Wine Enthusiast’s 2016 Wine Star Award Winners
Seventeen years ago, the editors of Wine Enthusiast conceived an annual award program to honor individuals and companies that have contributed to the success of the wine industry.
Over the years, the size and scope of our Wine Star Awards have expanded to encompass spirits and beer, and to showcase hands-on consumer gatekeepers such as mixologists and wine directors. We recognize how multifaceted and rich the wine culture and its peripheral facets have become, and continually embrace and acknowledge the trailblazers who are impacting what you put in your glass every day.
What does it take to be a Wine Star winner? Among other attributes, energy, courage, groundbreaking vision and business acumen.
Explore the 2016 Wine Star Award Winners by clicking to the next slide
The giving nature of a world-class CEO
It isn’t always easy to grow up in the shadow of a parent who has built a successful business.
Whether it’s a question of the parent knowing how (or not) to let go, sibling rivalries or financial issues, it’s never simple knowing to judge when a son or daughter is ready to take over the reins of a modern, complex enterprise.
But if there’s an individual who’s succeeded within a multigenerational family business and a highly competitive sector, it’s Wayne E. Chaplin, chief executive officer of Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, North America’s largest wine and spirits distributor.
Under Chaplin’s leadership, Southern Glazer’s has operations in 44 states, the District of Columbia, Canada and the Caribbean. The company has more than 20,000 employees and sells more 150 million cases of wine and spirits per year.
Associates marvel of the devotion that the low-key Chaplin has to his family, friends and the charitable groups he supports.
Chaplin credits his wife, Arlene, for her loyal support and wisdom. The couple just celebrated their 30th anniversary. He also gives credit to their children.
A softer side
When asked about the most important quality that people may not know about him, Chaplin says, “From the very beginning, our family and my mentors were always, always all about giving back. For me, that having a soft center comes from having a warm heart.”
He’s extremely proud of his family’s charitable giving. Their commitment to promoting responsible consumption and aiding efforts to combat underage drinking has spread throughout the company over the years.
“We encourage our people to be involved at the local level, not just with the big charities,” he says.
For Chaplin, it’s not only about financial support for charities. He also puts in time and hard work. Chaplin is chairman of the board of trustees of Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach.
“In working closely with Wayne, he is literally the busiest person I know,” says Steven D. Sonenreich, president and CEO of the hospital. “However, with his unrelenting commitment to business, he prioritizes his family, friends and community.”
Chaplin’s support of Florida International University in Miami has helped make the Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management one of world’s best, according to Mark Rosenberg, the university’s president.
“Wayne Chaplin is a passionate supporter of the next generation of hospitality professionals, and works for a more inclusive, global and stronger industry,” he says.
Wayne and Southern Glazer’s are original sponsoring organizers of the Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival. Now in its 16th year, the annual event has raised more than $24 million, much of it for FIU student scholarships.
“What I admire most about Wayne is his common-sense approach to business,” says Pete Carr, regional president of Bacardi North America. “He truly understands how the entire business operates, as he is engaged front and center in every area.”
John Sellar, the president of importer Frederick Wildman & Sons, says, “Wayne’s dedication to the development of the wine and spirits business across the U.S. has and continues to be unparalleled. With all that he does, he still manages to balance this business dedication with his personal and philanthropic endeavors with the same vigor.”
So what’s the secret to Chaplin and his remarkable journey? What’s behind his emergence as a visionary industry leader who’s respected and known across six continents for his business acumen and generous nature?
The power of empowerment
Harvey R. Chaplin, Wayne’s father, has part of the answer: strong, decisive, principled, enlightened and compassionate parenting.
“Wayne wanted to come to Southern straight out of high school, out of college, out of law school,” says Harvey, who co-founded Southern Wine & Spirits of America in 1968 and serves today as chairman of the company. “And I kept saying to him, ‘You have nothing to offer. Nothing to offer.’ I said, ‘You’re going to be the owner’s son. What the hell are you going to offer?’ ”
So after he graduated from University of Miami School of Law, Wayne joined a leading Miami law firm. Wayne worked there until Harvey finally said one day, “Are you coming or not?”
Only then, armed with some real-world legal and business experience, did Wayne join Southern in 1984.
He started at the bottom. In the firm’s Miami warehouse, he learned the basics. Wayne became versed in everything from operations and delivery to sales and marketing to retailers and restaurateurs.
In 1987, he was promoted to vice president in charge of operations. By 1989, he rose to first vice president and chief operating officer. In 1994, he was appointed the company’s president. In July, he was named CEO of Southern Glazer’s.
“Once Wayne came in, he applied a strategy to expand to multiple states,” says Mel Dick, senior vice president and president of Southern Glazer’s wine division. “And thank goodness that he had the ability, the brilliance, and—this is the important thing—empowerment from his father and the other partners.”
Game-changing national vision
“By the late 1980s, as we saw what was happening in our industry as well as many other industries, that consolidation was rapidly unfolding, we thought we could add value to our customers and our suppliers if we could scale up to a national basis,” says Chaplin.
In the business world, often loaded with jargon and cliché, “vision” is one of its most overused terms. Yet, if one quality separates Wayne’s career from so many others in the wine and spirits industry, it was his early appreciation of the potential of a distributor if it could expand nationwide.
As the leading multistate distributor, Chaplin capitalized on this trend before many other competitors. It was his vision that transformed the company.
“It was Wayne’s vision to build a national footprint for the company and to demonstrate to suppliers how this would make sense for their businesses,” says his father. “His drive and determination is what made Southern’s combination with Glazer’s a reality, and it’s truly a game changer for the industry.”
“Wayne’s strong leadership skills, combined with his vision for collaborative and mutually beneficial partnerships, have always impressed me,” says Paul Duffy, president and CEO of Pernod Ricard North America. “His ability to clearly communicate a vision—and then achieve it—has helped him become an industry leader.”
For these professional, charitable and personal activities and achievements, and the respect, friendship and admiration of his peers, associates and employees, Wayne E. Chaplin is Wine Enthusiast’s 2016 Person of the Year.
A man to whom family means everything
Taste and smell are certainly critical faculties for many in today’s wine and spirits trade. However, for William J. Deutsch, chairman of Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits, it’s sight and hearing that take center stage.
One of the earliest memories that Deutsch recalls about his father, who emigrated from Hungary to the Astoria section of Queens, New York, is this advice: “Steal with your eyes, steal with your ears, but don’t ever go beyond those two methods of stealing.” From his mother, Deutsch was instilled with strong family values and an insistence on sincerity, honesty and integrity.
