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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Spirit Brand of the Year
Absolut has produced a vodka from a single estate wheat, using a manual operation and the old copper catalyzation process. Manually distilled in a 1921 copper rectification still known as Column 51, the vodka is produced by master distiller Krister Asplund. Responsible for every drop of Absolut for the past 22-plus years, Asplund is amongst the few people who have the skills and knowledge to operate a manual still. The new offering reflects the farm-to-table movement in a global brand.
Owned by William Grant & Sons, The Balvenie produces a Speyside single-malt Scotch whisky in an 18th-century mansion retrofitted for distilling in Dufftown, Scotland. Producing since 1892, The Balvenie is only one of six distilleries with its own malting floor and uses locally hand-cut peat. In addition to its core portfolio, the brand produces vintage casks and a limited edition in special casks under the direction of David Stewart, The Balvenie’s malt master for 50 years. The brand gained a high profile with its launch of the The Balvenie Rare Craft tour, a nationwide tour of artisans in various fields.
Single Village Mezcal was founded in 1995 by Ron Cooper, a recent James Beard Award winner for most influential wine/beer/spirits professional. The brand is recognized for building the mezcal category in the U.S., and its Single Village anchor is producing organic, artisanal mezcal in the original handcrafted way, made by individual family palenqueros (producers) in old-style villages.
Founded by Shinjiro Torii, Suntory has distilled whisky in Japan since 1923 with the aim of creating “Western-style liquors to suit Japanese palates.” Yamakazi, created by chief blender Shinji Fukuyo, is the flagship whisky from the distiller (part of Beam-Suntory). It was named the “best in the world” in 2014, and has been described as “near indescribable genius” by whiskey expert Jim Murray.
Since 1855, Wild Turkey has been the “real Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey,” guided in later years by master distiller Jimmy Russell, one of the best-known people in the industry. Russell is half of Kentucky’s only active father/son master distilling team: son, Eddie, recently celebrated his 35th anniversary with the brand. Combining some 90 years of experience, father and son have made the Bourbon a classic, while also releasing limited-edition Bourbons and reviving rye. The brand’s strategic collaboration with actor Matthew McConaughey will further the reach of the legacy spirit.
Brewery of the Year
Starting as a shop for home brewers in the early 1990s, San Diego-based Ballast has certainly evolved. It now produces a full line of beers and ales, a proprietary yeast for its amber ale, a breakthrough gold medal-winning IPA and has five locations in Southern California. Also offering a line of 14 spirits, the brewery built out its newest location with two large copper kettles discovered in Lohr, Germany. Ballast Point beers are easy to spot, sporting labels with original artwork celebrating fishing, a favorite hobby of the founders.
Brothers-in-law David Walker (the lion) and Adam Firestone (the bear, and also a descendent of the tire magnate) created a regional brewery that combines European sensibility and California spirit. It’s one of two brewers in the world to use a patented variation of the Burton Union system, developed in England in the 1800s, in its oak barrel fermentation process. Today, it’s California’s fourth-largest craft brewery and was sold last year to Duvel Moortgat Brewery, a Belgium brewery.
This grew out of a desire to make “complex, in-your-face ales, with huge aromatics, bigger body and tons of flavor.” And that’s what Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers did, making Founders one of the most recognized breweries in the U.S. The brewer has won 13 medals, including six World Beer Cups and four European Beer Stars.
Inspired by a 1988 bike trip through European beer villages, Jeff Lebesch created New Belgium, starting in his basement in Fort Collins, Colorado. Over the past 25 years, he expanded to a location in each Colorado and North Carolina. The line includes seasonal and year-round beers, IPAs, small-batch and sours. The company has been 100% employee-owned since 2012, and each employee gets a fat-tired cruiser bike to celebrate completion of one year on the job.
Tracing its roots to 768, and brewing since 1040 in the Weihenstephan Monastery Brewery in Freising (Bavaria), Weihenstephan is the world’s oldest continuously operating brewery. It’s one of a handful of brewers in existence at the creation of the Bavarian Purity Law. Called Bavarian State Brewery Weihenstephan since 1923, it produces a range of pale lagers and wheat beers, including Weihenstephaner Weissbier.
