Inside the Great Northwest Wine Competition

By on April 2, 2015
Great Northwest Wine Competition

Thousands of wine glasses were used to conduct the third annual Great Northwest Wine Competition in Hood River, Ore.

HOOD RIVER, Ore. – Now that the third annual Great Northwest Wine Competition is completed, we have had a bit of time to reflect on some of the highlights.

Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue of Great Northwest Wine got together this week to talk about the judging and share some of their insights for the Great Northwest Winecast.

Here’s their discussion:

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Record entries for Great Northwest Wine Competition

The Columbia Gorge Hotel is home to the third annual Great Northwest Wine Competition.

The Columbia Gorge Hotel in Hood River, Ore., was the site of the third annual Great Northwest Wine Competition. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

The Great Northwest Wine Competition, which once again took place at the historic Columbia Gorge Hotel in Hood River, drew a record number of entries, with 1,204. This was a significant increase over the 2014 Great Northwest Wine Competition, which brought in 916 entries. This year’s competition occurred March 25-26.

Cabernet Sauvignon with 117 entries and Pinot Noir with 104 entries led the overall categories. The competition also drew 92 Syrahs, 73 Merlots and 55 Malbecs. Of the 195 red blends entered, 64 of them were Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines.

This makes the Great Northwest Wine Competition the largest judging of wines from Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Idaho ever conducted – in just its third year.

Washington Pinot Noir

Two Gun Vineyard

Winemaker Victor Palencia stands in Two Gun Vineyard in the Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley AVA near Quincy, Wash. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

Pinot Noir is Oregon’s grape, and only about 900 tons (out of nearly 250,000) are harvested each year in Washington. Yet two wines using Washington Pinot Noir ended up at and near the top of the competition.

Victor Palencia, owner of Palencia Winery in Walla Walla, Wash., earned best of show for his Vino La Monarcha 2014 Pinot Noir Rosé using grapes from Two Guns Vineyard on the relatively cool Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley American Viticultural Area. Ancient Lakes is in a region near the Columbia Basin towns of George and Quincy. While this region is primarily planted to such varieties as Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc, the Jones family planted about 20 acres of Pinot Noir.

Most of that Pinot Noir goes to Michelle Sparkling Wine (formerly Domaine Ste. Michelle) for its Brut Rosé. The latest example of the pink sparkling wine from Ste. Michelle Wine Estates’ bubble house won best sparkling wine of the competition.

Palencia, who works for the Jones family through J&S Crushing in Mattawa and Jones of Washington winery, kept a small amount of that Pinot Noir for his own project. The resulting wine – which was bone dry – captivated the judges. The wine earned 18 votes from the 20 judges.

Obelisco Estate’s 2012 Electrum Cabernet Sauvignon from Red Mountain was a close second with 15 votes.

The final voting is conducted by acclamation, meaning the judges can vote for as many of the final five wines as they want. The entire competition is conducted under blind conditions, meaning the judges do not know whose wines they are tasting or how much they cost; the know only the category, such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Riesling.

Walla Walla winery wins again

Great Northwest Wine Competition

More than 1,200 wines were entered in the third annual Great Northwest Wine Competition at the Columbia Gorge Hotel in Hood River, Ore. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

During the first two years of the Great Northwest Wine Competition, a red wine from a Walla Walla Valley winery has won the top prize. In 2013, Zerba Cellars’ 2010 Malbec was best of show. The following year, Saviah Cellars’ 2011 Elephant Mountain GSM was No. 1 with judges.

So while the streak of red wines was broken by the rosé being the winner, Walla Walla once again reigned supreme – sort of. Palencia Winery’s tasting room is at the Walla Walla Regional Airport, though the wine is made by Palencia at Columbia River’s Edge Winery in Mattawa, where his day job is director of winemaking for J&S Crushing.

Those past winners also performed well. Zerba Cellars earned a gold medal and best-of-class designation for its 2012 Zinfandel and a gold medal for its Cockburn Vineyard Chardonnay.

Saviah Cellars, meanwhile, managed to win six gold medals, including a unanimous double gold for its 2011 Big Sky Cuvée, a Merlot-based blend. Interestingly, Saviah owner/winemaker Rich Funk’s 2012 GSM was one of the first wines of the competition to win a gold medal, which  put it in contention to repeat as champion.

Great Northwest Wine Competition judges

San Francisco native Wilfred Wong, chief storyteller for Wine.com and perhaps the United State's top wine judge, examines entries after the 2015 Great Northwest Wine Competition at the Columbia Gorge Hotel in Hood River, Ore.

San Francisco native Wilfred Wong, chief storyteller for Wine.com and perhaps the United State’s top wine judge, examines entries after the 2015 Great Northwest Wine Competition at the Columbia Gorge Hotel in Hood River, Ore. (Photo by Eric Degerman/Great Northwest Wine)

This year, the Great Northwest Wine Competition drew an impressive group of judges from throughout the Pacific Northwest.

We had seven panels working diligently over the two days of the competition, with each panel carefully evaluating about 200 wines each. They included winemakers, marketers, retailers, sommeliers, writers, educators and grape growers. They came from all regions of the Northwest.

Here is a complete list of judges.

We were especially pleased to have Wilfred Wong participate as a judge. Wong, who lives in San Francisco, is the chief storyteller for Wine.com. He is one of America’s most prolific wine tasters, evaluating in excess of 10,000 wines per year. He also is considered one of the finest judges in the country.

While Wong has been in the Pacific Northwest many times, this was his first time to Hood River. He used his time at the competition to evaluate wines for possible inclusion on Wine.com’s online retail site and had such a good time that he vowed to return.

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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