A major Sonoma Valley winery, a small, family-owned winery in the Dry Creek Valley and a maker of sparkling wines in the Carneros region took top honors Saturday in the Sonoma County Harvest Fair wine judging.
For the first time, the winners were announced at a dinner dedicated to recognizing the Sonoma County wine industry and its best wines.
The sweepstakes award for white wine went to Kenwood Vineyards for its 2010 Russian River Valley Pinot Gris, priced at $16.
Wilson Winery won top red with its 2009 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel at $36.
And in the specialty wines category, created a year ago, Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards won for its 2007 Carneros Brut Rose at $42.
The first of the recipients, Pat Henderson, Kenwood's senior winemaker, walked off the stage after receiving the award and pronounced himself "ecstatic."
With harvest underway, Henderson said he'd been up since 3 a.m. and repeating that dawn call today promised an early rise, too.
"I'm not sure how much celebrating I'm going to be able to do tonight," he said.
Ken and Diane Wilson took home the third sweepstakes win for zinfandel for their winery since 2005. "It's a really nice Sonoma County validation," Diane Wilson said.
Bob Iantosca, executive winemaker at Gloria Ferrer, paid tribute to Kenwood's late co-founder and friend Mike Lee, for whom the specialty wine award was named.
"It's a deep, deep honor," Iantosca said.
About 800 people attended the awards event at the Grace Pavilion at the fairgrounds.
The most spontaneous display of the evening was an impromptu standing ovation for vintner Jess Jackson, who was awarded posthumously for his lifetime contribution to the wine industry.
Also awarded for his contribution was St. Francis Winery & Vineyards founder Joe Martin.
Previously, the Saturday night gala had combined awards and wine tastings.
In a first-time event on Friday, the public will get its chance to sample the award-winning wines at a Grand Tasting.
A panel of 25 judges sampled more than 1,000 competing wines from Wednesday to Friday, and handed out 874 awards. The three sweepstakes winners were included in the 39 Best of Class awards. In addition, there were 10 double gold, 138 gold, 376 silver and 311 bronze awards.
Lee, Kenwood's 's co-founder who died in May, was one of Sonoma County's pioneering vintners who nearly 40 years ago began reshaping the American wine industry by focusing on premium wines.
<NO1>Lee and three family members purchased the old Pagani Brothers Winery on a hillside east of Highway 12 in Kenwood in 1970. The winery was sold to Gary Heck, owner of Korbel Champagne Cellars, in the late 1990s.
<NO>The top prize for Wilson Winery on Dry Creek Road outside of Healdsburg represented another significant accomplishment for Diane Wilson. As winemaker, she won back-to-back Harvest Fair sweepstakes awards in 2005 and 2006 and also was named the county's woman winemaker of the year in 2008.
Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards was founded in 1982 as the first maker of sparkling wines in the cool, wind-swept Carneros region south of Sonoma.
Jos?Ferrer comes from a Spanish wine family that goes back to the 1500s. He and his wife, Gloria, moved to California and at her urging, bought 160 acres of pastureland off of Highway 121.