Deutsch kept his father’s advice and his mother’s values top of mind during his seven-plus decades in the wine and spirits business, His journey began in 1958 with Kutner, Weiss and Schlem, Certified Public Accountants; followed by stints at Gold Seal Winery; Austin Nichols (now Pernod Ricard) and Somerset Importers (now Moët Hennessy USA). In 1981, he launched Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits.
It was Paul Schlem’s business and financial skills absorbed by Deutsch during that first job that influenced administrative and management decisions later in his career. At Somerset, Deutsch gained countless insights into the art of selling from legendary wine importer Alexis Lichine, arguably the greatest wine salesman of his generation.
Deutsch credits Somerset’s then-president, John Heileman, with teaching him how to forge long-term partnerships with some of the country’s most demanding wine and spirits distributors.
“Before setting out on my own, I had stolen enough with my eyes and ears to give me the confidence to go,” says Deutsch.
Growing from two employees—including Deutsch himself—Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits now employs almost 250 people from its headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut.
With his son, Peter, who has served as CEO since 2007, the firm is aggressively expanding not only its core wine business, anchored by brands like Yellow Tail from Australia, Joseph Carr, The Calling and Josh Cellars from California, HobNob from France and The Crossings from New Zealand, but also its spirits portfolio.
Deutsch is adamant that the company is built on family-to-family relationships.
“Our values rest on the ‘6 Ps’ model for building brands: People, Product, Package, Price, Promotion and Potential,” he says. “The ‘P’ of ‘People’ always comes first. We are a family-owned business working with other family-owned and/or people-oriented businesses.”
“Bill and I have a longstanding relationship based on decades of mutual trust and respect for each other and our family businesses,” says John Casella, who launched Yellow Tail in 2001. “Bill’s belief in Yellow Tail from the very early days meant that together we were able to transform the wine category in the U.S. Years later, I’m proud to say our commitment to working together continues as we remain business partners, trusted colleagues and firm friends.”
Joseph Carr, the founder of Josh Cellars, says that the first time he met Deutsch, the two exchanged their stories and then, “Bill looked at me and asked me if I wanted to work together on something that might be one of the greatest projects ever. I said yes…and my life has been profoundly changed.
“We brought a brand dedicated to my father called Josh Cellars to the American marketplace, and together, we offered an authentic experience of the American Dream.”
Mel Dick, president of the wine division and senior vice president at Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits and the 2004 Wine Star Award Man of the Year, describes Deutsch as “a keep-punching, hard-charging, brilliant leader, and one of our industry’s greatest winners.”
Deutsch’s son, Peter, has worked alongside his dad for 31 years.
“He’s a pioneer who had a great vision for a small family company to work with family suppliers selling and marketing brands to family distributors,” says Peter.
For this commitment to family businesses and his countless contributions to expand the American wine and spirits universe, Wine Enthusiast is proud to bestow William Deutsch with the 2016 Wine Star Award for Lifetime Achievement. —David Lincoln Ross
The man who popularized California’s Central Coast
Find good soil. Plant the right seed. Nurture its growth. Reap the bounty. Repeat.
That’s the practice that Jerry Lohr learned from his parents while being raised on a farm in South Dakota, and that’s exactly what the Stanford graduate, Air Force captain and San Jose real estate developer did when he started his California winery in the early 1970s.
Today, after 45 years of smart and steady growth, J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines farms 4,000-plus acres in Monterey and Paso Robles. It produces more than 1.6 million cases of wine across 35 different bottlings, from exclusive single-vineyard expressions and meticulously crafted Bordeaux blends to the value-driven Seven Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon and Riverstone Chardonnay.
“It’s always been very planned, slow growth, never reaching too far, always doing the right things, and supporting the industry,” says Lohr. “Sometimes you have to be upfront in leading change, and other times, you quietly do things.”
After much research in the 1960s, Lohr realized that Monterey’s Arroyo Seco region offered quality soils, a promising climate and, quite frankly, was much closer to his Saratoga home than Napa or Sonoma.
“Everything just seemed to fit comfortable there,” says Lohr, who said the industry welcomed him when he purchased land there in 1971.
“Agriculture is quite open to people coming in and bringing new life and ideas. It’s always been a very inclusive culture.”
Lohr’s Chardonnay thrived in Monterey, as did his Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Valdigue, though he readily admits that his early efforts at Cabernet Sauvignon in such a cool zone weren’t successful.
“After correcting my mistake, and then doing another statewide search for where to grow really good Cabernet, we found Paso Robles,” says Lohr, who planted vineyards there in 1987 and erected an adjacent winery the following year.
Lohr wasn’t the first to discover which grapes worked in these regions, but what sets him apart is his savvy business acumen.
“It was our plan right from the beginning to be vertically integrated,” says Lohr, who decided to handle all of the company’s sales and marketing in-house 35 years ago. “Had I not felt that we could be financially successful, I would not have gotten into it. I came to California with a Chevy and a scholarship. We weren’t wealthy by any means. It had to be a viable business.”
That was definitely the case by the 1980s, when J. Lohr wine began to show up in grocery stores across the country. As his influence grew, Lohr served in prominent roles for California’s Wine Institute, the Monterey Winegrowers Council, the Paso Robles Vintners and Growers Association, the Monterey County Vintners and Growers Association, Wine Vision and the National Grape and Wine Initiative (he co-founded the latter three).
He’s also been honored by University of California (Davis) with an Award of Distinction (2007) by both the California State Fair (2007) and the California Wine Growers Association (2008) with Lifetime Achievement Awards.
In the 2000s, his children, born in the 1960s, entered the business, but did so only after achieving success in other fields.
“They had significant experience in other professions before they made the choice to come to the winery, which I think is very good,” says Lohr.
His life’s work is now in the trusted hands of his family and longtime employees like Jeff Meier, the director of winemaking who worked his first harvest for the company in 1983. But Lohr, who turned 80 in January, shows no signs of slowing down.
“I’m actively involved and will continue to be, not just in the winery, but in industry affairs,” says Lohr. “I’ve always loved farming, and still do.”
And he would never have chosen another path.
“The entire industry is gentle,” he says. “It’s a very pleasant and congenial profession. I don’t see it as cutthroat or extremely stressful. Everyone works hard, but that’s part of the culture.
“It’s been an incredibly good run.”
