North Coast Wine Challenge kicks off with over 1,000 wines in competition

Around thirty judges will sip wines that come from makers in Sonoma, Marin, Napa, Lake, Mendocino and parts of Solano counties in a blind tasting throughout the two-day Santa Rosa event.|

At a glance

North Coast Wine Challenge

– Thirty judges and four associate judges will taste through 1,000-plus wines April 2 and 3. Entries are from Sonoma, Marin, Napa, Lake, Mendocino and parts of Solano counties.

– The scores of associate judges won’t be tabulated in the results, but these young professionals will join the discussion in vetting the wines.

– This year NFL player DeShon Elliott, a 26-year-old safety with the Miami Dolphins, will be participating as an associate judge.

– The Associate Judge Program was initiated in 2017 as a way to mentor young wine professionals and future winemakers.

– The winning wines receive Gold Medal status with 90 or more points in the wine competition.

– On June 15, the North Coast Wine and Food Festival will showcase the winning wines with food pairings from local restaurants at Santa Rosa’s Luther Burbank Center for the Arts. Tickets are available at pdncwc.com.

The Tuesday morning air was filled with aromas of pinot noirs, zinfandels, chardonnays and other North Coast wines at the Showcase Cafe at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds as bottle after bottle was arranged for this year’s North Coast Wine Challenge.

Around 30 judges will sip more than 1,000 wines that come from makers in Sonoma, Marin, Napa, Lake, Mendocino and parts of Solano counties in a blind tasting throughout the two-day event.

Only the winning wines which receive Gold Medal or Double Gold Medal status with 90 or more points in the wine competition will be showcased with food pairings from local restaurants at the North Coast Wine and Food Festival June 15.

@pressdemo Tuesday kicked off judging for the twelfth annual North Coast Wine Challenge in Santa Rosa where 30 judges blind tasted over 1,000 wines from the North Bay. The winning wines will be announced April 3. - - - - - #wine #winechallenge #winecountry #sonomacounty #napacounty #mendocinocounty #lakecounty #solanocounty #marincounty #localnews #northbay ♬ Vlog Background Music - Instrumental Piano Universe

Daryl Groom, the chief judge and organizer of the competition, said seeing the camaraderie between the judges as they walk in the door is something he eagerly awaits every year.

“But I always look forward to seeing who’s got the winning wine because it can set that winery on a different trajectory,” Groom said.

That was the case for last year’s winner Matt Duffy of Vaughn Duffy Wines, whose boutique pinot noir won the competition’s “Best of the Best.”

The judges on each panel come from different areas of the wine industry. Some are winemakers and sommeliers while others are wine buyers or journalists.

“I come in with a perspective from retail … where a winemaker is going to come in with a different perspective such as the technical piece of winemaking,” Elsie Wolfe, a judge with a wine background in retail, said. “I enjoy coming not only to judge (the wine) but to learn as well.”

Willibees Wines & Spirits wine buyer Kris Anderson is judging in the two-day competition for the third time and enjoys coming each year because they’re trying wines from all over the area.

“As a retailer, these are wines that I sell,” he said. “It’s great because of the local connection, (the wines) are all from the north coast.”

The competition, which is sponsored by The Press Democrat and is now in its 12th year, also invites newcomers. These associate judges come and learn from industry experts through discussions during the tastings, but their scores aren’t tabulated in the results.

This year, NFL player DeShon Elliot, a safety with the Miami Dolphins, is participating as an associate judge. He said going to NFL team dinners where they were served different types of wines alongside curated dishes piqued his interest in the wine industry.

Elliott connected with Aperture and Devil Proof Vineyards winemaker Jesse Katz, another judge in the competition, who helped him become an associate judge for this year’s competition.

“I’ve already learned a lot about the different smells and tastes, how much a bottle can be different and how to describe each wine,” he said. “I want to be more knowledgeable (about wine) because down the line I might want to own my own wine or vineyard so right now I’m planting the seed that will eventually grow into a tree.”

You can reach Staff Writer Sara Edwards at 707-521-5487 or sara.edwards@pressdemocrat. com. On Twitter @sedwards380.

At a glance

North Coast Wine Challenge

– Thirty judges and four associate judges will taste through 1,000-plus wines April 2 and 3. Entries are from Sonoma, Marin, Napa, Lake, Mendocino and parts of Solano counties.

– The scores of associate judges won’t be tabulated in the results, but these young professionals will join the discussion in vetting the wines.

– This year NFL player DeShon Elliott, a 26-year-old safety with the Miami Dolphins, will be participating as an associate judge.

– The Associate Judge Program was initiated in 2017 as a way to mentor young wine professionals and future winemakers.

– The winning wines receive Gold Medal status with 90 or more points in the wine competition.

– On June 15, the North Coast Wine and Food Festival will showcase the winning wines with food pairings from local restaurants at Santa Rosa’s Luther Burbank Center for the Arts. Tickets are available at pdncwc.com.

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