Each year, Wine Enthusiast honors the individuals and companies that made outstanding achievements over the past year in the wine and alcoholic beverage world. Below are the nominees in 16 categories for the 20th Annual Wine Star Awards. The winners will be announced in Wine Enthusiast’s special “Best of Year” issue, and they will be honored at a black-tie gala on Monday, January 27, 2020, in San Francisco at Palace of Fine Arts.
Explore the 2019 Wine Star Award Nominees…
Person of the Year
As president and CEO of Visit California, Caroline Beteta leads a dynamic nonprofit organization created to market California as a premier travel destination, with a keen focus on issues vital to the wine industry’s success. She’s been essential in building the travel industry’s interest during wildfire recovery and has become the chief spokesperson for the state’s $141 billion annual tourist industry. Beteta is responsible for a $131 million global marketing program. She also serves as the director of tourism in California’s Governor’s Office of Business & Economic Development. She has shepherded Visit California into a global marketing franchise that delivers millions of visitors and stunning economic growth to the state every year.
During her 20-year tenure with Hospice du Rhône, Vicki Carroll has led the charge to boost the fortunes of Rhône and Rhône-style wines in the U.S. as well as to promote the Paso Robles region of California. The nonprofit organization, founded by winemaker John Alban and wine merchant Mat Garretson, encourages community and inclusivity, forges international ties and celebrates great wines that in the 1990s received little global respect. Its namesake biannual event that was the organization’s original focus brought winemakers, consumers, trade and media to Paso Robles, many for the first time. A second annual event, held at Blackberry Farm in Tennessee, is now in its 10th year.
Tom Cole & Chris Underwood
Tom Cole, president and CEO of Republic National Distributing Company (RNDC), and his counterpart CEO at Young’s Market Company, Chris Underwood, made headlines this year for effectively merging the two giant companies. They joined forces in all markets in which Young’s operates. RNDC is the second-largest distributor of premium wine and spirits in the U.S., while Young’s enjoys outstanding distribution reach as a distributor in the western U.S. Through their joint venture partnership, the two are a strong contender for leadership in the wine distribution business. Cole serves on the board of directors of the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America and is active in New Orleans civic organizations. Underwood is the fifth generation to lead Young’s, based in Tustin, California.
The prominent president and CEO of the Napa Valley Vintners (NVV) has driven the nonprofit trade association that represents 550 wineries to new heights of fund-raising, marketing and sustainability achievements during a tenure that began in 1995. Under Reiff’s leadership, NVV became an influential voice in the global wine world. The 75-year-old association grew revenues from Auction Napa Valley to eight figures annually, which benefit a range of nonprofits largely centered around community health and education services, and oversees the Premiere Napa Valley barrel auction that underwrites the association’s expansive budget. Other advances under Reiff’s leadership include the protection of the Napa Valley name internationally, as well as preserved vineyard lands and protected watersheds.
James Tidwell, MS
James Tidwell co-founded TEXSOM in 2005 along with fellow Master Sommelier Drew Hendricks as a conference for sommeliers. However, it has blossomed into the premier professional beverage education event in the country, one that attracts prominent attendees, presenters and sponsors from around the world. In addition to being the producer of the TEXSOM annual conference, Tidwell is also co-owner and producer of the TEXSOM International Wine Awards, one of the largest and most recognized wine competitions in the country. In addition to his work with TEXSOM, Tidwell is a consultant at the Four Seasons Resort. Thanks in large part to Tidwell, the hotel has been nominated five times for a James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Beverage Program.
To be announced
To be announced
Innovator of the Year
In 1981, Susana Balbo became Argentina’s first female enologist, and her career trajectory coincided with the rising fortunes of her country’s wines on the international stage. Her early work in the Salta region coaxed charm and perfume out of the once-overlooked Torrontés variety. Balbo, who launched her own brand in 1999, has become one of the leading lights of Argentine wine. In 2015, Balbo won an election to join Congress to represent the province of Mendoza. In 2018, her achievements in both politics and the wine industry were recognized on the global stage, when she was invited to chair the Women20 summit, an international gathering of women.
The founder of California wine kegging and canning company Free Flow Wines, Jordan Kivelstadt saw the future of wine packaging and delivery 10 years ago and took a big chance on it. The five-gallon steel kegs that Free Flow fills for restaurants and bars have made believers across the U.S., as establishments revel in their convenience and quality assurance for by-the-glass programs. This year, Free Flow has continued to thrive as it moved into a new Sonoma County facility, doubled its annual revenue and taken on canning with the same gusto as it did kegs. Kivelstadt recently stepped down from day-to-day leadership, but remains a board member.
Rob Murray, owner of Rabble Wine Company, in Paso Robles, California, has pushed the technological envelope in sales and marketing like no other. Rabble’s augmented-reality labels, featured in the May 2019 issue of Wine Enthusiast focusing on technology, have astonished consumers of all ages. Murray’s company has also begun accepting cryptocurrency for its wine. “We created Rabble to challenge the status quo, throwing out the rule book of wine as we know it in order to express freedom,” says Murray. “This philosophy and mindset are at the heart of who we are.”