For his vision and his actions in growing, making and popularizing wines from Monterey and Paso Robles, Wine Enthusiast names Jerry Lohr an American Wine Legend. —Matt Kettmann
A winemaker who started a revolution
It’s not easy to challenge conventional wisdom or rejuvenate the reputation of a centuries-old winemaking region. But by employing the vision to craft exemplary wines and elevate Swartland, her adopted home region in South Africa, that’s exactly what Andrea Mullineux did.
Growing up in California, Mullineux wanted to be a winemaker. After she studied at University of California, Davis, and worked various winery jobs in Napa Valley, she headed to South Africa on her first overseas internship to learn more about Chenin Blanc. A stint in Châteauneuf-du-Pape followed.
Little did Mullineux know how those travels would shape the rest of her life.
While she worked in France, she fell in love with both the traditional Rhône varieties she would come to focus on, and her future husband, South African-born Chris Mullineux. They met on an excursion to Champagne while visiting a mutual friend. They moved to South Africa to take on the wine world together.
After an initial stint at Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards, where the couple worked with several Swartland winegrowers and saw the region’s tremendous potential, they opened Mullineux Family Wines in 2007. Their intent was to focus on the varieties they felt did best in the Swartland: Syrah and Chenin Blanc.
While Chris employed biodynamic techniques in the vineyards, Andrea took the reins in the winery. Through minimal intervention, she seeks to highlight the uniqueness of Swartland soils in bottlings appropriately labeled Granite, Schist, Iron and Quartz.
“I want to make honest wines that are representative of where they are from, but also have the common thread of quality running through them,” says Andrea.
Seeking to raise the profile of the region, the couple teamed up with fellow winemakers Adi Badenhorst, Callie Louw and Eben Sadie in 2010 as members of the Swartland Independent Producers (SIP) organization to start The Swartland Revolution, a symposium and festival that celebrated the appellation’s wines.
“It was clear to us that most people still considered the region one for bulk-wine production, and we wanted those people to come out and see for themselves,” says Andrea.
The following five iterations sold out within minutes, and Andrea rose to celebrity status among savvy wine consumers. The event has since expanded to celebrate the larger SIP group. Meanwhile, her wines garnered international attention and demand.
“Andrea is one of the most focussed and precise winemakers that I know,” says Badenhorst. “She has a clear understanding of the type of wine she wants to make, and the quality of fruit that is required to do this.”
In just nine years, Mullineux (the brand) has become widely recognized as a benchmark producer, earning critical acclaim and mass appeal. Today, Andrea is responsible for the winery’s array of bottlings, from the entry-level Kloof Street selections to the core Mullineux lineup and its Single Terroir Range.
“Andrea’s due diligence and attention to detail have made her an excellent winemaker and interpreter of terroir,” says importer Fran Kysela, MS, of Kysela Père et Fils.
Mullineux is also a member of the prestigious Cape Winemakers Guild, where she’s one of just two active female members.
Not one to rest on her laurels, Mullineux is always looking for new and creative wine projects.
In 2011, she started Fog Monster wines in California, which aims to highlight the coastal fog’s influence on the state’s viticulture.
Even bigger moves came in 2013, when a new partner, Analjit Singh, joined the team. Together, as Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines, their new Franschhoek-based brand is scheduled to launch at the end of this year.
For her outstanding wines, collaborative efforts to revolutionize a region and constant drive to be a better winemaker, Wine Enthusiast recognizes Andrea Mullineux as its 2016 Winemaker of the Year. —Lauren Buzzeo
A food-industry exec leads a huge turnaround at Treasury Wine Estates.
Everyone knows food and wine naturally go together. So in 2014, it shouldn’t have been a surprise when Australia’s Treasury Wine Estates named Michael Clarke its managing director and chief executive officer.
After all, Clarke held senior roles at food giants like Kraft Foods and Coca-Cola in a career that’s spanned 20-plus years and four continents.
But in an earnings call after the announcement, stock analysts questioned his credentials. Clarke, 51, had no experience in the wine trade.
At the time, Treasury Wine Estates was trying to recover from a series of financial woes that had made it a takeover target for several private equity players.
“I stepped into a business that was literally fighting for survival in its current form,” says Clarke. “I had to convince our shareholders that Treasury Wine Estates was a business worth backing and that there was real value we could unlock—value our shareholders should benefit from, not private equity.”
Those skeptical stock analysts were forced to reconsider their initial reservations.
Clarke seems always in motion. In the last 20 years, he’s worked in Switzerland, Sydney, London, Houston and his native South Africa.
He also has a history of leading fast turnarounds. Clarke guided the resurgence of the publicly traded, London-based company Premier Foods Plc, maker of such iconic British sweets as Mr. Kipling cakes and Ambrosia puddings.
But Clarke doesn’t think of himself as a turnaround artist.
“I’m really in the business of building brands,” he says.
In that capacity, he’s focused on Treasury’s premium and luxury wines.
“I’ve worked with some of the best brands in the world, starting at Reebok, and then Coca-Cola, Kraft, and Premier Foods,” he says. “In some cases, there was some ‘fixing’ or ‘turning around’ that needed to happen, but they all had the DNA and the core ingredients to be great businesses, with strong brands at their heart.”
Clarke keeps squeezing costs and divesting lower-priced winery’s from the company’s portfolio while investing in premium priced brands. He’s lead reinvestment in 15 global priority brands and introduced “FMCG” (Fast-Moving Consumer Goods) principles to the wine business.
“When I changed the annual release of the Penfolds (Grange) collection from two dates in March and May to a single date in October to take advantage of seasonal gifting opportunities, there were plenty of people both inside and outside the business who thought it would never work,” he says. “But two years on, and the company is seeing the upside of this change in financial and global-branding terms.”
Over the past 12 months, the stock price of Treasury (ticker symbol: TWE) on the Australian Securities Exchange has nearly doubled. And one of his harshest critics, Bank of America Merrill Lynch analyst David Errington, who originally tore into Clarke’s appointment, has come around. The U.S. business now accounts for 44 percent of Treasury’s net sales and 36 percent of its earnings.
On an October 2015 conference call after Clarke continued driving Treasury’s portfolio upscale by acquiring Diageo’s Napa Valley iconic B.V. and Sterling Vineyards. Errington labeled the $660 million acquisition “compelling.” He told Clarke, “We trust you.”
Clarke, in turn, trusts consumers.
“There is a belief that consumers have no loyalty to brands, and that they are naturally promiscuous,” says Clarke. “I don’t believe this. I think there is enormous opportunity to build wine brands as ‘trust marks’ that consumers want to keep coming back to.”
