San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition begins

By on January 8, 2014

The San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition draws more than 5,500 wines from throughout the United States. It is held in Cloverdale, California.

Rick Fraga, left, and Miro Tcholakov evaluate Petite Sirah on Tuesday during the first day of the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

CLOVERDALE, Calif. – America’s largest wine competition keeps getting bigger and better.

The San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, which began Tuesday and concludes Friday morning, drew a record 5,825 entries this year, exceeding last year’s total of more than 5,500 – this despite other competitions starting up in the region in the past year.

“I actually budgeted for 5,000 entries, thinking we’d be off,” said competition chair Bob Fraser. “We ended up with entries from 1,700 wineries out of 25 states, which was a bigger boom nationwide, and to me, that’s very exciting. Obviously we’re a national competition. So I’m happy, happy, happy.”

Fraser recruited more than 70 professional wine judges from across the United States to serve on his 17 panels.

The competition will culminate in a grand sweepstakes round Friday morning that will determine the best red, white, pink, sparkling and dessert wines.

This is the 30th year of the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, which began as the Cloverdale Citrus Fair Wine Competition and was open to wineries within 20 miles of this town in northern Sonoma County.

“Thirty years ago, we had about 15 wineries with 45 or 50 entries,” Fraser said. “They wanted to include Guenoc and a small little winery that had just started off Mathews Road in Lakeport by the name of Chateau du Lac. The winemaker ended up being Jed Steele, and the owner was Jess Jackson. It later turned into Kendall-Jackson.”

The competition continues to be staged at the Cloverdale Citrus Fairgrounds, although the judging has grown to 17 panels and has migrated from the second-floor meeting room to the auditorium.

“They had the Citrus Fair board members bring the wines up the stairs in paper bags and pour the wines for the (five) judges who had a view of downtown Cloverdale. I came in about the third year and got rid of the bags,” Fraser said wryly.

The judging has become the first major wine competition of the year and draws judges from around the country, including Florida, Illinois, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Texas and the West Coast. The judges are a mixture of writers, wine educators, marketers, retailers, wholesalers, restaurateurs, hoteliers, grape growers and winemakers.

“We will not have a panel judging over 120 wines in a day,” Fraser said. “We’ve had panels in the past do 130 to 140 in a day, and we don’t do that anymore.”

The competition is run by the Cloverdale Citrus Fair, and proceeds benefit winemaking and viticulture programs at Santa Rosa Junior College, Fresno State University, Sonoma State University and California Polytechnic University.

Fraser, chair of the Agriculture & Natural Resources Department at Santa Rosa Junior College, also coordinates the wine competition for the Sonoma County Harvest Fair.

San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition public tasting

The San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition is held in Cloverdale, California, in Sonoma County.

Dozens of wine are ready to be tasted during the sweepstakes round of the 2013 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. (Photo by Eric Degerman/Great Northwest Wine)

A public tasting with hundreds of the medal-winning wines will take place Saturday, Feb. 15, at Fort Mason Center in San Francisco. Tickets are $50 for early-bird buyers, $65 in advance and $80 at the door (though the event typically is sold out and, thus, tickets are unavailable to walk-ups).

The San Francisco Chronicle has been the competition’s title sponsor for several years. This year, the presenting sponsor is Beverages & More (BevMo), a large California wine retailer that now has several locations in Washington. Stella Artois, a Belgian beer producer, also is a major sponsor.

Traditionally, Pacific Northwest wines have fared well at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. For example, Barnard Griffin Winery in Richland, Wash., earned a gold medal or better at the judging for seven straight years for its Sangiovese Rosé. That streak ended last year when the 2012 rosé was awarded a silver medal. However, winemaker Rob Griffin’s Chardonnay earned a gold medal and best in class.

Great Northwest Wine will have results of the competition published early Friday afternoon and a complete list of medal winners by Saturday morning.

About Andy Perdue

Andy Perdue is the editor and publisher of Great Northwest Wine. He is a third-generation journalist who has worked at newspapers since the mid-1980s and has been writing about wine since 1998. He co-founded Wine Press Northwest magazine with Eric Degerman and served as its editor-in-chief for 15 years. He is a frequent judge at international wine competitions. He is the author of "The Northwest Wine Guide: A Buyer's Handbook" (Sasquatch, 2003) and has contributed to four other books. He writes about wine for The Seattle Times. You can find him on Twitter and .

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