Clouds and sun

Alexander Valley wines win Harvest Fair's three top awards

  • Susan Welker, senior wine maker at Simi Winery, signals victory after their Alexander Valley 2007 Riesling took a sweepstakes award, Saturday Sept. 25, 2010 at the Harvest Fair Gala. In the background is assistant winemaker Megan Schofield. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2010

The Alexander Valley region earned its bragging rights, snapping up the top three sweepstakes wins at Saturday night's Harvest Fair Awards gala.

For the first time this year, organizers created a "Specialty Wines" sweepstakes category, and Simi Winery of Healdsburg snagged the prize with its 2007 Alexander Valley Late Harvest Riesling priced at $30.

The award for top-ranking red went to Stryker Sonoma of Geyserville for its 2006 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon at $50.

Alexander Valley Vineyards of Healdsburg won for top white with its 2007 Alexander Valley Viognier at $21.

"This is awesome," said Michael Overholt, tasting room manager of Stryker Sonoma, who accepted the award. "We love our cab, but to actually win a sweepstakes award is huge."

Overholt said he's not surprised the three sweepstakes winners were produced from Alexander Valley grapes. "The valley has a nice earth and fruit balance it brings to wine, especially cabs."

About 1,500 people attended the gala at Grace Pavilion at the fairgrounds, about 500 short of a sellout. Organizers said the $65 ticket probably was a stretch for some people in this economic downturn.

The gala had a nightclub feel, with dim lighting, live jazz and plenty of wine and appetizers. The only complaint people had was that the hall was stuffy.

While attendance was about the same as last year, wine entries dropped, with 124 fewer labels for judges to taste. Organizers said wineries were more cautious about entering because of last year's disqualification of the Adler Fels' pinot noir, a first in the fair's 35-year-old history.

The wine was the top-ranking red wine in the competition, but the Santa Rosa winery was forced to relinquish its sweepstakes honor because it failed to have the minimum 40 cases required for entries.

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