The founder of Nomacorc, Marc Noël has been an innovator and disrupter in the wine industry since 1999. That’s when he and his Belgian father, Gert Noël, launched a reliable synthetic wine closure that was free of cork taint and inexpensive. Now part of the company Vinventions, Nomacorc’s latest product, Green Line, has taken wine closures to a new level of environmental sensitivity, as they’re made from sustainable, renewable sugarcane-based raw materials. Noël serves as founder and chairman of Vinventions, one of the world’s leading suppliers of wine closures. An estimated 3 billion bottles of wine have been sealed with his products.
Community-minded Oregon vintners banded together to rescue grape growers in the Rogue Valley in 2018 when, just days before harvest, their contracts were canceled by a winery buyer who claimed their bounties were tainted by wildfire smoke. Ed King III, from King Estate, Jim Bernau of Willamette Valley Vineyards, Jason Lett of The Eyrie Vineyards and the Stiltner family of Silvan Ridge Winery bought the grapes and made the set of wines called Oregon Solidarity. Three Rogue Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA) wines have been produced from the fruit and released. The wineries have promised to forward the net sale proceeds to the Rogue Valley Vintners to help uninsured growers throughout the region.
Wine Executive of the Year
An increasing attention to quality in wines they export from France is what makes Frederic Helfrich and his business, Les Grands Chais de France, an outstanding nominee for Wine Executive of the Year. Founded in 1979 by Joseph Helfrich, the company’s international business is now in the capable hands of Joseph’s son Frédéric, who is export commercial director in charge of the U.S., Australia, Asia and U.K. Les Grands Chais de France has become a massive organization with a turnover in 2018 of $1.34 billion and holdings all across France, including most recently Burgundy. They also have wineries in Alsace, the Loire, Bordeaux, Beaujolais, Provence and Languedoc. Still firmly owned by the Helfrich family from Alsace, the company has carefully moved into the U.S. market both with its own importing company and with links to other importers.
Involved since 2002 in running the California Central Coast winery founded by her father, Cynthia Lohr has been the trade and brand advocate, as well as a co-owner of J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines, since 2016. The most public-facing executive in the family, Lohr not only drives brand messaging, but also sustainability and women’s issues through fund-raising for breast cancer detection. She forged a partnership with the National Breast Cancer Foundation to support mammograms for women in need through sales of wines from Carol’s Vineyard. Other commitments include support of the Paso Robles CAB Collective and Women of the Vine & Spirits.
Anthony von Mandl
Anthony von Mandl is the driving force behind the current phenomenon of hard seltzers. The company he founded and chairs, Mark Anthony Group, produces White Claw, the fruit-flavored, spiked seltzer that has captured nearly half of the category’s sales since the brand’s introduction in 2016. White Claw is one of the hottest brands in North America, according to marketing research company IRI. It reported that, incredibly, weekly sales of White Claw doubled between April and June. The Canadian born, European-raised von Mandl is the founder and proprietor of Mission Hill Family Estate in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. He’s earned his country’s highest civilian honor, named an Officer of the Order of Canada.
As president and CEO of Trinchero Family Estates (TFE) since 2017 and its president/COO prior to that, Bob Torkelson has led the impressive growth of the Napa Valley-based wine business. It produced 20 million cases in 2018, according to Wine Business Monthly. Trinchero now ranks as the fourth-largest wine company in the United States, up from No. 7 in 2003, just before Torkelson became the first non-family member to be president. Roger Trinchero, the previous CEO, called Torkelson “someone who has not only gained our family’s trust, but the individual who I believe is most responsible for our company’s success…”
Kim Stare Wallace
Kim Stare Wallace is the president of Dry Creek Vineyard in Sonoma County, California, a winery estate founded by her father, David Stare, in 1972. Her leadership as a woman winery executive, a proponent of sustainability and a committed volunteer in the both industry and community organizations have earned great respect. Stare Wallace grew up among the vines and wines, but she began her career in the fashion industry. She joined the winery in 1986 as director of marketing. In this role, she designed the first of the winery’s iconic sailboat labels. Stare Wallace became vice president in the mid-1990s before she ascended to the top job as president.
Winemaker of the Year
Stéphane Derenoncourt is a Bordeaux wine-making consultant who has earned a reputation for helping clients make better wines that highlight terroir rather than the latest trend. His approach, one that derives the wine style from the land rather than by a recipe, has distinguished him from other consultants in Bordeaux. The wines that result, which include many famous names, particularly in Saint-Émilion, are the antithesis of the big, bold Bordeaux of recent years. With his wife, Christine Derenoncourt, he owns Domaine de l’A in the Côtes de Castillon, and Derenoncourt California in Napa Valley.
Jorge and Isaac Muga
Brothers Jorge and Isaac Muga, based in Rioja, Spain, are master winemakers, especially when it comes to the expert use of oak during fermentation and aging. Bodegas Muga, their family winery founded in 1932, is based in Haro’s historic Barrio de la Estación (which translates to “train-station district”) and produces some of the region’s top wines. The brothers choose one oak approach to make classic wines with a restrained traditional touch, and another approach that’s more modern and forward. They operate what’s believed to be the only cellar in Spain with a master cooper and three in-house barrel makers. Together, the Muga team produces diverse wines of high quality across the full Rioja style spectrum.