Retailer of the Year
ABC Fine Wine & Spirits is a family-owned, privately held American alcohol retailer founded by Jack Holloway in 1936. Originally founded as Jack’s Friendly Neighborhood Bar, ABC is now Florida’s oldest and largest independent retailer of fine wine and spirits. The company is headquartered in Orlando, and has nearly 150 retail stores in the state, and enjoyed revenue of nearly $500 million in 2013-14.
Since 1994, this gourmand emporium has served Austin and other Texas cities with fine foods, fresh produce, on-site meat and cheese specialists and thousands of wines. The stores hosts cooking events, classes and demonstrations, as well as community events like yoga, summer cinema, music or marching band performances.
Founded in 1930 in Winter Haven, Florida, Publix has grown from a single store into the largest employee-owned grocery chain in the U.S., with retail sales in 2015 reaching $32.4 billion. Publix is consistently named a top employer and most-admired company by Forbes, Fortune and industry associations. It’s also lauded for its widespread employment of people with disabilities and its philanthropic activities. The chain also provides approachable education for consumers with its online Publix Wine Program and Wine Simplified symbols on wine, in addition to the Publix Premium label selections.
Headquartered in Sacramento, California, Raley’s is a family-owned chain that operates 128 stores under the Raley’s, Bel Air Markets, Nob Hill Foods and Food Source names in northern California and Nevada. Its customer service has been top-ranked by Consumer Reports, and three Raley’s supermarkets had been awarded Greenchill Partnership Gold-Level Certification by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for environmentally friendly refrigeration technology.
From a small grocery store in Idaho in 1915 to more than 2,300 stores in 33 states today, Safeway created the mold for the modern-day supermarket chain. Its innovations include the introduction in the 1930s of produce pricing by the pound, adding “sell by” dates on perishables, nutritional labeling, even some of the first parking lots. The Safeway Foundation sponsors numerous programs for education, hunger relief, health and human services and people with disabilities.
Importer of the Year
Since its founding in 1999, Paolo and Allison Domeneghetti have grown their company through acquisitions of small fine-wine import/distribution companies. They’ve focused on small producers, often from emerging regions and with natural, organic or biodynamic winemaking.
Starting with the century-old Bellows and Co., a wine importer and fine-food emporium bought after the repeal of Prohibition, Wildman has combed both known and emerging regions in search of authentic wines for the American market. Its portfolio of more than 50 brands includes legendary producers like Champagne Pol Roger and emerging stars that include Pascal Jolivet. Wildman is branching more actively into quality spirits and also supports worthy causes like ovarian cancer awareness.
Focusing on 12 of the most important, unique and distinct regions in Australia, Hudson Wine Brokers is a boutique importer that specializes in small producers. Founded by two Australian ex-pats in Los Angeles, the company aims to show that regionally expressive, food-compatible wines made Down Under can be equal to those in Europe and California.
A subsidiary of Gruppo Mezzacorona, Prestige’s keen focus on Italy—from the Dolomites to Sicily—distinguishes it as an importer of winning and affordable wines, putting unknown regions on the map before they were in the spotlight.
With a focus on estate-bottled wines and spirits, the sibling team of Michael and Harmon Skurnik has amassed a portfolio of quality producers from U.S., France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Austria, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Chile, South Africa, Greece, Hungary and Israel. Since it was founded in 1987, the company has represented more than 500 brands. Skurnik is the exclusive importer of the esteemed Terry Theise Estate and Daniel Johnnes Selections.
Sommelier/Wine Director of the Year
Chang has collaborated with the likes of Rich Melman, Rick Tramonto, Charlie Trotter and Danny Meyer, and is the 2011 winner of a James Beard Foundation award for outstanding wine service. Last year, she returned to her Chicago roots to open the city’s newest steakhouse, Maple & Ash, with an 800-label wine list that’s credited with taking the steakhouse category “from sleepy to sexy.”