He’s looking to Asia and the Americas to supply continued growth.
“My plans are to see this company reach its full potential,” he says. “Two years on, we’ve fixed the foundation of the core business. I’m having fun now, and I want to continue what we started.” —Leslie Gevirtz
Environmental ethos and high quality pay off for Bonterra
After 25 vintages making high-quality wine from eco-friendly grapes grown in California’s rugged Mendocino County, Bonterra Organic Vineyards has become an unequivocal success.
Long known for pioneering organic vineyard practices and creating one of the few national brands built on an environmental ethos, Bonterra endured many years of slow growth.
But, in 2011, Brown-Forman, better known for making Jack Daniels whiskey than wine, sold Bonterra and its parent company, Fetzer, to the Concha y Toro wine company of Chile.
With new management but largely the same vineyard sources and winemakers, Bonterra went from tepid to boiling over the last five years. Wine Enthusiast recently rated a trio of high-end Bonterra wines at more than 90 points, and consumers also showed their love, raising the brand’s retail sales 18 percent, according to Nielsen.
All those years of practice were hardly a waste, says wine industry analyst Jon Moramarco of bw166.com.
“Too many wineries change too often, and everyone in the trade gets confused about the message,” he says. “But I think Bonterra’s success begins with quality. They produce a very high-quality wine at a good price point.”
Bonterra’s best-selling $16 varietal wines are Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, which have garnered Wine Enthusiast scores as high as 91 in recent vintages, as did the 2012 Pinot Noir.
Also in Wine Enthusiast, two of the new small-lot wines earned 92 points: The 2012 Merlot-dominated red blend from the McNab Vineyard ($55, Cellar Selection), and a 2012 Chardonnay called The Roost from Blue Heron Vineyard ($45, Editors’ Choice). A Rhône-style red blend, The Butler ($55), earned a score of 91 points and was designated a Cellar Selection.
Bonterra Winemaker Jeff Cichocki (pronounced sigh-hockey) joined the company in 2007. He worked alongside founding winemaker Bob Blue before he took charge of the Bonterra wines five years ago.
“We’ve made incremental changes in wine style and quality, but it really comes down to good fruit sourcing,” says Cichocki.
Bonterra farms more than 1,000 acres of certified organic or biodynamic vines, and also buys certified grapes from other growers. Synthetic herbicides and fertilizers are forbidden, replaced by sheep to “mow” the weeds and compost to enrich the soil.
“People are more sensitive about their food and drinks now,” he says. “That’s great, because we’ve been organic for over 25 years, and it’s part of our nature to do this anyway. Our goal is not to make the best organically grown wine, but to make the best wine and know that it comes from organic grapes, too.”
Giancarlo Bianchetti, chief executive officer of Fetzer and Bonterra, says the key ingredients are the company’s heritage of its organic approach, the passion that has been reinvigorated in the vineyard and winery teams, and a focus on quality and innovation.
“We were experimenting for nearly 30 years since the first organic vineyards were planted, so that allowed us to be ready for today’s consumers,” says Bianchetti.
“We did 440,000 cases in 2015, and our objective is to pass 500,000 cases,” he says. “We’re quite close. Our biggest investment has been the focus on the Bonterra brand.”
In recognition of its outstanding quality wines, fast-rising popularity among consumers and leadership in environmentally sensitive grape growing, Wine Enthusiast is pleased to recognize Bonterra Organic Vineyards as its 2016 American Winery of the Year. —Jim Gordon
A driving force behind the spread of Austria’s Grüner Veltliner
Austria may be tiny, but it gives the world one of its most drinkable and versatile white wines: Grüner Veltliner. And few wineries have done more to bring this variety to the world’s attention than R & A Pfaffl, a family-owned estate in the Weinviertel region just north of Vienna.
Most consumers know R & A Pfaffl for its consumer-friendly brand, The Dot, with its disarmingly simple labels and cheeky product names, like Austrian Pepper Grüner Veltliner and Austrian Cherry Zweigelt. But R & A Pfaffl also produces long-lived reserve wines that are among the best in the country. Even more notable is the trajectory of the winery, its family ethos and its effect on the region.
When Roman Pfaffl took over the family estate from his parents in 1978, it was a mixed farm, home to livestock, grain and potatoes. There were fewer than two acres of vines. At the time, everyone in the Weinviertel sold their own wine in local heurigen (inns), made from a few vines to augment their incomes.
Roman had more ambitious plans. Together with his wife, Adelheid, he worked tirelessly to build a modern business, initially selling wine in their own heurige. Beyond boundless energy, elbow grease and determination, Roman also had vision. He understood Grüner Veltliner’s potential as an authentic, indigenous wine, and he knew it had to be marketed as such.
“We love Grüner Veltliner, not only because we think it special, but because it can have so many different faces,” says Roman. “Its scintillating character fascinates us, and that is what we want to share with the world.”
Roman and Adelheid traveled to other European wine regions, implementing at home what they learned. Pfaffl was one of the region’s first wineries to lower yields and raise quality, and also one of the first to bottle and export its wines.
Pfaffl’s holdings and reputation grew steadily, but Roman reinvested back into the estate, modernizing and growing constantly. During the 1980s, he became known as “Mr. Veltliner.”
Working with like-minded growers, Pfaffl was instrumental in the creation of Austria’s first Districtus Austriae Controllatus (DAC) in 2002. The adoption of this provenance-based appellation for the Weinviertel was an immediate success, and it ignited a regional quality revolution. It set a standard and put the Weinviertel on the international map.
Today, the family owns more than 200 acres of vines across 11 nearby villages and exports to more than 20 countries. Could there be a better or more accessible ambassador for Austria’s best-loved grape?
Along the way, another generation of Pfaffls joined the estate. Their daughter, Heidemarie “Heidi” Fischer, came on board in 1997 and now runs the marketing and sales side of the business. Son Roman Josef joined in 2004, and he looks after vineyards and winemaking.
Working alongside their parents, they describe the intergenerational collaboration as an exciting mix of experience and fresh ideas.
“A strong work ethic simply runs in the family,” says Fischer. “We don’t feel we’ve reached our goals yet. My brother Roman is extremely ambitious and constantly fine-tunes everything he does. We also want to grow a little more, and I want to reflect all of this in my own work of marketing and sales. It’s about constant development.”
