Rod Byers: Sierra Vintners score big at California State Fair |

Rod Byers: Sierra Vintners score big at California State Fair

The Union photo/John Hart
John R. Hart | The Union

The California State Fair Wine Competition is the oldest wine competition in North America, having first been established in 1854. Now, more than 160 years later it is still one of the most important.

This year more than 2,600 wines were entered in over 100 different categories with 72 professional wine judges tasked with determining which wines were the best.

Members of our local Sierra Vintners Winery Association certainly did their part bringing home the hardware. Local wineries combined for a total of 36 medals including five golds, 12 silvers, and 19 bronze medals. Most impressive of all, collectively they won seven Best of Class of Region Awards.

The California State Fair divides California into wine regions like Napa, Sonoma or Central Coast. Our region is the Sierra Foothills. The judges determine gold, silver, bronze, or no award for every wine entered.

They also select which are the best wines for each varietal from each of California’s respective regions. Those are the Best of Class of Region awards.

Congratulations to Bob Hilsman, owner/grower/winemaker at Double Oak Vineyards & Winery on the San Juan Ridge. Not only did he earn a gold medal for his 2013 Chardonnay, he won the award for the best chardonnay for all of the Sierra Foothills.

“It’s critical acclaim,” Hilsman explained. “It’s great when your wine is recognized as an outstanding wine by qualified, impartial judges.” Hilsman has perfected his Chardonnay style over the years. He now ferments in both barrels and stainless steel then blends them to make his award winning wine.

Other Best of Class winners include Naggiar Vineyards with two, one for their 2012 Malbec, and the other for their 2012 Sangiovese. Nevada City Winery took top honors for their 2012 Barbara.

Mount Vernon Winery, one of Sierra Vintner’s Placer County winery members earned Best Cabernet Franc for the Foothills. Avanguardia Winery won two as well. One for their 2010 Premiato, a blend of Barbara and Dolcetto and the other for their 2011 Tre “T” another unique blend featuring Tannat, Teroldego and Tempranillo.

Rob Chrisman, the owner/grower/winemaker at Avanguardia Winery commented “To get two of them (BOC awards) at the same time is outstanding. It fulfills my personal goal of constantly improving the wine at each and every vintage.” Avanguardia specializes in unique blends of unusual varieties.

Other Sierra Vintner member wineries to medal included Coufos, Fawnridge, Lone Buffalo, Lucchesi, Smith, and Gray Pine Winery.

Guy Lauterbach, owner of Gray Pine Winery in Penn Valley, is another grower/winemaker and one of Nevada County’s newest wineries.

“This was my first competition,” Lauterbach said. “I entered four wines and all four medaled.”

It was rewarding, he said, to look at the awards and see his silver medal 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon outscore a 2012 Napa Cab from a well-known winery.

“I think it does mean a lot to a young winery. It definitely validates what I’m doing and gives me more confidence.” Gray Pine specializes in red Bordeaux varieties.

Go to any of the local tasting rooms to sample their award-winning wines. There is also an event coming up in August that offers a different, entertaining way to taste.

Nevada City Uncorked, Aug. 29, features 17 members of the Sierra Vintners Association, and two local breweries, in an event in downtown Nevada City. Uncorked is a walk-about-town style format featuring 20 different venues throughout the downtown area.

Each venue, whether it is a retail shop, restaurant, winery tasting room, B&B, or other unique location, will include tasting and food sampling. Tickets are $35 in advance, $45 on the day, and $30 for Wine Club Members of participating wineries. Uncorked information and tickets are available at

But don’t wait until then to taste these wines.

Whether you stop in a tasting room downtown or take a break for a ride in the country, find a little time to go wine tasting. This region produces a remarkable number of different varieties, styles and flavors of wine.

Rod Byers, CWE, is a Certified Wine Educator and wine writer as well as a California State Certified Wine Judge. He is the host of the local television show Wine Talk. You can find information about his Sierra College Wine Classes at and he can be reached at 530-802-7172.

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