Russian River Valley wines sweep top honors at 2019 Sonoma County Harvest Fair Awards

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Sonoma County Harvest Fair Industry Awards

— Jennifer Beretta, 2019 Outstanding Young Farmer. Beretta is the assistant herdsman at Beretta Family Dairy in Santa Rosa.

— Blaine Brazil, 2019 Outstanding Young Person in Agribusiness. Brazil is winemaker at J. Rickards Winery.

— Mike and Jenny Griffo of Griffo Distillery, 2019 Award for Excellence in the Craft Beer, Cider, or Spirits Industries.

— Lou and Susan Preston of Preston Farm and Winery, 2019 Excellence in Local Food Production.

— Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery, 2019 Sustainable Producer.

— Sangiacomo Family, 2019 Sustainable Farmer.

— Jim Porter, 2019 Friend of Sonoma County Agriculture.

— Richard Thomas, 2019 Lifetime Contribution to Sonoma County Agriculture.

A pinot noir, a chardonnay and a sparkling brut rosé — all produced from Russian River Valley grapes — won the coveted sweepstakes awards Sunday night at the Sonoma County Harvest Awards Gala.

J Vineyards won top honors in the red wine category with its 2017 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, which retails for $40. The wine is a collaboration between J Vineyards winemaker Nicole Hitchcock and Gina Gallo, winemaker with E. & J. Gallo, which owns the Healdsburg winery.

Russian River Vineyards, a winery in Forestville, snagged the top white with its 2018 Petersen Vineyard Chardonnay at $42. Giovanni Balistreri is the winemaker.

Balletto Vineyards of Santa Rosa won the specialty division with its 2013 Russian River Valley Sparkling Brut Rosé at $42. Winemaker Anthony Beckman crafted it.

The sweep by wineries that obtained their fruit from the Russian River area underscores the tremendous quality of wines that emerge from the prestigious appellation, where growers command some of the highest prices in the county for their grapes.

“I believe that Russian River Valley is one of the top growing regions of the world. In addition to an incredible diversity of soils, Russian River Valley has nighttime cooling that allows grapes to maintain their acidity and focus to create these distinctive wines,” Beckman said.

The gala, which drew about 400 people Sunday to the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, ended the suspense over which wines would win the top awards at the Harvest Fair’s annual wine competition.

“We are absolutely surprised and excited. I’m going to be texting everybody soon to tell them the news. It’s a great honor to be recognized among such a phenomenal group of peers,” said Scott Kozel, vice president of winemaking at J Vineyards.

An elated Balistreri praised the Petersen family, which grew the grapes that went into his Russian River Vineyards chardonnay. “We are humbled and thrilled and grateful for our growers,” Balistreri said. “It really goes back to the farmers and growers when it comes to making these beautiful wines.”

The results of the competition have historically sent consumers racing to retailers to snap up the award-winning wines. While there are many wine competitions that draw consumer interest, the Harvest Fair contest is followed closely in Sonoma County because it celebrates local grapes, said Sheila Quince, professional wine judging coordinator. All entries are produced from fruit groomed in the county.

Barry Herbst, wine director at Bottle Barn, said sales typically jump 20% due to the Harvest Fair medal-winning wines showcased at his Santa Rosa store, as well a 50% increase for Sonoma County wines across the board in October. Herbst typically buys 1,200 to 1,600 cases of medal-winning wines, with interest spanning through December.

Aside from honoring the industry’s best winemaking, the gala also recognized all of the Harvest Fair’s food and craft beer champions. Many guests got to sample the award-winners, including the spinach salad by Cloverdale’s Catering by Patti and the poached fig in a pinot noir reduction sauce from Out to Lunch in Petaluma.

Organizers paid tribute to the industry’s up-and-comers and longtime pillars. Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery in Healdsburg was named Sustainable Producer of 2019, while the Sangiacomo family of Sonoma received the Sustainable Farmer award.

“Anytime you win an award for being a farmer it’s great because it’s at the heart of what we do,” said Steve Sangiacomo, whose family enterprise spans three generations. “My grandfather came to Sonoma County 90 years ago and the Italian immigrant called Sonoma ‘God’s Country.’ ”

Last week, organizers of the wine competition announced 235 gold-medal winners from the pool of 1,024 wine entries. The sweepstakes winners represent the very best wines, culled from 28 best-of-class winners that emerged from two days of judging last month. Members of the public will be able to taste the top winners at the Sonoma County Harvest Fair, held Friday and Saturday at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds.

The gala was a victory lap for the county’s wine industry. Over the past two weeks, Sonoma County Winegrowers has announced that 99% of the county’s vineyards had been certified sustainable; Sonoma County Vintners raised a record $6.1 million for nonprofits at its annual Sonoma County Wine Auction; and Wine Enthusiast magazine named Sonoma County “Wine Region of the Year.”

“There’s so much to celebrate with our vintners, growers and farmers,” said Karissa Kruse, Sonoma County Winegrowers president and co-host of the gala.

Sonoma County Harvest Fair Industry Awards

— Jennifer Beretta, 2019 Outstanding Young Farmer. Beretta is the assistant herdsman at Beretta Family Dairy in Santa Rosa.

— Blaine Brazil, 2019 Outstanding Young Person in Agribusiness. Brazil is winemaker at J. Rickards Winery.

— Mike and Jenny Griffo of Griffo Distillery, 2019 Award for Excellence in the Craft Beer, Cider, or Spirits Industries.

— Lou and Susan Preston of Preston Farm and Winery, 2019 Excellence in Local Food Production.

— Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery, 2019 Sustainable Producer.

— Sangiacomo Family, 2019 Sustainable Farmer.

— Jim Porter, 2019 Friend of Sonoma County Agriculture.

— Richard Thomas, 2019 Lifetime Contribution to Sonoma County Agriculture.

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