A Wine Star Awards Gala to Remember

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Not even a chilling polar vortex dimmed the excitement surrounding Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s 14th annual Wine Star Awards gala on January 27, 2014, at The New York Public Library—an event that honors outstanding achievements of leaders in the world of wine and spirits.

Nearly 500 hundred guests in black-tie attire gathered at the historic Fifth Avenue venue to fete the industry’s innovators, visionaries and luminaries.

Master of Ceremonies, Adam Strum—Chairman of Wine Enthusiast Companies and editor and publisher of Wine Enthusiast Magazine—kicked off the evening with a warm welcome and a tribute to Peter Mondavi Sr., recipient of the American Wine Legend award. As president of Napa Valley’s historic Charles Krug Winery, Mondavi has made invaluable contributions to the wine industry during his 38 years at the helm. To accept the award on his behalf was his great grandnephew Robert Mondavi Jr.

Sommelier of the Year went to Alpana Singh of Chicago’s The Boarding House, who emphatically spoke about the incredible mentors who helped propel her on her wine career. Meanwhile, Retailer of the Year was awarded to Kroger Co., whose integration of wine and food in their expansive stores has helped democratize wine. Kysela Père et Fils accepted the Wine Star Award for Importer of the Year.

Moving on, Jacob Briars of Bacardi—known for his fun-loving approach to serious spirits education—took the stage to accept the Mixologist/Brand Ambassador of the Year award, and Master Distiller Colum Egan accepted the Spirit of the Year award for Irish whiskey producer Bushmills.

“I thank you for recognizing the passion, enthusiasm, and dedication we devote to making of the best whiskeys in the world,” said Egan, before offering a traditional Irish toast to the audience.

The first half of the evening concluded as Eric Trump, of Trump Winery in Charlottesville, Virginia accepted the Rising Star of the Year award, a new category this year, commenting on the widespread collaboration in the industry.

The award for European Winery of the Year went to Rioja’s Marque de Riscal, while the New World Winery of the Year was awarded to Australia’s Penfolds. American Winery of the Year went to Sonoma’s Rodney Strong, whose Chairman, Tom Klein, recalled his dynamic years building the iconic Sonoma brand.

Wine Region of the Year went to Paso Robles, California, which was accepted by Austin Hope, Chairman of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, and Jennifer Porter, Executive Director. The playful video highlighting the region starred actor and author Casey Biggs and had the crowd chuckling. “Clearly the time has come for us to make ridiculous contractual demands and undergo preventive surgery,” says Biggs, dubbed Paso Man, in the funny one-minute video.

Cellar master for Moët et Chandon Champagne, Benoit Gouez, accepted the Winemaker of the Year Wine Star Award.

Finishing out the evening, the Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Gianni Zonin. Entering the family business at a time when Italian winemakers focused narrowly on their own regions, Zonin’s pioneering spirit and vision was instrumental in building the largest private wine enterprise in Europe, which now exports three-quarters of its production.

“I would like to thank all 32 winemakers and agronomist who run our estates in Italy, and the 700 families working every day with my family to make this possible,” Zonin graciously said during his acceptance speech, inviting his three sons to the stage.

The final award of the evening was given to Barbara Banke for Wine Person of the Year. After her beloved husband Jess Jackson, died in April 2011, Banke became the sole proprietor of Jackson Family Wines, subsequently expanding the properties, and adding significant environmental sustainability enhancements. The first woman to win the award, Barbara now shares it with Jess, the magazine’s inaugural recipient in 2000.

As Adam Strum commented, anyone who had concern about the helming of the company after Jess Jackson’s passing, “clearly doesn’t know Barbara Banke.”

A special guest of the evening included Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, Antonin Scalia.

Check out the slideshow of photos from the glamorous evening >>>

Check out more fabulous photos from the Wine Star Awards Gala >>>

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A Wine Star Awards Gala to Remember

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