Each year, Wine Enthusiast honors the individuals and companies that made outstanding achievements over the past year in the wine and beverage world. Below are the nominees in 15 categories for the 2016 Wine Star Awards. The winners will be announced in the Wine Enthusiast’s special “Best of Year” issue, and they will be honored at a black-tie gala in Miami on Monday, January 30, 2017, for the first time in the event’s history at Nobu Eden Roc.
Person of the Year
After he founded Willamette Valley Vineyards in 1983, Bernau built the formerly little-known region into a contending wine-tourism destination. His vision was to take the winery’s ownership public. Today, it’s run by 7,000 owners and investors. Bernau’s reach continues: this year, he broke ground on Pambrun vineyard and winery in Walla Walla, Washington.
Carr, a sommelier who became an executive and winemaker, launched Josh Cellars Winery to honor his late father, Josh. His creativity has been integral in leading this fast-growing brand of California wines known for affordability and high quality. Carr also supports causes that Josh, a firefighter, would appreciate. He donates $1 of every bottle sold to the Gary Sinise Foundation, which honors and aids American first responders, veterans and their families.
President and CEO of Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, Chaplin led his team to forge a historic and influential merger of the No. 1 and No. 4 largest distributors in America this year: Southern and Glazer’s. Creating the first national footprint for a distribution network with the newly formed “Southern Glazer’s,” the company’s reach encompasses 45 states, the Virgin Islands and Canada. Southern also recently signed an agreement to distribute in Cuba.
Gallo, vice president of marketing for E. & J. Gallo Winery (and granddaughter of co-founder Ernest Gallo), has taken an impactful lead with Gallo Family Wines andBarefoot and has increasingly become the modern face of the brand. She has masterfully advanced Barefoot into the largest bottled wine brand in the world, and she’s launched brands that include Naked Grape, Vin Vault and Dark Horse.
A sixth-generation descendant of Helfrich Winery in Alsace, Frederic (along with his sister, Anne-Laure) now runs this historic business. In addition to producing an award-winning Grand Cru, Helfrich created Noble, a line of four wines (Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Blanc and Cremant d’Alsace) that retails at approximately $15 per bottle. Helfrich has been at the forefront of promoting Alsace as a competitive producer of available and accessible wines.
European Winery of the Year
Founded in 1835 as a Sherry bodega, this influential champion of quality Spanish wines is still family owned. In addition to its lauded signature Tio Pepe Fino Sherry, the company has incorporated wineries from all over Spain and offers dry and sweet amontillados,
olorosos and rare old soleras that are a minimum of 30 years old and only available in small quantities.
Paul Jaboulet Aîné
In 1834, a full century before the introduction of the A.O.C. system, founder Antoine Jaboulet began to transform Northern Rhône into one of the world’s most important winegrowing terroirs. Since that time, Paul Jaboulet Aîné has put the once-quiet region on the map with the iconic Hermitage “La Chapelle.” The Frey family, best known for its work in Bordeaux, purchased the business 10 years ago and has grown the brand tremendously.
R & A Pfaffl
With its simple, succinctly labeled, affordable and widely distributed brands, this family-owned winery has been integral in making the once unknown Austrian wine category a force in the American market and beyond. Playful marketing—a Grüner Veltliner is called “Austrian Pepper,” a Zweigelt is dubbed “Austrian Cherry”—and consistently high-scoring value wines pack a winning punch.
Set in a restored, centuries-old Tuscan village, San Felice is synonymous with excellent, well-priced Chianti Classico, CC Riserva and Gran Selezione. The San Felice Vitiarium experimental vineyard collects valuable genetic data about Tuscan grapes, pushing future innovation for the larger category of Italian wine.
Known as the world’s first Riesling estate and a birthplace of late-harvest wine, this German winery has a 1,000-year history in the Rheingau. Today, the winery continues its legacy with some of the best Riesling bottlings in the world, modernizing its winemaking approaches while keeping a consistently excellent quality and style in its products.