A gifted Napa-based winemaker and hugely successful brand builder Dave Phinney sold The Prisoner brand to Huneeus Vintners in 2010 for $40 million. (Huneeus went on to sell it to Constellation for $285 million.) Then Phinney sold his next big wine project, Orin Swift, to E. & J. Gallo in 2016. He’s a major reason why Gallo soon bought Napa Valley’s large Stagecoach Vineyard, as Orin Swift was one of its biggest buyers of grapes. In June of last year, Gallo bought Phinney’s latest and greatest act, Locations, a joint venture with importer Aveníu Brands, a subsidiary of Codorníu Raventós. Locations makes wines that pay homage to a variety of regions: France, Spain, Italy, Argentina, California, New Zealand, Oregon, Washington, Portugal, Corsica and Texas. Phinney will continue to make the wines. He also opened the Savage & Cooke craft distillery recently on Mare Island in Vallejo, California.
Elisa Scavino is the fourth-generation winemaker at the Paolo Scavino winery in Italy’s Piedmont region. She’s also the first woman in the family in charge of the wonderful Scavino Barolos, which include coveted single-vineyard offerings, Dolcettos and Barberas. Scavino owns 75 acres in the Barolo area and works on 20 Barolo historical crus located in Castiglione Falletto, Barolo, La Morra, Novello, Serralunga d’Alba, Verduno and Roddi. Scavino has embraced the family’s core belief in the supremacy of viticulture above enology, and her focus is the care of the vines to grow ripe and healthy grapes.
Lane Tanner was one of the first female winemakers in Central California. She blazed a trail for many other women to follow, and she also mastered the then-new phenomenon of Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir. Her wines are notable for being low in alcohol and sulfites, a practice that she continues to this day. Starting with the 2012 vintage, Tanner was named winemaker at Sierra Madre Vineyard. One year later, she began a partnership with Will Henry at Lumen Wines. Her vast knowledge of the Santa Maria Valley dates to her first vintage in 1981, when she served as enologist for Firestone. She later made wine for Zaca Mesa and Hitching Post, as well as under her own Lane Tanner label from 1989–2009.
American Winery of the Year
Based in Clarksburg, California, Bogle is king of great values and celebrated 50 years of wine growing last year. The family-owned and operated winery, now in its third generation, makes serious wines like barrel-fermented Chardonnay and sells them for extremely reasonable prices. The Bogle success story began with an initial planting of 20 acres of Petite Sirah and Chenin Blanc in 1968, and it hit a high mark last year when production passed 2.5 million cases. Bogle wines have received more than 20 Best Buys from Wine Enthusiast in the past four years, and the winery was recently honored with the California Green Medal for sustainability.
The 30-year-old Willamette Valley winery has long produced celebrated Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines from its individual vineyard estates, which began with the purchase of a hilltop site in the Dundee Hills. Owners Grace & Ken Evenstad recently completed a new winery dedicated to the production of Chardonnay and sparkling wine. They also pledged $500,000 toward a study of Grapevine Red Blotch Virus that would benefit Oregon’s grape growers, and potentially, the whole wine world. In 2015, the Evenstads expanded their original vision of world-class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay production as they purchased Château de la Crée, a Burgundy wine estate in the Côte d’Or.
The best-known winery in the Southwest, Gruet put New Mexico on the wine map with its beautifully made, consistent and widely distributed sparkling wines. Founded in 1984, Gruet specializes in méthode Champenoise wines that carry on the tradition of Gilbert Gruet’s Champagne house in Bethon, France. Although owned by Seattle-based Precept Wines, Laurent Gruet is the head winemaker in charge of the production of more than 275,000 cases of Pinot Noir- and Chardonnay-based sparkling wines, as well as a small collection of still wines. Gruet Winery has achieved widespread acclaim and remains a favorite of the nation’s top sommeliers.
Millbrook Vineyards & Winery
Named for the town where it’s located in New York’s Hudson Valley, Millbrook Vineyards & Winery was the first vinifera-only operation in the Hudson River Region and has long been recognized as a leader in viticulture and wine quality. Co-founder John Dyson, a native of Millbrook, bought a 130-acre former dairy farm in 1982 and founded the company with his brother-in-law, David Bova. Today, Millbrook Vineyards & Winery belongs to Pebble Ridge Vineyards & Wine Estates. The group, created by John and Kathe Dyson, also includes Williams Selyem and Pebble Ridge Vineyards in California, and Villa Pillo Estate in Tuscany.
Few Washington State wineries have received more accolades than Quilceda Creek in Snohomish. For more than a decade, the wines from this flag bearer for the state have consistently scored 95 points or above from Wine Enthusiast, and consumers have lined up for the privilege to buy one of the winery’s 16,000 annual cases at an average bottle price of $95. Quilceda Creek was bonded in 1978 by Alex & Jeannette Golitzin as the state’s 12th winery and is now run by Paul Golitzin, the president and director of winemaking. Although located west of the Cascade Mountains, Quilceda has long sourced its grapes from top vineyards in the inland eastern districts of Horse Heaven Hills and Red Mountain.
European Winery of the Year
Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España
The Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España (CVNE) is a lauded Rioja producer based in the Rioja Alta town of Haro. Founded in the 19th century and widely considered a Rioja stalwart, the winery now produces some of its best wines under the guidance of CEO Victor Urrutia. Its Viña Real and Contino sister wineries in Laguardia (Rioja Alavesa) add to the strength of the CVNE portfolio. In addition, CVNE acquired Virgen del Galir in Galicia recently, and this year, as the company celebrated its 140th anniversary, it created a Ribera del Duero wine, Bela.