The family continues to shape what Weinviertel means and are ambassadors for both for their region and Austria. For these impressive achievements, Wine Enthusiast is pleased to name R & A Pfaffl our 2016 European Winery of the Year. —Anne Krebiehl, MW
Leading the New Zealand category to new heights
Twenty years ago, before the name would become synonymous with a globally recognized wine brand, Kim Crawford was a man…a winemaker with a dream of starting his own label and seeing it grow into a business that would carry his name. With his wife, Erica, and $20,000 in startup money, Kim made 4,000 cases of wine.
Today, the brand carrying the Kim Crawford name is the leading New Zealand wine sold in the United States. By the end of 2016, parent company Constellation Brands estimates it will have sold more than one million cases of Kim Crawford wine in the U.S., up 18 percent from the previous year.
It’s now the number one grossing Sauvignon Blanc in the U.S., according to Julie Rossman, Constellation’s global marketing director.
It’s a success story that mirrors the growth of New Zealand wine, but its roots go back to Kim and Erica, who decided early on that the U.S. showed great potential and was going to be a focus.
“Our first shipment was in 1997,” says Erica. “At 4,000 cases in 2000, we were the third-biggest New Zealand brand in the U.S. . . . One of our very first accounts was Commander’s Palace in New Orleans.
“During those early years, we traveled a lot, probably spending five or six weeks each in the U.S.,” she says. “Most people had no idea where New Zealand was—we always carried a world map.”
Thanks to that hard work and the wine quality to back it up, the winery grew quickly, producing 86,000 cases in 2002. The Crawfords sold the brand to Canada-based Vincor International the following year to finance additional expansion.
Under the terms of the agreement, both Crawfords agreed to stay on through 2008, Kim to oversee winemaking and Erica to handle marketing.
In 2006, Constellation Brands acquired Vincor for $1.31 billion. The deal included Kim Crawford, Washington’s Hogue Cellars, California’s R.H. Phillips and Canada’s Inniskillin, among others. In hindsight, it’s seems likely that the New Zealand brand has returned the greatest value to shareholders.
Key to the brand’s success has been its consistency. From its beginnings, the emphasis has been on fruit-forward, crowd-pleasing wines.
“It’s down to the style we’ve set and tried to maintain,” says Anthony Walkenhorst, the current winemaker. “I was never going to come in and put my stamp on the core range.”
Walkenhorst joined Kim Crawford in 2005. He worked alongside the founder for his first three years.
“Coming from Australia, I’d only made Sauvignon Blanc once before,” says Walkenhorst. “I really learned a lot from Kim.”
Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is what put Kim Crawford on the map, but the winery isn’t a one-wine wonder. The other offerings in the core range include an unoaked Chardonnay, Marlborough Pinot Gris and Marlborough Pinot Noir. A rosé, made from Hawke’s Bay Merlot, will rollout nationwide in 2017.
“To my mind, there’s a common theme of being fruit forward, especially in the core range,” says Walkenhorst.
Where Walkenhorst and his winemaking team have more freedom is in the limited-production Small Parcels range. It incudes a traditional-method sparkling wine (2009: 88 points, $35), a Pinot Gris partially fermented and aged in acacia barrels, a wild-yeast fermented Chardonnay (2014: 91 points, $30), a more concentrated Sauvignon Blanc (2013: 91 points, $26) and a single-vineyard Pinot Noir from Central Otago (2013: 89 points, $33).
“The focus at Kim Crawford has, and will always be, quality first, which has led the brand to become the powerhouse it is today,” says Rossman.
For that consistent quality and meteoric rise to the top of the wine charts, Wine Enthusiast recognizes Kim Crawford as its 2016 New World Winery of the Year. —Joe Czerwinski
Creating a hotbed for investment, growth, high-quality products and innovation
Just a year ago, this section of Oregon less than an hour from Portland marked the 50th anniversary of its first Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris vines, planted by Eyrie Vineyards’s David Lett.
Today, Willamette Valley is home to 530 wineries, and planted vineyards account for just under 20,000 acres. This year, the American Viticultural Area (AVA), first approved in 1983, expanded to include industry leader King Estate within its borders.
Recent investments by French and California-based powerhouses, notably Louis Jadot and Jackson Family, continue a trend that shows no sign of slowing.
The vintners who first explored the valley’s potential were pioneers. There was no history to build upon, no grapes to purchase to produce wines while they waited for new vineyards to bear fruit. Only one of the first dozen or so vintners had any agricultural experience.
David Adelsheim, who broke ground at Quarter Mile Lane in 1972, recalls that to compensate for their lack of experience, the young vintners agreed early on to focus on making the highest possible quality.
“We collaborated, meeting monthly to talk about such things as vine spacing, training, weed control, where to buy posts and wire,” he says. “We made up for our lack of knowledge by everyone sharing what knowledge they had.”
It quickly became clear that Pinot Noir was the horse to ride in the global race for recognition. In 1979, the Eyrie Vineyards 1975 South Block Pinot Noir placed in the top 10 at the Gault-Millau French Wine Olympiad, a result that was confirmed at a rematch in Beaune the following winter.
More milestones would follow. Dundee Hills vineyard land was purchased by Maison Joseph Drouhin in 1987, the same year of the inaugural International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC). The formal commitment to the Low Input Viticulture and Enology (LIVE) program would come in 1997.
In 2002, the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified winery building was completed at Sokol-Blosser.
Outside investment has accelerated, propelled by the recognition that Willamette Valley Pinot Noir can challenge Burgundy in its ability to capture the nuance and power of the grape. Climate change, affordable land, an appealing lifestyle and increasing demand have come together to create a great opportunities.
No producer has jumped in more aggressively than Jackson Family Wines. Beginning with its 2013 purchase of 1,385 acres of established vineyards, the company has quickly built a portfolio, purchasing Penner-Ash and WillaKenzie. Jackson Family Wines also bought Solena’s winemaking facility and vineyard (though brand ownership remains with Laurent Montalieu) and is now developing Oregon headquarters and winemaking facility in McMinnville.
Producers like Precept Brands, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, Foley Family Wines and individuals like Judy Jordan (who recently sold J Vineyards to Gallo), Master Sommeliers Rajat Parr (Evening Land) and Larry Stone (Lingua Franca), and Leonetti Cellar’s Chris Figgins are putting stakes in the ground.
“[The 2004 movie] Sideways gave a level of importance to that variety from outside of Burgundy that we had known in our hearts, but had never seen in our sales numbers,” says Adelsheim. “That gave us entry into places we never would have had access to.”
