Wineries based in Healdsburg, the hub of three wine appellations, snagged two of the three top awards Saturday in the Sonoma County Harvest Fair wine competition, securing spots at the tops of many wine lovers' shopping lists.
Rodney Strong Vineyards won the sweepstakes white for its 2011 Russian River Valley Reserve Chardonnay at $35, while Estate 1856 won the sweepstakes red for its 2010 Sonoma County Cabernet Bordeaux Blend at $36.
As for the sweepstakes for specialty wine, the winner was Santa Rosa's Breathless Wines for its NV Sonoma County Blanc de Noirs Sparkling Wine at $30.
The winners were announced Saturday night at a dinner dedicated to recognizing the Sonoma County wine industry and its best wines.
About 600 people attended the awards dinner at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds' Grace Pavilion. The pavilion never looked so sleek, taking on the look and feel of a highbrow restaurant with music and candles.
"They've got this thing all decked out," said Dr. Richard Ringrose of Rohnert Park. "It looks fantastic," he said, adding he particularly enjoyed the crab legs poached in butter with an avocado mousse.
The celebration was the culmination of several days of a wine competition. A panel of 20 judges sampled 974 competing wines from Wednesday to Friday and handed out a total of 877 medals.
Saturday's top performers can expect a significant sales bump, if history is any guide.
"This competition has enormous clout in the region," said Ron Washam, a panelist and former sommelier in Los Angeles. "The contest is focused on one particular region, the quality of the judges is very high and the quality of the wine is very high, so it ends up being very valuable for consumers."
The three sweepstakes winners were included among the 39 Best of Class awards. Additionally, there were 51 double gold, 174 gold, 418 silver and 234 bronze awards.
The public will have access to the wines from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday during the Harvest Fair's Grand Tasting.
Rodney Strong will no doubt be among the producers drawing the longest lines. The winning white was produced by Greg Morthole and his winemaking team, with David Ramey consulting. Vintner Tom Klein purchased the winery in 1989, with a focus on artisanal winemaking at its best.
The winery also won a sweepstakes award in 2001 for its 1997 Symmetry, Alexander Valley.
This is the first sweepstakes win for Estate 1856, a boutique winery in Dry Creek Valley. Winemaker Janice Schmidt produced the winning red, and the winery specializes in small, hand-crafted lots of cabernet, merlot, malbec and petit verdot.
Another first was for Breathless Wines on Calistoga Road. A trio of sisters — Rebecca Faust, Cynthia Faust and Sharon Cohn, is behind this family-owned brand. The sweepstakes winner was produced by winemaker Penny Gadd-Coster.
Now that all the medals have been awarded, the mad dash to buy the winning wines begins.
Local retailers are clearing space for the influx of medal-winning wines, and Bottle Barn in Santa Rosa already has hung its Harvest Fair wines banner, even though the first wines won't arrive until Monday morning.
"The foot traffic is on par with the biggest holidays of the year — the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving and Christmas," said Dan Walsh, a wine and sales consultant at Bottle Barn.
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