On the ancient plain of Oia, on the Greek island of Santorini, the winery of Domaine Sigalas produces up to 25,000 cases from Mediterranean grape varieties like Aidani, Athiri, Mandilaria and Mavrotragano, though it was the winery’s Assyrtiko wines that grabbed the greatest attention and U.S. traction this year. Founded in 1991, the company has enjoyed almost continuous modernization and expansion of its facilities to implement its growth plan, which is based on the winery’s three founding principles: a creative relationship with the traditions of the island of Santorini, technical savvy and quality.
Lucien Albrecht Wines in Alsace, France, produces distinctive, high-quality still white wines and Crémant d’Alsace, the local sparkling wine that first gained appellation status in 1976 due to the efforts of the Albrecht firm and two others. The Albrecht Pinot Gris, Riesling and Gewürztraminer from grand cru sites are exceptional. The winery is located in Orschwihr, a small Alsatian village where the Albrecht family roots can be traced to 1698. Eight generations of the family have continued to work the soils of this unique terroir with the same tenacity and passion.
M. Chapoutier is one of the Rhône Valley’s most successful wineries and négociants, and it enjoys an ever-expanding foothold worldwide. Under the guidance of the charismatic Michel Chapoutier, the once-small and bankrupt Northern Rhône winery became the largest vineyard owner in the Hermitage appellation. Chapoutier revolutionized wine production in the Rhône by producing single-vineyard selections and using organic and biodynamic farming methods. Today, the company sources grapes and wine throughout both the southern and northern Rhône, and also produces wine in Alsace, Australia, Languedoc-Roussillon and Portugal.
Although Tasca d’Almerita is a Sicilian wine company, the commitment to sustainable wine-growing that the Tasca family has made has had an extremely positive influence on the wine, the environment and other wineries across Italy. This year, it all came together in terms of further improving quality and spreading the message of sustainability. The winery’s criteria includes vineyard and production methods that must have a lower impact than the Organic Certification standards in every category. In addition to the family’s historical estate, Regaleali, it now has vineyards in the Aeolian islands, on Mount Etna, in the province of Trapani and in the DOC Monreale area.
New World Winery of the Year
Alheit Vineyards, South Africa
Chris and Suzaan Alheit make some of the most stunning, expressive wines of South Africa, garnering Wine Enthusiast scores of 90–95 points for their 2017 releases across the board. Chenin Blanc and other white wines are their primary focus, and vineyards with dry-farmed bush vines from 30–50 years old, in some cases even more, are an important part of their success. The Alheits guide those grapes through the winemaking process with native yeast, minimal amounts of intervention or new oak as they seek the vineyard terroirs from across the Cape regions to express themselves. Pushing into the future, the pair recently planted an exciting field blend of Chardonnay, Roussanne, Verdelho, Chenin Blanc, Viognier and Muscat Blanc. In another site, they planted Riesling.
One of New Zealand’s Pinot Noir pioneers, Ata Rangi is among Martinborough’s founding wineries and remains the most exalted in the region. Along with Felton Road, it received the inaugural Tipuranga Teitei o Aotearoa (Grand Cru of New Zealand) in 2010. Family owned and organically farmed, the wines are the brainchild of Owner Clive Paton, a fierce and active environmentalist. Winemaker Helen Masters is at the top of her game, and her classic-style wines consistently improve and remain true to the land. Ata Rangi has resisted the temptation to chase sales growth. Rather, its focus is to make the highest quality wines from its unique slice of terroirs.
Australian wines from Yarra Valley winery Giant Steps have received global acclaim and established a strong reputation in restaurants and fine wine stores around the world. Brewer and winemaker Phil Sexton is the founder and owner. He arrived in 1997 in search of altitude, aged soils, and a cool breezy climate in which to grow single site Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to make wines of intensity and elegance. He founded Giant Steps as well as Devil’s Lair winery in Margaret River, and later hired Steve Flamsteed, who had worked previously at Leeuwin Estate and others, to be chief winemaker for Giant Steps. Since 2008, Flamsteed has created a range of single-vineyard wines that personify each site in an approachable yet elegant and textural light, and that garner rave reviews from Wine Enthusiast.
Trapiche is the anchor property in the Peñaflor group’s portfolio of Argentine wineries and brands, and it’s a trailblazer in world-class Malbec production. Argentina’s largest exported premium wine brand and an advocate of sustainability, Trapiche declares that its “grapes have never been touched by any chemicals, herbicides or fungicides.” Located in Mendoza at the foot of the Andes, Trapiche continues to explore new winegrowing terroirs within Mendoza, the country’s top region, and beyond. Winemakers Daniel Pi and Sergio Casé are highly respected for their single vineyard Malbecs, as well as Bordeaux and Rhône varieties.
Viña Santa Rita
Viña Santa Rita is a 19th-century heritage wine estate located in the Alto Maipo region of Chile. Its signature wine, Casa Real Cabernet Sauvignon, recently marked its 30th vintage. In 2017, Santa Rita’s 120 line turned 50 years old and has since been one of the leaders in Chilean brand sales. During the same time, the winery received the country’s Corporate Sustainability Award. The property has been perfected to include a mansion-style hotel, elaborate gardens, a restaurant and a museum that houses indigenous arts and artifacts. It’s one of the most visited wine estates in Chile.
