Inside the Great Northwest Invite

By on October 16, 2014
The judges for the 2014 Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition

The judges for the 2014 Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition are, from left: Cole Danehower, Ken Robertson, Ellen Landis, Tim O’Brien, Dave Holstrom, Yashar Shayan, Dave Smith, Chris Horn, Tony Kischner, Lane Hoss, Jeff Fournier, Jeff Moore, Mark Takagi, Matt Tessler, Barb Robertson and Ilene Dudunake. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

HOOD RIVER, Ore. — Last week, 16 influential wine professionals gathered at the historic Columbia Gorge Hotel to participate in the second annual Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition.

The competition is unique in North America in that it is the only judging in which the judges nominate the wines they want to have tasted.

In all, 424 wines were entered in the competition, and more than 20 percent were awarded gold medals. That’s a higher-than-usual amount, as many competitions tend to give 12 percent. However, considering the wines with a reputation for quality were selected by the judges, the fact they were scored higher is of little surprise.

All of the wines were judged blind, meaning the judges knew neither the winery nor the price. They did know the variety or style. Judging blind takes away one level of bias in the competition.

In this week’s Great Northwest Winecast, Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue talk about the competition and some of the themes from the results.

Here’s the audio:

B.C. wine wins Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition

Jeff Fournier of Esquin in Seattle judges the Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition.

Jeff Fournier, wine buyer for Esquin Wine & Spirits in Seattle, evaluates wine at the second annual Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

The top wine in the Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition was Wild Goose Vineyards‘ 2012 God’s Mountain Vineyard Riesling from British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. This came as no surprise to us as Wild Goose has been crafting some of the Pacific Northwest’s best wines for years. The winery operated by brothers Hagen and Roland Kruger is a past Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year with Wine Press Northwest magazine.

This is the final vintage for this particular vineyard-designated Riesling for Wild Goose, as the viticultural practices changed and the Krugers are now choosing to focus on their own Stoney Slope Vineyard, which was planted 30 years ago.

In addition, Wild Goose’s Gewürztraminer also won a gold medal – again, little surprise because of the stunning acidity available in the Okanagan Valley.

Big thrives

While many of the judges chose to nominate many wines from boutique producers, the Northwest’s largest wine company won a jaw-dropping 12 gold medals.

Ste. Michelle Wine Estates is Washington’s oldest and largest wine company. It owns such wineries as Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia Crest, 14 Hands and Michelle Sparkling Wine.

In this judging, the Michelle NV Brut Rosé won best sparkling wine. In addition, wines from such brands as Chateau Ste. Michelle, 14 Hands, Seven Falls, Columbia Crest and Northstar also won gold medals.

Of particular interest is Seven Falls, a new label for the company that focuses on grapes from the warm Wahluke Slope. Last year, the Seven Falls 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon won best of show. This year, the 2012 vintage of that wine won another gold medal.

Idaho wineries show well

Cinder Wines earned top medals in the 2014 Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition.

Melanie Krause and Joe Schnerr own Cinder Wines in Garden City, Idaho. They are holding their daughter, Charli. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

Two Idaho wineries won six gold medals between them at the Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition.

Not surprisingly, Cinder Wines won best of class for its Syrah, along with gold medals for its Tempranillo and Dry Viognier. Owner/winemaker Melanie Krause learned her craft at Chateau Ste. Michelle before returning home to Boise to launch Cinder. Today, she is recognized as one of the Gem State’s top winemakers.

Farther north, Coco Umiker is the winemaker and co-owner of Clearwater Canyon Cellars in Lewiston, Idaho. She also earned three gold medals. One was for her Carménère using grapes from Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills. Her Renaissance Red is a blend of Idaho and Washington grapes, and her Merlot is from estate grapes in the soon-to-be-approved Lewis-Clark Valley American Viticultural Area.

Together, these two winemakers are providing a look at the future and promise of Idaho wine country.

Oregon Pinot Noir producers thrive

Overall, seven Pinot Noirs won gold medals at the Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition.

Leading the way was Colene Clemens Vineyards, a young winery in the north Willamette Valley town of Newberg. Frankly, we knew little of the winery before the wines arrived. They were nominated by Yashar Shayan of in Seattle.

The three Pinot Noirs entered by Colene Clemens Vineyards earned gold or double gold. Additionally, its Rosé of Pinot Noir won a double gold medal and best rosé of the competition.

Winning four gold medals for all four wines entered is a stunning achievement for any winery, much less a small, boutique producer.

In addition, Hyland Estates won gold medals for both of its Pinot Noirs. The brand is owned by Laurent Montalieu, a Frenchman who has been crafting wine in Oregon for more than two decades. He now owns NW Wine Co. and is the custom winemaker for a number of Oregon producers.

More highlights

Throughout the competition, it’s fun to see the wines that came back with gold medals. And it’s interesting to see trends with winners of multiple golds. A few of these were:

  • Tamarack Cellars in Walla Walla, Wash., won two gold medals, including a best-of-class award for its Firehouse Red, a blend of no fewer than a dozen grape varieties. Owner Ron Coleman has turned this affordable red blend into his flagship wine and now produces more than 16,000 cases of it.
  • Robert Smasne earned four gold medals: two for his own Smasne Cellars, as well as two for Northwest Cellars in Kirkland – for whom he is the winemaker. This comes as little surprise, as the Yakima Valley winemaker has been high on our radar for the superb wines he crafts.
  • L’Ecole No. 41 in the Walla Walla Valley town of Lowden, Wash., is well known for its rich red wines. In this competition, it won gold medals for its Chardonnay and Semillon. The latter is a classic but underappreciated white Bordeaux variety that has long been championed by owner Marty Clubb. The 2013 Semillon has wowed us all year, and the judges in this competition confirmed what we’ve known for several months.
  • Maryhill Winery in Goldendale, Wash., simply is one of the finest wineries in the Pacific Northwest, and it stepped up its game considerably when it hired Richard Batchelor as its head winemaker in 2009. The winery in the eastern Columbia Gorge produced two of the competition’s top wines, including the 2011 Malbec, which won best-of-class honors.
  • DeLille Cellars in Woodinville is one of Washington’s most revered wineries, and longtime winemaker and partner Chris Upchurch is proving he’s still among the state’s best. In this competition, his two flagship blends earned top awards. The Chaleur Estate is a red Bordeaux-style blend that won gold. And the Chaleur Estate Blanc, a blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc was voted best of class.


This is a fun competition to run because of the nature of the wines and how they were selected. The judges enjoy it, partly because of the setting at one of the grand old hotels in the Pacific Northwest.

They also loved the concept of the nomination process, and many of them were talking to each other about swapping lists.

One of the goals of the Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition is to place wines in front of professionals who sell (or influence the sale) of cases of wine, rather than bottles. And the judges don’t simply look at the gold medal winners. After the competition, we allow them into the back room to browse through the bottles they just finished judging. This gives them a chance to look through the wines they liked – even if they won silver or bronze medals.

About Great Northwest Wine

Articles authored by Great Northwest Wine are co-authored by Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue. In most cases, these are wine reviews that are judged blind by the Great Northwest Wine tasting panel.

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