For the outstanding quality of its wines, the resulting international recognition and the tectonic shifts in wine investments these have engendered, Wine Enthusiast is pleased to name Oregon’s Willamette Valley as its 2016 Wine Region of the Year. —Paul Gregutt
Nine decades of innovation and unflinching focus on quality
For an importer with a long history, Frederick Wildman and Sons, Ltd., has always been about innovation.
A decorated officer of World War I, Frederick S. Wildman Sr. first cultivated a taste for Europe’s greatest wines and spirits during periodic furloughs. He was such a quick and authoritative study of France’s greatest vinous treasures that he came to the attention of Gen. John J. Pershing—head of the American Expeditionary Force. Following the Armistice, Pershing took advantage of Wildman’s connoisseurship to order Lt. Wildman to handle beverage requisitions for all his official entertainments.
Once back home in Danbury, Connecticut, Wildman spent a decade in his family’s insurance business and a brief stint in banking, but with the repeal of Prohibition he seized the chance to make a business out of what had been a personal love of fine wine. In 1933, Wildman acquired Bellows & Co., a prominent wine importer and food purveyor. A year later, Wildman launched his eponymous venture.
By the eve of his retirement in 1971, Wildman could never have imagined the remarkable transformation of the New York-based company he launched during the depths of the Depression.
For all the changes in the intervening decades, the “Colonel”—as he became known following distinguished service in World War II—would still have appreciated one value that animates the company 82 years later: a focus on only the highest quality brands.
Indeed, from the 1930s through the late 1960s, the Colonel crisscrossed Europe seeking out winemakers of the highest repute. Many of them remain with Wildman to this day, including Champagne Pol Roger, Christian Moreau in Chablis and Château Fuissé in the Maconnais.
Wildman’s growth continued in the 1970s and 1980s. By 1989, under the leadership of Richard Cacciato, then the new President of Wildman, Grupo Italian Vini added its range of dynamic Italian classics including Melini, Santi and Folonari to the firm’s portfolio. Growth continued for the next three decades; in 2014, Cacciato retired and was succeeded by Rocco Lombardo, who left the company in 2015.
In November 2016, the expansion continued with the announcement that Vidal-Fleury joined the Wildman portfolio. The Rhône Valley’s oldest continuing grower/négociant firm joins a portfolio now totaling more than 50 brands, including Chartreuse, Edinburgh Gin, Egon Müller, Glazebrook, Pascal Jolivet and Pig’s Nose Scotch.
John Sellar, Frederick Wildman’s president, says the importer’s focus is described in its mission statement.
“Pursuing the vision of our namesake founder, Frederick Wildman and Sons is dedicated to sourcing, distributing and marketing the world’s finest wines and spirits to provide profit to our partner suppliers and distributors, a livelihood for our employees and pleasure to wine and spirit lovers throughout the United States.”
Looking ahead, Sellar says, “Our unique makeup of shareholder family brands and national distribution network positions us perfectly for strong, innovative growth.”
While the portfolio is based on such longtime suppliers as Christian Moreau and Olivier Leflaive, growth will come from recent additions, like Vidal-Fleury, Hewitson and Lungarotti, alongside a growing spirits lineup.
“Our portfolio with vital new suppliers complements our roster of stellar and second-to-none shareholders and partners,” says Martin Sinkoff, Wildman’s director of marketing.
He’s optimistic about Wildman’s position in an ever-more-competitive marketplace.
“We have now the best marketing team in our industry and offer services to our suppliers, sales managers, client distributors and retail customers that include Internet, social media, event planning, creative services, education, brand planning and promotion, competitive set analysis,” says Sinkoff.
Accordingly, and in tribute to that familiar Wildman oval—created by the Colonel and featured on every bottle that the company imports—the editors of Wine Enthusiast are pleased to recognize Frederick Wildman and Sons, Ltd., as its 2016 Importer of the Year. —David Lincoln Ross
A chain emulating fine wine shops
It was a tall order when Raley’s Family of Fine Stores decided three years ago to revamp its wine and spirits program.
At the time, the family-owned grocery company operated 115 stores spread throughout Northern California and Northern Nevada, which encompassed three brands: Raley’s, Nob Hill and Bel-Air.
Founded in 1935, Raley’s was long considered an upscale chain, but it wasn’t necessarily seen as a wine-shopping destination to customers. That’s especially troublesome in California, where alcoholic beverages are available in virtually all food and convenience stores.
But the company, headed by Michael Teel, the CEO and grandson of founder Tom Raley, decided to make a seismic change. The first step was to hire a young beverage director named Curtis Mann.
Mann had worked for two Napa Valley wineries and a fine wine shop. He also spent several years as wine specialist for IRi Worldwide, which monitors and analyzes off-premise beverage sales. He’s currently preparing to sit the theory portion of the Masters of Wine examination in June.
Under Mann’s direction and the support of Keith Knopf, the company’s chief operating officer who came onboard in 2015, Raley’s overhauled its formerly staid wine program.
“Raley’s always had high-end wine, but we wanted an atmosphere more like a high-end wine shop,” says Mann.
The company converted 30 stores to include “wine shops.” Mann began to source an expanded lineup of wine, beer and spirits from around the world. He sought out midsize and smaller distributors to add diversity to its selections, and embraced more small producers, classic international brands and interesting appellations.
He also began to blind-taste every wine before he agreed to stock it.
Raley’s created two flagship stores, one in Napa and one in South Reno, Nevada. These hubs brought in 500 additional selections, which covered key wine regions of the world like Bordeaux, Barolo and Burgundy, and also added German Rieslings and Austrian wines beyond Grüner Veltliner.
Perhaps most importantly, Mann began to hire specialized wine stewards. The company employs workers with Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET) Level 2 certificates or higher at 30 stores. Raley’s pays for its workers’ schooling to Level 2, and some are advancing into Level 3 studies. The wine stewards sell wine, of course, but also consult with customers, host weekly educational tastings and more.
All of this has taken time and money, but Knopf approves.
“We didn’t view it as a financial risk,” he says, “We thought of it as an improvement for our customers. Our goal is to have a best-in-class shopping experience for our customers, and the wine, beer and spirits category is a very important one for that approach.
“[Mann] has been a big part of this evolution. He has tremendous passion, tremendous knowledge and has done a great job of curating wines from around the world that align well with younger customers.”
The changes have borne fruit in the 18 months or so, says Knopf, as the chain has grown to 120 stores.
“We have a very strong trend on sales, customer service and profitability at the bottom line,” says Knopf. “We are meeting or exceeding all our expectations on a financial level.”
