In August, Wine Enthusiast magazine announced the nominees for their Annual Wine Star awards given at a black tie dinner in January 2011.
With the soon-to-be winners presented in the December issue (on newsstands in early November), I thought I would take a crack at handicapping and picking the winners à la the Academy Awards.
First, a word about Wine Enthusiast. I’ve been a critic of Wine Enthusiast (WE) in the past (and Wine Spectator, as well).
Several years ago, I out and out mocked WE for selecting the Olive Garden management team as their person of the year based on the restaurant chains commitment to its wine program. “Ridiculous,” I said at the time.
You know what, a couple of years later their selection looks like prescient insight. Just last week I wrote a post about Moscato and the rise of wines with residual sugar. Two commenters to the post specifically referenced Olive Garden as an influence in creating interest in new consumers and, specifically, Moscato. Of course, that’s not the only reason their foresight might have been better than my hindsight, but you understand the point—it was a bold pick and Olive Garden’s wine program is having a measurable impact on wine consumers …
In addition, last year, I wrote a two-part post about improvements I would make to WE, the magazine portion of the business (here and here). What I found through that process, which at the time I thought was even-handed, but in hindsight I might construe as inflected with too much writer ego, was an open-minded and engaged publisher in Adam Strum, refreshingly free of said ego.
While I take absolutely NO credit for any improvements in the magazine, the reality is that Wine Enthusiast is a better magazine today than it was a year ago. Definitely. And, it has been trending in the right direction over the course of this year.
To be sure, I still have quibbles with WE and Spectator because I believe they reflect an editorial voice that is more trenchantly matched to aspirational demographics and the needs of advertisers than to readers, but the reality is both are thoroughbred reference points in the wine business and while Wine Enthusiast may be a few lengths off the Wine Spectator pace, they’re on the rail and closing.
Herewith, the WE nominees with my odds highlighted in bold and my reasoning for the winner below each category.
Person of the Year
Andrew Browne (Precept Brands) 7-to-1 odds
Nicolás Catena (Catena Zapata, Argentina) 13-to-1 odds
Bill Foley (Foley Estates) 2-to-1 odds
Jerry Lohr (J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines) 10-to-1 odds
Christian Moueix (Etablissements J.P Moueix) 20-to-1 odds
This is an interesting category with some interesting choices. Andrew Browne presides over a fast growing wine company in the very fashionable and fast growing Washington wine industry. Catena is the Mondavi of Argentina, the hottest wine country in the world. Foley is quietly assembling a winery portfolio that will have him as the scion of California wine before too long and Jerry Lohr is an active supporter of the wine business – on and off premise as well as the magazines like WE.
The person of the year award typically goes to big thinking and the macro view. Picking Browne is too much like following WS after they selected Columbia Crest for their wine of the year for 2009. The safe money bets Browne, but the smart money picks Bill Foley.
American Winery of the Year
Barefoot (Modesto, CA) 15-to-1 odds
Hermann J. Weimer (Finger Lakes, NY) 6-to-1 odds
J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines (San José, CA) 2-to-1 odds
Pacific Rim (Columbia Valley, WA) 25-to-1 odds
Shafer Vineyards (Napa Valley, CA) 50-to-1 odds
An eclectic mix of wineries. Choosing Barefoot opens WE up to ridicule it doesn’t want to deal with. Randall Grahm had his year of fawning in ’09 and Shafer is a bit of an outlier. To me, it looks like a two-horse race in between Hermann J. Weimer (stealing Wine & Spirits magazine’s thunder because they well-cover NY wines) and J. Lohr. Always a bridesmaid and never a bride for J. Lohr? Not this year. J. Lohr takes the prize.
Winemaker of the Year
F. Bonnaffous / G. Pouthier, Dourthe (France) 50-to-1 odds
Bob Cabral, Williams Selyem (California) 2-to-1 odds
Genevieve Janssens, Robert Mondavi Winery (California) 5-to-1 odds
Zelma Long, Vilafonte, (South Africa) 25-to-1 odds
Phillipe Melka, Melka Wines (California) 15-to-1 odds
This is a three-way race for the Californians. Selecting Melka sends the wrong signal based on his hand in the upper reaches of Napa Cab, not exactly egalitarian as is the spirit of WE. Steve Heimoff often name checks Cabral and his wines are perennially well reviewed in WE. Janssens selection would be something of a lifetime achievement award and not necessarily apropos to the category. Cabral wins.