Wine Region of the Year
The Mosel River Valley is Germany’s most iconic wine region. Wines from the Mosel represent both an enduring historic gravitas as well as a contemporary renaissance. Nowhere in the world can Riesling be produced in so many diverse styles. It’s one of the most classic cool-climate winemaking regions in the world with a historical renown for Riesling, but also an increasingly diversifying portfolio of other white and red wines just starting to be noticed on a global scale. Add in fairytale villages surrounded by some of the steepest vineyards in the world, and it’s a mecca for dreamers and photographers, too.
The island is one of the best destinations in Italy for wine and food lovers, thanks to fresh, elegant wines made with native grapes. The Sicilia Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) consortium has done so much over the last few years to improve the quality of winemaking and promote Sicilian wines. The wines pair perfectly with Sicily’s savory, seasonal cuisine, and historic sites and storied villages from the coasts to Mount Etna and Palermo create a picture-book experience for travelers.
Sonoma County, California
Diverse, sustainable, nature-loving and approachable, Sonoma County battled fires and floods, yet it revived quickly to welcome visitors worldwide and continued to produce wines both great and distinctive. With 18 unique appellations and more than 60 grape varieties planted on its varied, charming and pastoral valleys and slopes, the sprawling region has something for everyone. Cheese makers, brewers and chefs mingle with winemakers in the county’s relaxed towns of Sonoma, Healdsburg, Sebastopol and Santa Rosa, and they’re always happy to share their passion for a life close to the land.
Stellenbosch, South Africa
Stellenbosch, both as a South African wine region and town, straddles the Old World and New World. Grapes were planted shortly after Simon van der Stel founded the “City of Oaks” in 1679, and visitors today traverse breathtaking mountain passes past vine-covered foothills and 17th-century Cape Dutch buildings. The wines today are deep-rooted but express modernity. Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Syrah are flagship international varieties for the region, while high-quality Pinotage and Chenin Blanc illustrate the region’s heritage. Stellenbosch’s winery restaurants are as good as any in Napa, and boutique hotels and guest houses define Stellenbosch’s country-chic vibe.
Walla Walla Valley, Washington/Oregon
The tree-lined farm and college community of Walla Walla may look quiet, but it’s the center of winemaking and wine tourism in Southeastern Washington. The Walla Walla appellation boasts more than 100 wineries, which include five thriving early arrivals: Leonetti Cellar, L’Ecole No 41, Seven Hills, Waterbrook and Woodward Canyon. There are also dozens of well-respected vineyards. The AVA spills over into Oregon, where the new Rocks District AVA is a hotbed of grape growing. The town of Walla Walla is packed with walkable tasting rooms and restaurants. It boasts one of the oldest symphony orchestras in the West, along with frequent blues and jazz concerts, and numerous art galleries.
Importer of the Year
Broadbent Selections Inc.
World-class people working with world-class producers. That’s a good summary of Richmond, Virginia-based Broadbent Selections, which was founded by Bartholomew Broadbent in 1996. The company has long represented some of the world’s best wines, notably Ports and Madeiras. This year, it beefed up staff and added even more to its portfolio. Broadbent is the exclusive U.S. importer for highly sought-after family wineries like A.A. Badenhorst Family Wines, Chateau Musar, Dr. Hermann, Ferreira, Montsarra Cava, Sadie Family Wines, Quinta do Crasto and Vilafonté. Broadbent owns the brands Broadbent Port, Madeira and Vinho Verde in Portugal, Broadbent Malbec in Argentina, Broadbent Grüner Veltliner in Austria and The Curator in South Africa.
Maisons Marques & Domaines USA Inc
In 1987, the American arm of Champagne Louis Roederer was founded as the U.S. sales and marketing entity for Louis Roederer and its California winery, Roederer Estate in Anderson Valley. Today, Maisons Marques & Domaines has grown into a well-respected marketer of family-owned, luxury level wines from France, Portugal, Italy, Spain, California and South Africa. Its key objectives are to manage the complex U.S. distribution system to ensure delivery and pristine quality as well as to help each brand build its image in the U.S. market.
Monsieur Touton Selection, Ltd.
For more than 30 years, Monsieur Touton Selection, Ltd has maintained its presence as a family-owned/operated importer and distributor amid widescale consolidation in the wine and spirits category. While initially focused on wines from Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Rhône, which remain their strength today, they now also represent about 250 Bordeaux Grand Cru Classé properties. Touton has also gained a strong foothold with imports from Italy, Spain, Hungary, New Zealand and Argentina. The New York City-based company is run by founder Guillaume Touton, a native of Bordeaux.
Prestige Wine Imports
Gruppo Mezzacorona, which is a large wine producer made up of 1,600 families, created Prestige Wine Imports as its U.S. importer. Today, the New York City-based importer represents Italian wines from regions that range from Sicily to the Alps, and from large-production brands like Mezzacorona and Rotari in Trentino to luxury-oriented Castello di Querceto in Tuscany. Rusty Pape, Prestige’s executive vice president, has seen the company grow from 100,000 cases per year to more than 1.2 million cases. The key to the company’s growth has been distribution. Pape started with small, local distributors, slowly grew to state-wide distributors and eventually joined with a national distributor, Southern Glazer’s.