Michele Kawamoto Perry, senior director of fine wine business development at importer Palm Bay International, says that the changes at Raley’s reflect overall trends in the industry. Perry says that Mann’s prior experience made him well qualified to lead the transition.
“With his in-depth understanding of trends and extensive knowledge about wine, Curtis was well prepared to challenge the conventional set,” says Perry.
For having the courage to reimagine its wine & spirits category and the expertise to turn it into a thriving business, Wine Enthusiast names Raley’s Family of Fine Stores as its Retailer of the Year. –Jim Gordon
Creating hospitality’s “greatest wine program”
The next time you sit down to a meal at one of the 92 restaurants and wine bars operated by Las Vegas-based MGM Resorts International, keep in mind that the person who ordered the wine you’re drinking might have cooked your food, had things gone according to his original plan.
As a student in the late 1990s at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, Jason L. Smith had dreams of being a chef. However, a mandatory course in wine education changed Smith’s path from a life of hot kitchens, cuts and burns to one based on vineyards, decanters and teaching budding sommeliers about wine.
“That class blew my mind,” says Smith, now 39. “Learning to appreciate the flavors and all the extras that come with wine, it made me want to study more. I took a job that summer in a local wine shop, and that’s when the light bulb went off in my head. I decided to focus my career on wine.”
Smith graduated with a culinary degree, but he never pursued a career behind the stove. Instead, he launched into a wine career that quickly had him at some of the country’s most famous restaurants and in America’s top wine-driven cities.
His first job out of college was as a cellar master at the storied ‘21’ Club in New York City. That led to a sommelier gig at Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago, where the late chef taught him to “aim for perfection while thinking broader.”
In 2004, Smith moved on to Aspen, Colorado, where he was the restaurant manager and sommelier at the five-star luxury resort, The Little Nell. There, mentored by master sommeliers Richard Betts and Jay Fletcher, Smith became a certified MS in 2005.
Next up for Smith was Las Vegas, where he joined the MGM team as a sommelier at Michael Mina’s restaurant in the Bellagio Hotel & Casino and later became wine director for the entire Bellagio establishment.
Since 2008, Smith has held his current title: executive director of wine for MGM Resorts International, where he oversees wine programs at 20 properties and more than 50 sommeliers, mostly in Las Vegas.
“I want to create the greatest wine program possible, and to do that, I want to hire the best talent,” Smith says. “I want to focus on education and training, and I want to source the best wines possible from every corner of the wine world.”
Chief among Smith’s self-imposed responsibilities is to create what he calls a culture of wine at MGM.
“My ultimate goal is to hire a team of somms who want to make a career in this business,” says Smith. “We want our sommeliers to be excited about wine. I want them to talk to their friends and tell them how much they love their jobs.
“The more excited and educated they are, the more knowledge about growers, wineries, wine regions and wine history they will absorb.”
Given that MGM Resorts booked a whopping 30 million restaurant covers in 2015, Smith understands that wine is an important revenue source for the hospitality chain.
“We’re still pretty classical in what we pour, “ he says. “The majority is California Chardonnay and Cabernet, followed by other California wines, followed by other American wines, and then French wines. We do have a sizable international clientele [about 16 percent, according to a spokesperson], and they want to try American wines when they’re here.”
They’ve certainly come to the right place. For his vision in leading MGM Resorts International’s gargantuan wine program, Wine Enthusiast names Jason L. Smith MS as its Sommelier/Wine Director of the Year. —Michael Schachner
An enduring icon of American spirits
Those who know Bourbon know Jimmy Russell. Affectionately known in the spirits industry as “The Buddha of Bourbon,” Jimmy has devoted more than six decades to Kentucky’s Wild Turkey, where he continues to serve as master distiller.
Thanks to him and his son, Eddie Russell—the only active father-son master distilling team—Wild Turkey continues to thrive in the increasingly crowded American whiskey marketplace.
Wild Turkey’s roots go back to 1855, although back then it was a grocery business in Brooklyn, New York, specializing in teas, coffee and spices. Following Prohibition, Austin, Nichols & Company shed the grocery business and became the Austin Nichols Distilling Company. It launched the Wild Turkey brand in 1940.
In 1954, Jimmy Russell, then just 19 years old, joined Wild Turkey, where he learned his craft from distillers who had been making Bourbon since before Prohibition. Jimmy has said that he drank in their knowledge—literally and figuratively—and became a pioneer in establishing Bourbon as a premium product.
Under Jimmy’s stewardship, Wild Turkey introduced several new Bourbon bottlings, including Rare Breed and Kentucky Spirit. He also created a line of rye whiskies, including Russell’s Reserve, and a best-selling liqueur, Wild Turkey American Honey. He still travels the world extensively as a goodwill ambassador for Wild Turkey and Kentucky Bourbon.
Eddie follows in his father’s footsteps. With more than 30 years of his own at Wild Turkey, he is building a further legacy. Most recently, he rolled out the limited-edition Master’s Keep Bourbon, aged 17 years.
One reason Wild Turkey has endured is because it has stayed true to its original product.
Eddie says that during the vodka craze of the 1970s and ’80s, many whiskey makers crafted lower-proof formulas to compete, moving from traditional 100-proof recipes to 80 proof.
“Jimmy said, ‘I’m not changing,’ ” says Eddie. “For Jimmy, it’s about having a lot of taste and character [in the whiskey].”
Wild Turkey 101, the company’s flagship, remains a top seller. And in recent years, a trend toward higher-proof whiskies in pursuit of bolder flavor has proven Jimmy’s instincts correct.
Although Wild Turkey has long been under the umbrella of parent companies with broad, international spirits portfolios, it has managed to retain its individual identity. That helped it resonate with bartenders and consumers, including millennials. Owned by Campari USA since 2009, Eddie acknowledges the benefits such ownership provides, including global distribution. Australia represents Wild Turkey’s biggest export market.
Of course, Jimmy Russell’s presence has helped Wild Turkey remain a beloved brand.
“Jimmy’s had a big part in it,” says Eddie. “We’re the only ones who never changed our recipe, since 1962, since Jimmy’s been here, aging it longer.”
The brand’s strategic collaboration with actor Matthew McConaughey will further the reach of the legacy spirit. A series of mini documentaries conceived and directed by McConaughey features the Russells, who remain the heart and soul of the Wild Turkey brand.
“Jimmy’s always said we’re gong to do it the right way, not the easiest way or fastest way,” says Eddie.