European Winery of the Year
Gérard Bertrand (France) Pick-em
Louis Latour (France) Pick-em
Mastroberardino (Italy) Pick-em
Sogrape (Portugal) Pick-em
Viña Sastre (Spain) Pick-em
Flip a coin. I have no idea. If I had to guess, I would go with Portugal as a progressive pick based on the traction in mindshare Portuguese table wine is making.
Wine Region of the Year
Rhône Valley (France) 2-to-1 odds
Ribera Del Duero (Spain) 5-to-1 odds
Russian River Valley (California) 10-to-1 odds
Prosecco (Italy) 25-to-1 odds
Willamette Valley (Oregon) 50-to-1 odds
This one is easy. No contest. Rhone Valley. As if you need to ask … if you do need to ask please do so with the advertising sales department of any food and wine related magazine in ‘10.
New World Winery of the Year
Achaval-Ferrer (Argentina) 5-to-1 odds
Bodega Catena Zapata (Argentina) 2-to-1 odds
Craggy Range (New Zealand) 8-to-1 odds
DGB (South Africa) 25-to-1 odds
Viña San Pedro (Chile) 40-to-1 odds
Similar to our selection of J. Lohr as the winery of the year in lieu of the Person of the Year, Catena comes up short as the Person of the Year but takes the award for New World Winery.
Distiller of the Year
Beefeater Gin 50-to-1 odds
Cooper Spirits (St-Germain) 5-to-1 odds
Hangar One 25-to-1 odds
Jack Daniel’s 100-to-1 odds
Milagro Tequila 2-to-1 odds
Jack Daniels? Beefeater gin? This category has two legitimate choices – the sexy choice is Cooper Spirits and the hot brand St-Germain; the more rationalized choice is Milagro tequila. The question comes down to the belief in the staying power of the mixology trend versus catching a rising wave in the still developing craft tequila category. I’m going with the tequila. Milagro wins.
Importer of the Year
Aveníu Brands 2-to-1 odds
Fine Estates from Spain 15-to-1 odds
Kermit Lynch 5-to-1 odds
Preiss Imports 20-to-1 odds
TGIC Importers 50-to-1 odds
Kermit Lynch is to the wine world what Joe Paterno is to college football coaching—a legend, but also taken for granted in these modern times. In addition, the sun is not quite setting yet for Lynch’s twilight and industry victory lap.
Maybe in a year or two WE will be ready to name a winner that is primarily a spirits play (Preiss). For now, based on a global value play that meshes with WE’s editorial sensibility, they hew close to the vest and Aveníu Brands wins the award.
Retailer of the Year
Bounty Hunter (Napa Valley) 15-to-1 odds
Sherry-Lehmann (New York) 5-to-1 odds
Stew Leonard’s (NY, NJ, CT) 2-to-1 odds
Trader Joe’s (nationwide) 7-to-1 odds
Vino Volo (airports nationwide) 100-to-1 odds
Vino Volo is the throwaway vote this year. The notoriously reclusive Trader Joe’s won’t show for the event and you don’t give awards at these types of things to non-participants. Sherry-Lehmann is The Grand Old Dame, but following in the footsteps of last years retailer of the year pick with Best Cellars, the growing Stew Leonard’s wins.
Innovator of the Year
Hall Winery (California) 2-to-1 odds
Alain Juppé (France) 63-to-1 odds
Libera Terra (Sicily) 20-to-1 odds
Murphy-Goode (California) 10-to-1 odds
The New Zealand Wine Industry 5-to-1 odds
The dark horse here is Murphy-Goode who may pull an upset. Personally, I would love to see the Kiwi’s win because I’m a New Zealand wine fanboy. However, I think Steve Heimoff tipped us off at his personal blog when he included a non-sequitar wordplay riff on Hall, which must have been top of mind for a reason. Hall wins based on their progressiveness in being green and making it a part of the fabric of their winery (literally).
Restaurateur of the Year
Tom Colicchio (New York) 10-to-1 odds
Tyler Florence (California) 30-to-1 odds
Danny Meyer (New York) 5-to-1 odds
Michael Mina (California and nationwide) 2-to-1 odds
Gordon Ramsay (worldwide) 100-to-1 odds
Ramsay no shows because he’s wanted by too many debt collectors in New York (I kid, I kid).
This is another two horse race with additional consideration given to Colicchio because he’s hot in the food world, but it really boils down to Danny Meyer and Michael Mina. Flip a coin; both are well-known restaurateurs with Meyer renowned for his service at all of his restaurants while Mina carries the torch with a well-noted and respected wine program. Wine wins out and the nod goes to Mina.
Did I blow the handicapping or a pick? If so, leave a comment.
Filed Under: Review Wine