St. Francis Winery in east Santa Rosa, founded in 1971 by Joe Martin and now owned by the Kopf family of New York, was awarded the top prize — Best of the Best award — in the 2019 North Coast Wine Challenge for its St. Francis Winery 2016 Old Vines Zinfandel, Tres Viejos, Sonoma County, which scored 99 out of 100 points.
This year marked the first time a zinfandel came out on top in the blind tasting competition presented by The Press Democrat.
For the wine, St. Francis Winemaker Katie Madigan said she blended old vine zin from three heritage vineyards (tres viejos, or “three old ones”): one located in a toasty corner of Alexander Valley, one from east side of the cooler Russian River Valley and one from the southern reaches of Sonoma Valley.
“This is one of our top zinfandels,” said Madigan, who makes eight zinfandels for St. Francis, known as the “House of Big Reds.” “Most of the zinfandels for the wine club are vineyard designates, but it’s really nice to showcase the sum instead of the parts.”
Now in its seventh year, the competition has in past awarded three top awards to a pinot noir, one to a Bordeaux-style red blend, one to a chardonnay and one to a rosé of pinot noir. The contest only accepts wines grown in the six North Coast counties of Lake, Mendocino, Marin, Napa, Sonoma and parts of Solano counties.
Red wine entries comprised 70 percent of the total entries this year, with zinfandel entries up 50 percent from last year, according to Chief Judge Daryl Groom.
During the first day of judging on April 9, Truett-Hurst/VML Winemaker Ross Reedy said he was impressed with the quality of the zinfandels he was tasting but not surprised.
“That’s expected of Sonoma County,” he said. “It’s our bread and butter, and the best place in the world to grow zinfandel.”
This year, the Best of Show White went to Geyser Peak Winery 2018 Sauvignon Blanc, Dry Creek Valley, which earned 97 points. Judges praised its complexity, with “tropical to citrus type of fruits.” Founded in 1880, the winery with roots in the Alexander Valley recently relocated to the Dry Creek Valley appellation near downtown Healdsburg, and is owned by Accolade Wines North America.
The J. Rickards Winery 2018 Ava Rae Rosé of Grenache, Alexander Valley, won the Best of Show Rosé, scoring 98 points and boasting “a delicate pink” color and aroma of “cherries and fraises.” The family-run operation founded in 2005 by Jim and Eliza Rickards is located at the northern end of the Alexander Valley. The family farms grapes for many renowned wineries in the area and produces small lots of its own hand-crafted wines. The winery won Best of Show White last year in the competition for the J. Rickards Winery 2017 Sauvignon Blanc, Croft Vineyard, Alexander Valley.
Best of Show Sparkling went to the Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards NV Blanc de Noirs, Carneros, which received 99 points from the judges for being an “Old World wine with a New World sensibility.” The non-vintage blush sparkler gets its rosy color and berry flavors from leaving a portion of the grapes in contact with the skins for 24 hours.
North Coast Wine Challenge winners
Best of the Best: St. Francis Winery 2016 Old Vines Zinfandel, Tres Viejos, Sonoma County
Best of Show Red: St. Francis Winery 2016 Old Vines Zinfandel, Tres Viejos, Sonoma County
Best of Show White: Geyser Peak Winery 2018 Sauvignon Blanc, Dry Creek Valley
Best of Show Rosé: J. Rickards Winery 2018 Ava Rae Rosé of Grenache, Alexander Valley
Best of Show Sparkling: Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards NV Blanc de Noirs, Carneros
Best of Show Dessert Wine: Navarro Vineyards 2018 Riesling Cluster Select Late Harvest, Anderson Valley
Best of Lake County: Brassfield Estate Winery 2015 Eruption Proprietary Red, High Valley
Best of Mendocino County: Navarro Vineyards 2018 Riesling Cluster Select Late Harvest, Anderson Valley
Best of Napa County: Black Stallion Estate Winery 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Limited Release, Napa Valley
Best of Sonoma County: St. Francis Winery 2016 Old Vines Zinfandel, Tres Viejos, Sonoma County
Best of Solano County: Sky Ranch 2016 Two Old Guys Red Blend, Solano County
Best of Marin County: McEvoy Ranch 2016 Montepulciano, Il Poggio, Petaluma Gap
This story originally appeared on PressDemocrat.com, also part of the Sonoma Media Investments news network.