Based today in Birmingham, Alabama, Vineyard Brands was founded in 1971 by the late Robert Haas, and it imports a vast portfolio of wines from around the globe. These include many classics from France, and increasingly, more New World wines from South Africa, Australia, Argentina and beyond. Haas created a stock ownership plan for his employees, and he eventually let his workers buy the company. Vineyard Brands continues to import some of the best and most innovative producers, and it notably added Château Climens of Barsac, and Lievland Vineyards of South Africa.
Retailer of the Year
Aldi, a Germany-based grocery business, operates more than 10,000 stores worldwide and has more than 1,900 stores in 36 U.S. states. Founded by brothers Karl and Theo Albrecht, the first Aldi store opened in 1961. It is now on track to become America’s third-largest supermarket chain behind Walmart and Kroger, with a projected 2,500 stores to be operating by the end of 2022. The privately held company boasts a rapidly expanding and trendy beverage selection of private labels that are high quality yet affordable, from wine to beer and spirits, including award-winning rosés and wine advent calendars that sell out in minutes.
Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant/Oxbow Cheese & Wine Merchant
The first of the sibling wine shops was started by Master Sommelier Peter Granoff and Debbie Zachareas when the Ferry Building reopened in 2003 on San Francisco’s waterfront. The store is where people go to find new trends and brands in wine, as well as to enjoy a glass between shopping and eating nearby the historic building’s marketplace. The business partners opened the Oxbow Cheese & Wine Merchant in Napa in 2007, helping to spark the Oxbow neighborhood’s current popularity among shoppers and wine loving tourists. The wine bar hosts an impressive roster of winemaker tastings, flight nights and talks. Zachareas is in charge of the wine/beverage program at the Chase Center in San Francisco, the new home of the Golden State Warriors.
K&L Wine Merchants
Founded in 1976 by Todd Zucker and Clyde Beffa Jr. and still owned by their families, this is one of the best places to buy wine, whether online or by visiting one of the three stores in the San Francisco, Redwood City and Hollywood, California. K&L employs a large staff of buyers who travel the world to remove the middleman by directly importing many of their offerings. The shops are most famous for their California and Bordeaux selections and also have one of the U.S.’s most comprehensive selections of Italian wine. Wine collectors know K&L for its wide variety of rare and collectible wines, and also take advantage of the online store’s ongoing auctions.
A leader in nationwide e-commerce sales of wine, Wine.com reported revenues of $130 million in 2018 with an estimated 19% share of market. The San Francisco-based e-talier has outlasted the doubters for 21 years and appears to be going from strength to strength, making wine deliveries and wine information widely available online. A 2019 deal gives The Nielsen Co. access to Wine.com’s numbers and will help the wine trade understand the previously opaque e-commerce sales channel. The company touts its status as “the world’s largest wine store,” offers more than 38,000 labels and the convenience of shipping for local pickup at 11,000 Walgreens and FedEx Office locations. Wine.com’s engagement in the community includes scholarships at Sonoma State University and generous bidding at fundraising barrel auctions in places like Napa, Sonoma and the Willamette Valley.
Headquartered in Westchester County, New York, the well-known wine retailer and wine auction house has long been the preferred source for many wine-loving locals, and in recent years, has successfully expanded to new markets and sales channels. Customers can shop in person at the original store in Scarsdale or at Zachys’ Washington, D.C., location that opened in 2017. They can buy online or bid at the live fine-wine auctions Zachys conducts in New York, San Francisco and Hong Kong, where the company also has an office. Owner Don Zacharia’s father founded the business in 1944 and Don bought it from him in 1961 with the goal of bringing the world’s finest wines to a clientele that preferred spirits at the time, and to serve them with “knowledge, humor, flexibility and personality.” Don Zacharia’s son Jeff Zacharia and other family members continue to operate Zachys.
Spirit Brand/Distiller of the Year
In 2015, Bacardi expanded its rum portfolio with the acquisition of a luxury-priced, small-production brand, Banks, created by spirits industry executive Arnaud de Trabuc. Named for the 18th century explorer and botanist Sir Joseph Banks, the range includes Banks 5-Island Rum, Banks 7 Golden Age Blend and several limited editions. They’re blended from more than 20 base rums of different ages that include entries from Trinidad, Jamaica, Guyana and Barbados. Senior Brand Ambassador Jim Meehan, owner of noted New York City cocktail bar Please Don’t Tell, receives much credit for bringing Banks to the attention of the cocktail world.
The family-owned and -operated distillery now based in Ukiah, California, about two hours north of San Francisco, has slowly built a phenomenal following among mixologists with its broad and innovative line of spirits. Marko Karakasevic and his father, grand master distiller Miles, founded the distillery atop Spring Mountain more than three decades ago. It continued a family tradition of distilling that dates to 1751 in the former Yugoslavia. Marko helped launch Charbay Vodka, which includes varieties flavored with actual fruit, as well as great whiskies often distilled with commercial beers as the base. Charbay now also makes Tequila and rum.
Legent burst on the whiskey scene with the possibly the biggest, splashiest launch of 2018. Legent is a blend of Kentucky straight Bourbon and whiskey finished in wine and Sherry casks, but it’s more than that. It pushes the boundaries of Bourbon production while it remains true to the core of the spirit’s principles, according to parent company Beam Suntory U.S. It’s a collaboration between two whiskey legends, Fred Noe, Jim Beam master distiller, and Shinji Fukuyo, Suntory chief blender, and two unique styles of whiskey making. “Using the historic Bourbon recipe of Fred’s family as a solid foundation, I was able to explore new taste profiles and reach a final product that reimagines what the future of Bourbon can be,” says Fukuyo.
