Judging begins for North Coast Wine Challenge

Judging for the 10th annual North Coast Wine Challenge kicked off Tuesday morning at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, with 30 judges gathered to taste and rate 1,090 wine entries. Hosted by The Press Democrat, the competition will take place over the next two days, with the winners announced at 1 p.m. Wednesday on The Press Democrat’s Facebook page.

The gold medal winners and top-rated wines will appear in the Sonoma Feast section of The Press Democrat on Wednesday, April 13.

On Tuesday morning, both new and tenured judges, seated at a distance from each other at a handful of tables, started the process of narrowing hundreds of wines to determine the top winners. Reuniting after last year’s contest, some tentatively embraced and shook hands. Although Sonoma County’s COVID-19 rules were more restrictive during last year’s contest, judges and other participants were still required to wear masks on Tuesday when not eating or drinking.

The North Coast Wine Challenge is open to wines produced and bottled in the North Coast American Viticulture Area (AVA), which includes Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino, Marin and Lake counties as well as parts of Solano County. Award designations include Best of County, Best of Class by Category and Best of Show.

Last year’s top winner, the Best of the Best, was Sonoma-Cutrer’s 2014 Grand Cuvée, marking the first time a sparkling wine won the top prize.

Last year drew a record number of entries, but the number of wine entries is down 8.5% this year, with half of the decrease coming from fewer cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir entries, according to winemaker Darryl Groom, chief judge and organizer of the competition.

That reduction may be due, in part, to wildfires in 2019 and 2020, which reduced wine yields for many North Bay wineries. On the upswing are sparkling wines (up 25%), as well as rosé, viognier, Italian varietals and malbec.

To watch the Facebook announcement at 1 p.m. Wednesday, visit the Press Democrat’s Facebook page here.

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