"This year, the judges were thrilled with the quality of the wines," Groom said. "We ended up with 19 percent getting gold medals, which was up from (14 percent) last year."
More than 900 wines were entered in this year's North Coast Wine Challenge, but some did not qualify. The competition is only open to wines with 75 percent of their grapes sourced from the North Coast, including the AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) in Napa, Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino counties, plus parts of Marin and Solano counties.
"We actually had more entries this year than last," Groom said. "But more wines were culled."
A new category, for Luxury Class wines retailing at over $75, was added this year for both pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon.
<em><strong> More higher-priced wines</strong></em>
The contest, which was co-hosted by The Press Democrat and Vineyard & Winery Management of Santa Rosa, attracted a higher number of higher-priced wines this time around.
"The number of wines entered was up over 10 percent from our inaugural year," said Steve Falk, CEO of Sonoma Media Investments, which owns The Press Democrat. "The average retail price of wine entries was in the $50 to $60 range - more than double that of most wine competitions."
Falk launched the contest last year with the goal of bringing attention to the wines of the North Coast region while determining the region's "best of the best."
"We're trying to bring the best wines of the North Bay and have them judged by the best judges in the country," said Robert Merletti, owner and chairman of Vineyard & Winery Management. "This competition stands to be one of the most prestigious in the country."
This year's judges included winemakers, wine buyers, wine media and sommeliers from across the country, including such well-known names as Heidi Barrett of Barrett & Barrett Wines in Calistoga; William Bloxsom-Carter, executive chef for the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles; and Master Sommelier Fred Dame, the first American to have served as President of the Court of Master Sommeliers Worldwide.
"We had some good, heavy hitters in the room this year," Groom said. "I rotated out a few judges, because we always want to have fresh faces as well."
The W. H. Smith 2010 Maritime Vineyard Pinot Noir, the unanimous choice for the "Best of the Best" award, also won "Best of Sonoma County" and "Best of Show Red."
B Side 2010 Napa Valley Red Wine Blend, made from five different Bordeaux varietals grown along the east side of the Napa Valley, won "Best of Napa County." Made by Don Sebastiani & Sons, the full-bodied wine was praised by the judges as "full of black fruit, mocha and vanilla."
The Dalliance 2011 Lake County Red Wine, made by Shannon Ridge Family of Wines of Clearlake Oaks, was deemed "Best of Lake County." The judges described it as "round and juicy." The wine was made from a blend of red grapes grown along Lake County's hillside vineyards.
Husch 2013 Anderson Valley Late Harvest Gewurztraminer, a dessert wine offering a pleasant balance of sweetness and acidity, snagged two awards: "Best of Mendocino County" and "Best of Show Dessert/Late Harvest." The judges praised its "ripe fruit" and "good acidity and finish.
<em><strong> Kokomo wins again</strong></em>
For the second year in a row, Kokomo Winery won the award for "Best of Show Ros?" The Kokomo 2013 Pauline's Vineyard Grenache Ros?was made from grapes grown in the Dry Creek Valley. It was praised by the judges for its "juicy, mouthwatering" flavor.