Known previously for its high-quality, varietal grappas introduced in the 1970s, the six-generation Nonino family distillery based in Friuli, Italy, began to shake up the spirits world with its bittersweet, herb-scented Amaro liqueur in recent years. It has excited a new generation of mixologists and cocktail drinkers, along with those who sip it straight or over ice as a traditional digestif. Today, Nonino is run by the three daughters of Benito & Giannola Nonino, who recently introduced L’Aperitivo Nonino, a fresh and fruity grape-based drink that’s infused with dried botanicals.
Rooted in Cognac, France, this legendary spirits giant created excitement recently with a distinctive contemporary vibe embodied by its young cellar master, Baptiste Loiseau. The 295-year-old company has launched innovative, diversity-forward programs that have created a big following. One is the Rémy Martin Producers Series, which supports hip-hop hopefuls from coast-to-coast who submit tracks to compete for a record contract. For Rémy Producers, Season 6: The Co-Sign, music producers across the country will compete for the “co-sign,” or seal of approval from an established artist. In this case, it’s rapper, song writer and producer Jermaine Dupri.
Sommelier/Beverage Director of the Year
Chappy Cottrell, Sonoma, CA
The wine director at Barndiva in Healdsburg, California, Chappy Cottrell is a bit of a Renaissance man. Not only is Cottrell a sommelier, but he’s also a podcaster, winemaker and dual citizen of the U.S. and U.K. He moved to California from England in 2017 and has worked at Grand Cru Custom Crush on such wines as Kistler and Black Kite. He started to produce a wine podcast called Cru in 2015 that now has 6,000 downloads per month and sponsors like The Grand Tour. Barndiva, located near the Sonoma County wineries of Dry Creek Valley, Russian River Valley and Alexander Valley, is a rustic destination for elegant farm-to-table fine dining.
Laura Maniec-Fiorvanti, New York City
A former Wine Enthusiast 40 Under 40 honoree, Laura Maniec-Fiorvanti is a master sommelier and co-founder of Corkbuzz, a series of wine-centric restaurants with two locations in New York City, one in the Hamptons and one in Charlotte, North Carolina. In addition to Corkbuzz, she’s an important educator, ambassador and winemaker. Maniec-Fiorvanti has helped mentor many people working toward the Court of Master Sommelier exams. The restaurants specialize in educational and interactive events for all occasions and hosts happy hours that include blind wine tastings.
Lauren Friel, Boston
Friel is lauded not only for her drive, skill and length of time in the industry, but for her role in social justice issues and ability to color outside the lines. She has worked in various roles within the Boston-area restaurant industry for more than a decade, but earned her love of wine as a sommelier and beverage director at Oleana and Sarma. Her eclectic wine programs received local and national recognition (including Wine Enthusiast’s America’s 100 Best Wine Restaurants). In 2014, she launched VinDrop, a beverage consulting and content development company. In 2018, she opened Rebel Rebel, a “no-rules natural wine bar” with a bit of a feminist tilt in Somerville, Massachusetts.
Ferdinando Mucerino, Los Angeles
Ferdinando Mucerino, the wine manager/sommelier at Rustic Canyon in Santa Monica, invites winemakers to collaborate and offer informative wine-pairing dinners for patrons. The wine list includes an array of local artisan, handcrafted producers from California, Oregon, Italy, France and Spain. At the award-winning, hyper-seasonal restaurant Rustic Canyon, he worked his way up from server to wine manager and sommelier. In his first year as wine manager, Rustic Canyon was named one of Wine Enthusiast’s America’s 100 Best Wine Restaurants for the first time. Mucerino also won third place in the 8th Annual Star Chefs Somm Slam.
Emily Camille Wines, Chicago
Master sommelier Emily Camille Wines joined fast-growing Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurants in 2017. It was a continuation of her rise to the top of the sommelier/beverage director profession that began when she was a sommelier at San Francisco’s celebrated Fifth Floor restaurant in 2000. As Vice President of Wine and Beverage Experiences at Cooper’s Hawk, she serves as the liaison between the company and its individual restaurants. She also engages with guests and the brand’s 350,000-plus wine club members to create unique experiences centered around wine and spirits. Wines is one of 15 professionals who have been granted the prestigious Remi Krug Cup for passing all three sections of the master sommelier exam—theory, service and blind tasting—on her first attempt.
Social Visionary of the Year
As vineyard director for Hopland, California-based Fetzer Vineyards, Joseph Brinkley has been at the forefront of changing how vineyard owners, corporations and government policymakers address climate change and related issues of agriculture sustainability. Brinkley has championed the climate benefits of regenerative farming through organic and biodynamic agriculture as practiced in the company’s vineyards. He recently traveled to Washington, D.C. to advocate for policy change along with global businesses like Unilever and Microsoft. Back home, Brinkley has led an expansion of Bonterra’s biodynamic acreage to demonstrate that it can be conducted at scale. He hopes to inspire others farming in the wine industry and beyond.
