PERSONS OF THE YEAR: DAVID PICKENS AND THE OLIVE GARDEN WINE BUYING TEAM
Olive Garden serves more than 25 million glasses of wine each year, promoting wine to consumers as an integral part of the dining experience in America. Certainly, the numbers tell part of the story: this remarkable group purchases 500,000 cases of wine a year, and serves complimentary wine samples to 5 million people a year. In their 578 restaurants throughout the US, they have a staff of 45,000 of whom 30,000 are Wine Ambassadors.
And these enthusiastic, knowledgeable servers are on a mission. In some cases, people who eat at the restaurants already enjoy wine with their meals. But in many other cases, Olive Garden presents casual diners with its first exposure to wines. Servers actively encourage everyone to sample a wide range of wine—around 30 different brands. And these introductory pours are all complimentary. As a result of this low-key but persuasive introduction, there is a much larger number of people who are now enjoying wine with their dinner on a regular basis, not just on special occasions.
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT: JESS JACKSON
Born during the Great Depression, Jess Jackson has enjoyed a number of diverse occupations, ranging from farmer and policeman to land-use lawyer. In 1974, Jess and his family bought an 80-acre pear and walnut orchard, which he converted to vineyards, and soon he began selling grapes at local wineries; in 1982 Jess released the first Kendall-Jackson wine. Jess and his family still run the day-to-day operations of the winery. The family grows grapes on 12,000 acres of California coastal vineyards, continually evolving techniques to raise the quality of the wines. Today, his Jackson Wine Estates operates 24 wineries and vineyards around the world, selling an estimated 5 million cases of wine a year. Among his major achievements, Jess was one of the first and largest winemakers to introduce America to varietal-specific wine, not only increasing the public’s understanding and appreciation of wine, but also making it affordable.
AMERICAN WINERY OF THE YEAR: HARLAN ESTATE
Bill Harlan didn’t have to start a winery—but he was driven by a vision, and anyone who knows Harlan understands that visions are what fuel this passionate man. He had two inspirations: his love of Bordeaux wines and the opening of Robert Mondavi Winery in 1966. It wasn’t until 1985 that Harlan and his winemaker, Bob Levy, were able to clear land at the Oakville property in Napa and plant their first grapes. Today, Harlan Estate has become, to many, the greatest Cabernet house in California. The winery has set the highest standards in Napa Valley, and serves as an inspiration to winemakers all over America.
EUROPEAN WINERY OF THE YEAR: TORRES
Torres traces its roots in Penedes, Spain back to 1870, and four generations later, Miguel A. Torres serves as its President, with members of the fifth generation already hard at work, keeping the family tradition alive. The company produces 3 million cases of wine and 1 million cases of brandy per year, with 60% of sales exported to 140 countries around the world. One of the most prominent and most widely known wine producers in Spain, Torres made its mark with Sangre de Toro, one of the first Spanish wines to be distributed world-wide. Today, Torres is producing elegant wines such as the ultrapremium Mas la Plana, and has established itself with notable achievement in California and Chile as well. For its global reach in introducing people to the pleasures of Spanish wine, Wine Enthusiast Magazine is proud to recognize Torres.
NEW WORLD WINERY OF THE YEAR: CLARENDON HILLS, AUSTRALIA
Clarendon Hills produced its first vintage in 1990. Within four years, Clarendon had become not only Australia’s most highly rated winery, but also one of the highest rated anywhere in the world. The company was founded by Roman Bratasiuk, whose vision was to produce pure expressions of the grape and vineyard, as well as wines that age well and complement the dining experience. Clarendon wines are distinctive in Australia, as their wines are strictly Old World in approach: 100% single-vineyard and 100% single-varietal. Clarendon produces 16 wines, focusing on Grenache, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Its ripe and concentrated wines offer an unusual combination of Old World elegance with the power of New World Australia.
WINEMAKER OF THE YEAR: OLIVIER HUMBRECHT, DOMAINE ZIND-HUMBRECHT, FRANCE
Born in 1963 in Colmar, Olivier Humbrecht became co-owner and winemaker of Domaine Zind-Humbrecht in 1989. The winery has 40 hectares under vine and an annual production of between 12,000 and 16,000 cases. Olivier is the latest member of many generations of Humbrecht winemakers, dating all the way back to 1620. He is the only Alsatian winemaker to have achieved the prestigious Master of Wine certification, and is a passionate advocate for the wines of Alsace and the benefits of biodynamic farming. Critical acclaim has judged Olivier’s winery to be one “that truly captures the taste of Alsace more accurately and intensely than any of its neighbors.”
IMPORTER OF THE YEAR: MOËT HENNESSY USA
Moët Hennessy USA was formed in 2005 by the merger of Schieffelin & Co with Clicquot Inc. and Millenium Import LLC. The company represents and markets Moët Hennessy’s portfolio of brands in the U.S., as well as several brands previously distributed by Clicquot. As part of LVMH, Moët Hennessy’s brands define elegance, tradition and prestige around the world. Their portfolio includes the Champagnes of Moët & Chandon, Krug and Veuve Clicquot; the wines of Chateau d’Yquem, Casa Lapostolle, Terrazas de los Andes and Cloudy Bay; and the spirits of Hennessy, Grand Marnier, Belvedere, Chopin and Glenmorangie. Sales from their ultrapremium collection topped more than $1 billion this past year. Moët Hennessy USA is remarkable not only for the depth and breadth of their portfolio, but also for the imaginative support of their brands.
DISTILLER OF THE YEAR: BUFFALO TRACE DISTILLERY, KENTUCKY
Buffalo Trace Distillery, founded in 1775 and based in Franklin County, Kentucky, is the oldest continuously operating distillery in the U.S. As the most award-winning bourbon distillery in the world, Buffalo Trace sells a diverse portfolio of premium-aged bourbons; every autumn since 2000 they have released limited quantities of five superpremium bourbons. These small-batch spirits, aged between 8 and 10 years in charred American oak casks, are one of Buffalo Trace’s main claims to fame. Buffalo Trace was purchased by Sazerac in 1991, who immediately undertook major renovations, both enlarging and modernizing the distillery. With constant experimentation and innovation, this distillery’s goal is to create nothing less than the perfect whiskey, not only in America but in the world.
RETAILER OF THE YEAR: BEVERAGES & MORE, CALIFORNIA
Founded in 1994 as Beverages and More! but renamed BevMo! by its customers and owners, this extraordinary retailer is the leading beverage-lifestyle superstore, providing friendly and knowledgeable service to thousands of customers every year. With 58 superstores in California and Arizona, it also operates the world’s #1 “bricks and clicks” wine, beer and spirits Web site, BevMo.com. BevMo! is known for its huge and varied selections, at all price points, with a selection of over 3,000 wines, 1,500 spirits and 800 beers. In addition, the stores offer a wide selection of related products such as specialty foods and wine accessories, making it a one-stop shopping experience for its customers.
WINE REGION OF THE YEAR: ALEXANDER VALLEY, SONOMA, CALIFORNIA
The Alexander Valley is the most diverse grape-growing region in California’s most diverse wine county, Sonoma. This long, narrow valley, home to more than 50 wineries and 200 producers, earned its reputation with rich, fruity Zinfandels and field blends in the 19th century. Alexander Valley Chardonnays were the first in the state to be vineyard-designated, and today the region produces remarkable Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Viognier, Pinot Blanc, Syrah and Sangiovese and its world-class Cabernet Sauvignon competes with the best of Napa Valley. Alexander Valley remains a consistent source of both sound, inexpensive value wines, and upscale, ultrapremium bottlings.
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