Sonoma County Harvest Fair winning wines announced

Balletto Vineyards, Hanna Winery and J. Rickards Winery won top honors in the wine competition for the 2020 Sonoma County Harvest Fair, competition organizers announced Sunday.

Although the fair and its gala were canceled this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, the wine competition went ahead Sept. 15-16 at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, with health and safety protocols such as social distancing and health checks for judges.

The three top wines — the sweepstakes winners — are Balletto Vineyards’ 2018 Cider Ridge Vineyard Estate, Russian River Valley pinot noir in the red wine category; Hanna Winery’s 2019 Russian River Valley sauvignon blanc in the white category and J. Rickards Winery’s 2019 Alexander Valley, Ava Rae rosé of grenache in the specialty wines category.

Wines in the contest must be made from grapes grown in Sonoma County and have only a Sonoma County AVA listed on the bottle. In all, there were 924 entries this year in the contest, 100 fewer than in 2019.

The Sonoma County Winegrowers and the Sonoma County Harvest Fair announced the sweepstakes winners in a short video posted Sunday evening on their Facebook pages ( and

The top awards are typically announced during the Awards Night Gala, which precedes the Harvest Fair in normal years. This is the first year since the Harvest Fair’s inception in 1975 that the fair — including a public tasting event to showcase the winners — and the gala were canceled.

“We decided to unveil the sweepstakes winners on social media because the format is the closest we could get this year to how we would normally announce our winners,” said Kaitlyn Findley-Thorn, chief operating officer of the Sonoma County Event Center at the fairgrounds. “By announcing the sweepstakes on social media at a specific date and time, our hope was to generate the same anticipation and excitement as we would feel at the awards dinner.”

Winemaker Anthony Beckman crafted Balletto Vineyards’ winning pinot noir, which retails for $46. Vintner John Balletto was 17 years old in 1977 when he began his vegetable business on a 5-acre ranch in Sebastopol. In 1998 he and wife Terri began converting their farmland into estate vineyards. Today they farm 700 acres, keeping 10% of their fruit to produce between 20,000 to 25,000 cases yearly. They sell the rest of their grapes to roughly 25 other wineries.

Winemaker Jeff Hinchliffe produced the 2019 Russian River Valley sauvignon blanc for Hanna Winery. It sells for $19. The winery, which has tasting rooms in Healdsburg and Santa Rosa, was founded in 1985 by Dr. Elias Hanna, a cardiac surgeon. His daughter, Christine Hanna, took over the winery in 1991 and expanded it as a producer of sauvignon blanc, as well as Burgundy and Bordeaux varietals.

Winemaker Blaine Brazil made the winning wine for J. Rickards Winery; it sells for $26. The Cloverdale winery is a family-run operation with Jim and his wife Eliza Rickards at the helm. They farm grapes and produce wine. The property is home to vineyards that have been planted over four decades, supplementing the original old vines that date back to 1908. The property has a rustic tasting room, wine cave and an old zinfandel block of wine that visitors like to traipse through.

To see all the winners in the wine competition, visit Winners in bronze, gold, silver and best of class categories were announced Sept. 20.

Organizers expect to hold the Harvest Fair and the gala in 2021, unless mass gatherings are still prohibited due to the pandemic, Findley-Thorn said. Next year, she added, they also expect to reinstate their tradition of selecting industry winners, which range from outstanding young farmer to excellence in craft beer.

Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at or 707-521-5310.

Peg Melnik

Wine, The Press Democrat

Northern California is cradled in vines; it’s Wine County at its best in America. My job is to help you make the most of this intriguing, agrarian patch of civilization by inviting you to partake in the wine culture – the events, the bottlings and the fun. This is a space to explore wine, what you care about or don’t know about yet.

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