After 27 judges worked their way through 1,005 wines April 12, Sonoma’s Westwood Estate Winery landed on top of the 2016 Press Democrat North Coast Wine Challenge, taking home a triple crown.
The Westwood Estate 2014 Sonoma Valley Annadel Gap Vineyard Clone 37 Pinot Noir was the judges’ top pick, receiving 99 out of 100 points and taking home the Best of Show Red, Best of Sonoma County and the Best of the Best awards.
The deep red pinot noir, with hints of raspberry, black cherry, vanilla and spice, inspired the judges to comment, “An absolute stunner. Wow!”
The contest, co-hosted by the Press Democrat and Vineyard & Winery Management, is open to wineries that source fruit from the North Coast AVA, including Napa, Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino counties and parts of Marin and Solano counties.
Westwood grows small lots of pinot noir and Rhone Valley varietals at Annadel Gap Vineyard, located at the far northwest corner of the Sonoma Valley AVA. The 22-acre vineyard is located in a narrow pass between the Sonoma Mountains and Hood Mountain, known as the Annadel Gap, which enjoys a cool climate due to morning fog and afternoon breezes out of the northwest.
“It’s at that pinch point as you’re starting into the Sonoma Valley from Santa Rosa,” said Chris Vyenielo, partner and general manager of Westwood. “It’s a very cold site, so it gets the full impact of the ocean influence.”
Although the vineyard was first planted in 2001 and three of the original four partners still own the winery, 2014 marked the first vintage produced by the winery’s new team, including Consulting Winemaker David Ramey, Winemaker Ben Cane, Assistant Winemaker Natalie Winkler and Biodynamic Vineyard consultant Philippe Coderey.
“There was a lot of hard work, and everybody is excited about getting this award,” Vyenielo said. “It encourages us to keep trying to find how we can really get more out of this site.”
A native of Australia, Cane honed his pinot noir crafting skills while working for Twomey Cellars in Healdsburg.
“Ben’s hallmark is impeccable balance,” Vyenielo said. “He’s able to create that generosity on the palate with fruit and texture, but he has this wonderful hand at making sure the wine remains vibrant and fresh.”
Out of the 27 judges, 21 were in agreement that the pinot noir was the Best Red Wine as well as the Best of the Best at the competition. It’s the second time in the contest’s four-year history that a pinot noir took home the top prize.
“This is the highest number of votes for one wine we have seen in the four years of the competition,” said Chief Judge Daryl Groom. The judging panel uses the acclimation voting system, which means judges can vote for as many wines as they want and the wine with the highest votes wins.
“The panel of judges are people who know wine, and they have a very high level of knowledge,” Vyenielo said. “To have that peer group have that level of alignment is the highest award.”
Westwood was one of 22 wineries entering the contest for the first time this year. Westwood Estate Winery’s production facility is located off Eighth Street East in Sonoma, and its tasting room is just off the Sonoma Plaza, in the Vine Alley complex.