American Winery of the Year
Based in Mendocino, California, Bonterra is the nation’s leading organic wine producer and at the forefront of organic farming in the U.S. for 20 years. Recently announced as the official wine of the Farm Aid benefit concert and charity, Bonterra uses just one-third the sulfur of conventional wines. It also employs biodynamic practices like planting cover crops and using sheep to “mow” the grass in the vineyards.
This Oregon winery is the largest Pinot Gris producer in the country, and it also makes a wide range of excellent Pinot Noir and the value brand, Acrobat. King Estate was instrumental this year in expanding the Willamette Valley AVA, and recently announced its intention to be certified biodynamic.
Navarro Vineyards and Winery
In Anderson Valley, California, this producer makes consistently excellent Gewürztraminer and Pinot Noir, and led the way growing the latter in the region. Most of its business comes from direct sales to consumers. The family has also opened a waste-free, sustainable dairy farm to complement its wine operations.
San Antonio Winery
Founded in 1917 by an immigrant from Lombardy, Italy, this urban Los Angeles winery will celebrate its 100th birthday in 2017. In addition to its creative approach to marketing, San Antonio brings a wide range of wines to consumers via a wine shop, restaurant, and banquet hall. Its original vineyards were located in Los Angeles, but the winery now sources grapes from Monterey, Napa and other California growing areas.
California wine pioneer Jayson Pahlmeyer first planted grapevines at this property in Sonoma’s Fort Ross-Seaview AVA in 2002. Under the stewardship of his daughter, Cleo, the vineyard has taken advantage of the coastal region’s ideal conditions to produce top-notch Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. The Pahlmeyers’ commitment to the vineyard and the regional brand has put the wine and AVA on the global map.
New World Winery of the Year
Founded in 1997 and owned by the d’Aulan family, the former owners of the Piper-Heidsieck Champagne house, this Argentinean winery focuses on high-altitude, terroir-driven Malbec and Torrontes. Alta Vista was also the first winery to produce single-vineyard Malbecs in the country. Widely respected as one of the iconic quality wines of Argentina, it farms vineyards in Lujan de Cuyo and Valle de Uco, considered the best winegrowing areas within Mendoza and Cafayate.
Chambers Rosewood Vineyards
Founded by William Chambers in 1858, the family has been making wine at Rosewood for more than six generations. The only Australian producer of two 100-point wines, this winery also makes a uniquely Australian wine style for which it has gained international critical accolades: Rutherglen-fortified Muscat. The winery demonstrates consistency and quality from decade to decade.
Since its launch in 1996, the winery has been a standard bearer for the New Zealand wine community, offering flavorful, fruit-forward bottlings with broad appeal. Now owned by Constellation Brands, it has grown to be the top-selling brand of New Zealand wine in the U.S. Adding to its hallmark Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc brand, the winery has also innovated with its Small Parcel range of higher-tier wines.
Mission Hill Family Estate
Owned by Anthony Von Mandl (who also owns Mike’s Hard Lemonade), Mission Hill is the acknowledged leader in Canadian Okanagan viticulture. Von Mandl has made Mission Hill a destination winery, with fine art, outdoor theater, fine dining and concerts.
Established in 1885, this is one of the largest producers in Chile, based outside of Santiago in the Maípo Valley. Lauded as one of the great old names of Chilean wine, it’s kept a modern approach with young, internationally trained winemaking talent and an emphasis on terroir-driven quality.
Wine Region of the Year
Sales hit record highs this year, and the U.S. has become the largest export market for Champagne. With its UNESCO world heritage designation last year, Champagne has evolved effectively and competitively to cement its position as the finest sparkling wine in the world. It continues to demonstrate exquisite quality, growing its reach without losing its identity.
One of the world’s oldest wine regions, dating back about 3,500 years, this Greek island has recently begun to gain international acclaim for its quality and affordable pricing. A Phylloxera outbreak followed by very limiting laws about which grapes could be planted held the region back, but it has solidly hit its stride with unique island wines and a burgeoning wine-tourism industry.
With rosé becoming ever more popular, all eyes are on Provence. For 11 consecutive years, exports of rosé wines to the U.S. have grown at double-digit rates. What makes Provence rosé the gold standard? Heritage, place and production standards.