For spirits producers today, it can be a challenge to expand global reach while retaining brand authenticity. Wild Turkey has managed to achieve this balance. And that’s why it is Wine Enthusiast’s 2016 Spirit Brand of the Year. —Kara Newman
The co-founders of Speed Rack, bartending’s must-attend event
Speed Rack, a cocktail competition that features female bartenders and benefits charities that combat breast cancer, is a fast-paced, frenetic contest. It is, after all, about who can make a cocktail fastest and best, but it’s also a showcase for up-and-coming bartenders.
“It’s created a platform for women to stand on,” says Speed Rack co-founder Ivy Mix, also co-owner/head bartender at Leyenda in Brooklyn, New York. “There’s a good-will nature [to] Speed Rack that lets people’s colors shine. It’s good for the industry in general.”
Heading into its sixth season, Speed Rack is the brainchild of Mix and Lynnette Marrero, beverage director at Brooklyn’s Llama Inn. When the two began to brainstorm, Marrero was head of the New York City chapter of LUPEC (Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails), an organization that promotes women in the spirits industry and raises funds for charities.
In 2011, the two created Speed Rack. More than 700 women have competed and nearly $500,000 has been raised for charities devoted to breast cancer research, education and prevention. Organizations like the Avon Foundation, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, SHARE Cancer Support and The Carey Foundation have benefited from the event.
While the event showcases women, some of the best-known men in the industry volunteer as barbacks. They often wear pink bandannas to support breast cancer charities and help behind the bar as competitors mix drinks with astonishing speed. A mixed audience cheers participants and downs cocktails enthusiastically, and the judging box is also co-ed.
“The bartending community is one of the most supportive communities in the world,” says Marrero. “When you think something isn’t possible, they come together and make it happen. They have so much to give and are willing to support each other. It’s one of the most connected global networks.”
In addition to head-to-head competitions in major U.S. cities and events in Canada and the UK, Speed Rack looks to expand into Asia and Australia next year.
“Women there are prominent in global competitions,” says Marrero, pointing to the growing ranks of female bartenders in the regions, including American bartenders relocating to Asia’s thriving bar scene. “There are so many credible Speed Rackers out there. We want to create somewhere the community can come together and celebrate each other and support charities.”
For their role in building an organization that supports and showcases women in the bartending industry while benefiting charities, Wine Enthusiast is proud to name Lynnette Marrero and Ivy Mix as its 2016 Mixologists of the Year. —Kara Newman
The brewery that put the 805 on the nation’s beer map
Back in 1996, when Adam Firestone and David Walker launched a brewery in an unused barrel room behind their family’s Firestone Winery, they claimed that Firestone Walker’s Double Barrel Ale was “what we drink around here.” They were referring to California’s Central Coast, a region known far more for wine than beer, and their claim was far more aspirational than true.
Boutique brewing was on the rise, but Firestone Walker’s novel use of oak barrels recycled from the neighboring winery, was both a throwback to English traditions (Walker is British) and an efficiency-minded cost savings.
“When we started, the notion of craft beer was eccentric and obscure, so all ambitions were wild dreams,” said Walker, who simply wanted to make the go-to beer for Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo.
“In truth, our roots in the wine business calibrated our expectations, and the thought of a small but influential brewery would be a home run to us,” he says.
As the flagship Double Barrel Ale improved, production steadily grew under the care of Matt Bryndilson, the brewmaster. Other offerings took root, including Union Jack IPA, the Pale 31 and the Velvet Merlin Stout. The company acquired SLO Brewing Company and Humboldt Brewing, and moved its operations to Paso Robles.
Then, in 2012, the brewery rebranded its award-winning blonde ale as 805 Beer, a nod to the region’s area code. Sold in cans, bottles and on tap, it exploded across the Central Coast, followed by the rest of California.
“[The] 805 was our signal to our local communities that we love who we are and who we represent,” says Walker. “The community responded and confirmed what we thought—that 805 is a lifestyle and a powerful cultural force in California. The rest is all about feeding that appetite.”
In 2013, to get ahead of the growing barrel-aged and wild-beer phenomena, Firestone Walker rehired Jeffers Richardson, who came up with the initial Double Barrel Ale formula almost 20 years earlier. With the help of “Sour Jim” Crooks, the company launched Barrelworks, a small-batch tasting room and blending center, inside one of their earliest facilities in Buellton, where today there are more than a dozen special brews on tap.
Amidst such steady growth and creative expansions, Walker and Firestone realized that they needed help to grow to the next level.
“Having spent 20 years shaking every available pocket for loans, we needed the real world for some generational debt to expand to our next chapter brewery,” says Walker. “We sought out a brewer as a partner, which brought us to a very short list: family-owned, independent, small and firmly connected to beer culture and quality. [Belgian brewer] Duvel Moortgat and the Moortgat family filled that void. We are happily married.”
Details of the investment have never been made public, but it triggered almost instant expansion at Firestone Walker’s Paso Robles headquarters. It now includes a restaurant, tasting room and enlarged retail store.
Twenty years later, Firestone Walker, which produced 350,000 barrels in 2016, is indeed “what we drink around here,” but that saying now goes beyond California’s Central Coast.
“We like to say, ‘We’ll never make a perfect beer,’ and that endless chase fuels the entire brewery,” says Walker. “Our team is soaked in beer culture and [is] with us because they choose to be and love the life of a craft brewer. Everyone caring about the process and the outcome is the key.”
For the team’s long record of innovation and growth, Wine Enthusiast is pleased to name Firestone Walker its 2016 Brewery of the Year. —Matt Kettmann
- 1Person of the Year: Wayne E. Chaplin
- 2Lifetime Achievement Award: William J. Deutsch
- 3American Wine Legend: Jerry Lohr
- 4Winemaker of the Year: Andrea Mullineux
- 5Winery Executive of the Year 2016: Michael Clarke
- 6American Winery of the Year: Bonterra Organic Vineyards
- 7European Winery of the Year: R & A Pfaffl
- 8New World Winery of the Year: Kim Crawford
- 9Wine Region of the Year: Willamette Valley, Oregon
- 10Importer of the Year: Frederick Wildman and Sons, Ltd.
- 11Retailer of the Year: Raley’s Family of Fine Stores
- 12Sommelier/Wine Director of the Year: Jason L. Smith, MS
- 13Spirit Brand of the Year: Wild Turkey
- 14Mixologists of the Year: Lynnette Marrero and Ivy Mix
- 15Brewery of the Year: Firestone Walker Brewing Company