If you have questions about any of the wines, producers or products mentioned in any of Mead's columns, feel free to call his office at (800) 845-9463.