The California region’s wine industry continues to grow, with auction sales breaking records at every turn. Tourism to the area received a boost this year as the region’s winegrowers, vintners and tourism groups were an official partner of Super Bowl 50, hosted in Santa Clara. A new Community Connection Initiative will help quality remain high.
In the 50 years since the first Pinot Noir vines were planted here, Willamette Valley has blazed ahead as a world-class region, encompassing six sub-AVAs, hundreds of wineries, and an outstanding range of wines besides Pinot Noir. Big name wineries from France (Jadot), California (Jackson Family) and Washington (Precept) are moving into the region, and the tourism experience continues to evolve.
Winery Executive/Innovator of the Year
The first female oenologist in Argentina when she began her career in 1981, Balbopioneered the Torrontes variety in Salta and continues to innovate in her Mendoza winemaking. She experiments with fermentation methods and vessels, as well as with regional terroir. Her consistent success and commitment to high standards lead to her election as president of the Wines of Argentina international trade organization.
The energy magnate planted his first vines in his native Argentina in 2007. Since then, he’s expanded operations to 12 vineyards in locales like Tuscany, Bordeaux, Australia and California, and he’s still growing. This year, he opened Bodega Garzón in Uruguay, a sprawling, ultramodern winery and restaurant with a luxury hotel in the works, as well as a wine club that lets members create their own wines.
After rejecting two low-priced offers to buy out Australian Treasury Wine Estates, as CEO, Clarke off-loaded redundant infrastructure and sold off low-priced brands while emphasizing premium offers. He also further expanded the company’s prestige by acquiring two jewels of the wine world, Sterling Vineyards and B.V.wines from Diageo. Share prices and profits have doubled under Clarke’s leadership.
Girard is the CEO of Vinadeis, the largest French wine business and the nation’s No. 1 co-op group formed by combining Val d’Orbieu and Uccoar. And through Girard’s leadership, Vanadeis has increased its market presence in a serious way over the past few years. The company has also partnered with winemaker Robert Eden of Château Maris to create a new subsidiary, Vinadeis Bio. It’s committed to making exceptional organic and biodynamic wines in the Languedoc.
The inventor of the Coravin system changed the way we drink wine both at home and in restaurants. The system makes tasting of valued wines and vintages more accessible by plunging a needle through the cork and replacing the poured wine with argon gas to maintain freshness. The Morton’s Steakhouse chain recently introduced the Coravin to its 70-plus restaurants.
Winemaker of the Year
The winemaker for Chilean brand Viña Errázuriz is involved in Grand Cru plantings and creating iconic luxury wines from a country best known for value. He’s blending Carmenère with Pinot Noir for a distinctly Chilean flavor, and also producing quality Chardonnay.
A “Rhône Ranger” at Domaine de la Terre Rouge in Amador County, California, Easton has been quietly making the best Rhône-styled wines in the state since 1986. He also has started producing Zinfandel under his own label, Easton Wines.
One of the original garagiste small wine producers in Bordeaux, Maltus is also owner of Château Teyssier in St.-Emilion, the region’s largest brand in the U.S. He owns micro-estates like Le Dôme, Les Asteries, Vieux Château Mazerat—all in prime spots in St.-Emilion.
After studying at UC Davis and working in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, this acclaimed winemaker returned to her native South Africa with her husband, Chris. There, in 2007, the two co-founded Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines in the buzzworthy Swartland region. It’s part of the prestigious Cape Winemaker’s Guild, and by 2015, her wines were receiving awards and top marks.
Ramey started his career in Bordeaux before he helped launch Dominus in the Napa Valley. Now, the great Chardonnay and Cabernet producer is opening his first estate winery this year, Ramey Wine Cellars, in the Russian River Valley. This comes after he successfully launched Sidebar Cellars for a younger generation of fans, featuring such under $30 wines as a Kerner from Lodi, Sauvignon Blanc from Lake County and Grenache-Syrah-Mourvèdre blends from Russian River. Continue reading