Press Democrat North Coast Wine Challenge Tasting 2016

north coast wine challenge photo
Photo courtesy of North Coast Wine Challenge

Sunday, May 15th, made for an exciting afternoon when hundreds of guests gathered for the North Coast Wine Challenge Tasting event at SOMO Village in Rohnert Park, CA.  A beautiful, sunny day makes for the perfect backdrop to an outdoor event featuring the gold medal winning wines from this year’s competition, paired with delectable treats from eight of wine country’s top chefs.  With the theme, “Best of the Best“, there was no way to be disappointed by the experience.

The actual competition took place in mid-April, and included wines from Napa, Sonoma, Lake, Mendocino, Marin and Solano.  Professionals from all realms of the wine industry were invited to participate as judges for this prestigious event.  Each of them bringing a wide variety of expertise to the table,  the list included winemakers, managers, writers, sommeliers, and industry executives.  Winning categories included Best of Counties, Best of Show (by style; red, white, sparking, etc.), and the overall winner took the title of Best of the Best.

I did a lot of preparation work for this event.  Once the winners were announced, my top priority was to taste each wine that “stole the show” at the competition.  Other gold medal winners I wanted to try were based off of descriptions used by the judges.  For example, of the Rutherford Ranch Winery 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, judges described it as “Elegant, sophisticated….Carnival in a glass….”  Who could resist a description like that?


Photo courtesy of North Coast Wine Challenge

With my list in hand, and a helpful event guide issued at check in, I was ready to hit the ground running.  The event format was perfectly staged, with tents set up by style (Whites, Reds, Dessert, Rose’ and Sparking).  Now I know there is usually a certain format for tasting, but i couldn’t help myself.  I was not going to rest until I tasted the top winner FIRST!  Taking top prize this year was Westwood Estate, who not only placed Best of the Best of the entire competition with a 99 point rating; but they also swept the Best of Sonoma County and Best of Show for Red Wine categories.  The winning wine was the 2014 Sonoma Valley Anadel Gap Vineyard Clone 37 Pinot Noir.  I have to say that the awards were very well deserved.  Like tasting a berry pie with just the right amount of spice, this wine was full-bodied, earthy and extraordinary.

Cheering with Ben Cane, winemaker Westwood Estate

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After tasting the Westwood winner, I made my way to the other stations to sip as many of the category winners as I could find.  A few standouts for me included the Navarro Vineyards 2015 Mendocino Pinot Blanc, which took double prizes as Best of Mendocino County and Best of Show White Wine.  Competition judges described this wine as “Nose follows into the palate”.  I couldn’t agree more.  Sometimes when you taste wine, the beautiful aromas you get from the glass can be very different from the actual taste of the wine.  This particular wine had stone fruits, pear and citrus to entice both your nose and your mouth.  A deliciously crisp wine that would pair well with many foods.

Another favorite for me was described “Like burying your head in a watermelon”.  The Kokomo Winery 2015 North Coast Grenache Rose’ really did wow.  Very juicy and refreshing to the palate, it won the Best of Show Rose’ category.  Kokomo wines also got away with quite a few gold medals for their 2014 Chardonnay, 2014 Cuvee, 2014 Pinot Noir, 2014 Zinfandel and 2014 Grenache.  I think I need to pay these folks a visit.


Best of Napa County, Amizetta Estate Winery’s 2013 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon was big, bold and absolutely phenomenal.  With a score of 97 points, I can definitely understand why it came so close to this year’s top winner.  Ripe dark fruits with powerful, yet silky undertones, I will be looking to add this to my special collection.

Winemaker, William Clark, discussing wines with guests

There were so many fantastic wines to please to palates of wine novices and aficionados alike.  A few other favorites I came across included:

2012 Ashton Vineyard Syrah
2014 Thirty-Seven Tolay (Really Yummy Red Blend)
2014 Roche Winery and Vineyards Chardonnay
2013 Ledson Sonoma Valley Barbera
2013 Trione River Road Ranch Pinot Noir
2013 DeLoach Green Valley Pinot Noir (I love their Pinots)

Ledson Barbera; Ledson assistant winemaker Brian Pruett; Trione Pinot Noir; DeLoach Pinot Noir
Roche Chardonnay; Ashton Syrah; Selections from Thirty-Seven

Now of course you can’t drink this much wine without having something to eat.  Each of the featured chefs prepared delicious and filling bites for guests to enjoy in between tastings.  There were so many options to satisfy your taste buds.  Many of them creative spins on common dishes.  The overall winner for Hubby and I was the Crispy Heritage Pork Belly and the Barbeque Duck Biscuit prepared by Chef Christopher Ludwick and his team from Earth’s Bounty Kitchen and Wine Bar.  I haven’t had duck since I left Mississippi ten years ago.  It was a delicious reminder of home.

Smoked Salmon Crustini and Tapioca Chia Pudding with Seasonal Fruit from El Dorado Kitchen; The Spinster Sisters’ Kimchi and Bacon deviled eggs; Mini Boon Burgers from Boon Eat + Drink
Meatballs with Cauliflower Mac and Cheese from Franchetti’s Woodfire Kitchen; Barbecued Duck Biscuits and Pork Belly from Earth’s Bounty Kitchen and Wine Bar

The event also hosted “Featured Talks” that allowed you the opportunity to step away from the main event and indulge with local professionals in the industry.  The first session, “Making Wine in Food Country and Making Food in Wine Country”, featured such guests as Chef Condra Easley of Patisserie Angelica and Ben Cane, winemaker for Westwood Estate.  The second session featured Peg Melnik, writer for the Press Democrat, winemaker of Kokomo wines, Erik Miller, and KSRO Good Food Hour host, Steve Garner.  They covered the topic of “Great Wine in Everyday Life”.

Overall, I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day of tasting and  eating.  With a superior wine selection, amazing food, and a beautiful day of sunshine, it doesn’t get much better than this.



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