Bertony Faustin is recognized by the Oregon Wine History Archive as Oregon’s first African-American commercial winemaker when he launched Abbey Creek Vineyard near Portland. Simultaneously, he became an activist to promote diversity within the wine-making community. Faustin saw the winery as an opportunity to build a platform that would allow him to change the world. “I don’t love the industry,” he says. “I love what the industry allows me to do.” Faustin believes it brings people together, where they break bread and develop as a community. His social vision also led him to create a documentary with Jerry Bell about wine-making, Red, White & Black: An Oregon Wine Story, that features four other minority winemakers.
As vice president of operations at Ancient Peaks Winery in Santa Margarita, California, Amanda Wittstrom-Higgins has taken a special interest in sustainability. She’s made the company’s Margarita Vineyard a model of sorts, as it employs smart practices in terms of environmental, economic and social responsibility issues. She says that the vineyard, certified by Sustainability in Practice (SIP), generates results in resource conservation and habitat preservation, not to mention high-quality, natural fruit. She also founded Dream Big Darling, a nonprofit aimed to lift women in the wine industry, and Wine Speak Paso Robles, an annual event that brings together sommeliers, beverage industry leaders and other members of the winemaking community for a three-day educational summit.
International Wineries for Climate Action
Two industry giants in Spain and California already well-known for their environmental vision have partnered to aid other wineries committed to fighting climate change. In February 2019, Familia Torres of Spain and Jackson Family Wines of California announced the formation of the International Wineries for Climate Action and pledged to reduce their total carbon emissions by 80% by 2045. Katie Jackson, senior vice president of corporate responsibility at Jackson Family Wines, and Miguel A. Torres, president of Familia Torres, both said their companies had already reduced carbon emissions by more than 25% per bottle.
The founder of K. Laz Wine Collection, a wine retailer with two locations in Napa Valley, Kerrin Laz launched a charity fundraising event in 2018 called Inspire Napa Valley. The three-day event raises money to fight dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, which afflicts Laz’s mother. Through this spring, Inspire had collected $2.3 million. The funds help families in Northern California that struggle with care, and it plans to fund cutting-edge research nationwide. The original K. Laz Wine Collection is a tasting room and retail shop in Yountville with 500 wine labels. Laz opened a second location at the Culinary Institute of America at Copia this year.
Winery Experience of the Year
d’Arenberg, McLaren Vale, Australia
Guests at the d’Arenberg winery can choose their own adventures and blend a traditional tasting room visit with exciting discovery, luxury or culinary decadence. Three dining venues, master classes, wine-blending exercises, the Alternate Realities Museum and a Salvador Dali exhibition are just some of the extra experiences offered. The winery was founded by the Osborn family in 1912 after they began to grow grapes 16 years earlier. The d’Arenberg Cube concept drives home the vinous lifestyle and celebrates the intersections of wine and culture through various curated winery events. The Cube restaurant was honored this year as the top regional restaurant by Gault & Millau. The winery also released its first certified organic bottling this year.
Delaire Graff Estate, Stellenbosch, South Africa
Long on style and views, Delaire Graff Lodges & Spa presents an amazing array of outstanding restaurants, exclusive lodges, destination spa and luxury boutiques with breathtaking landscaping and multiple events programs. The Lodges & Spa are contiguous to the vineyard property, Delaire Graff Estate, which sits on the slopes of the Botmaskop Mountain peak. Around 50 acres of vineyards are planted to Bordeaux red varieties and Chardonnay, all of which are pesticide-free and thrive in the regional climate. The cutting edge, gravity-fed estate winery is a celebration of both old and new.
The Prisoner Wine Company, St. Helena, California
Constellation Brands repurposed the 1990s Tuscan-style Franciscan Estate winery to become the hospitality center for its hot red-blend brand, The Prisoner Wine Co. It provided a dark, monochromatic look that echoed the brooding vibe of the wine’s label and seemed to welcome a younger, less formal demographic. Instead of a traditional tasting room, The Prisoner created a comfortable lounge experience where guests can savor a glass or flight and indulge in wine and food excursions which the winery says “will redefine the meaning of taste.”
Viña Vik, Millahue, Chile
In 2004, Alexander Vik, a Norwegian entrepreneur, proposed the creation of a world-class vineyard to produce a unique wine. But Viña Vik went much further than that, as it developed an enveloping visitor experience at the Vik Chile retreat. It includes guest suites, restaurants, wedding and event venues, gallerias, a garden, pool and game room, not to mention a magnificent hilltop location and dreamlike glass and golden titanium architecture. A new addition to the 11,000 acre property is Puro Vik. Working in tandem with Vik Chile, remarkable glass houses offer a new way to experience Chile’s breathtaking cultural landscape that’s just a two-hour drive from Santiago.
Vivanco, Rioja, Spain
This world-class museum centered on wine covers 4,000 square meters and six rooms, devoted to displaying the relationship between person and wine for more than 8,000 years. It’s all designed to educate, interact with and spread the reach of wine as a civilizing element. Created by the Vivanco family, owners of the Bodegas Vivanco winery, this museum is considered one of the great places to experience the culture of wine in the world. Inside the museum are exhibits like a collection of 3,500 corkscrews, several original Picasso paintings and all kinds of ancient works of art. Outside the museum is the Garden of Bacchus, a collection of grapevines which boasts more than 220 varieties from around the world.
BY WINE ENTHUSIAST