Trained as a visual artist, Hon got his start at Sepia as a server. In less than five years, he was creating the wine list. While he first focused on lesser-known regions and under-the-radar producers, he’s now returning to the classics, albeit with a twist, looking for off-the-beaten-path wines with classic heritage. Last year, Hon won the Jean Banchet Award for Best Sommelier, recognizing Chicagoans working in the culinary and beverage world. He’s studying for the Court of Master Sommeliers’ advanced certification.
June Rodil, MS
Eschewing law school, the Austin-based Rodil worked her way around the city’s finest restaurant groups before she became beverage director for McGuire Moorman Hospitality, a group of seven restaurants. The most recent addition to the group was named after her. A native of Manila, Rodil earned her Master Sommelier accreditation in 2015, becoming one of 23 women in North America to earn the designation. She has won numerous “best sommelier” awards in the industry, and was included in Wine Enthusiast’s “40 Under 40” this year.
Jason L. Smith, MS
As executive director of wine at MGM Resorts International, Smith oversees 29 sommeliers at nine properties in the group portfolio, including Bellagio, Picasso, Todd English’s Olives, Le Cirque and Michael Mina. Educated at the Culinary Institute of America and a Master Sommelier since 2005, Smith’s dossier includes leadership positions at the 21 Club, Charlie Trotter’s and The Little Nell. He has been with the MGM group since 2006, where he created Bellagio’s ambitious wine program of more than 4,000 selections, with 250 wines by the glass.
In 1998, Caroline Styne teamed with Suzanne Goin and opened Lucques, their flagship restaurant, which planted the seeds for The Lucques Group, a Los Angeles hospitality company that comprises two other fine dining restaurants and four marketplace restaurants. The company also operates Lucques Catering, the Larder Baking Company and comprehensive food and wine services for the Hollywood Bowl. She also has her hand in producing her own wines and is nationally recognized for her expertise in the restaurants’ much-admired wine programs. Her hospitality philosophy and keen business acumen has been a major contribution to the growth of The Lucques Group since the opening of their first restaurant. Today, she oversees business affairs at the company’s ten operations in Los Angeles, all of which are considered among the best in the city.
Mixologist of the Year
Ivy Mix and Lynnette Marrero (Speed Rack)
Since 2011, Ivy Mix and Lynnette Marrero have been the brains and brawn behind “Speed Rack,” the all-female national bartending competition, now in its fifth season. It helps promote women in the spirit industry while also raising funds for local and national charities, with a particular focus on breast cancer research, education and prevention.
A New Orleans native, Patino completed gigs as brand ambassador for Absolut Vodka and Plymouth Gin before he relocated to New York City to become director of brand advocacy for Pernod Ricard USA. He runs the BarSmarts bartender education program. He serves as a judge for The World’s Top 50 Bars and the Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards.
Ryan is Kimpton’s national manager of bar education, where he’s responsible for launching and refreshing Kimpton’s national bars as well as training and education. He worked at Chicago’s Sable Kitchen + Bar, helping it become recognized as one of the best bars in the country. He also founded and runs a craft ice-production company.
Much lauded for her participation in and support of the mixology industry, Wiznitzer’s cocktail programs have been recognized at places like New York City’sThe Dead Rabbit and her bar, Seamstress. She’s regularly earns top honors in national cocktail competitions, and she serves as the President of the New York City chapter of the United States Bartenders Guild. She is a member of The Cocktail Guru, a beverage consulting agency for the hospitality industry.
Elad Zvi and Gabriel Orta
This Miami duo came onto the cocktail scene with Broken Shaker in 2012 and has since evolved into Bar Lab, a lifestyle/beverage consulting agency for the hospitality industry. The mixologists have received nods from James Beard Award as semifinalists in 2014 and 2015, rankings in the World’s 50 Best Bars, and from Tales of the Cocktail. They continue to operate the Broken Shaker in Chicago and Miami (an L.A. edition is coming soon) as well as 27 Restaurant in Miami.