Wine Enthusiast's 2017 Wine Star Award Winners
Eighteen 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 2017 Wine Star Award Winners by clicking to the next slide.
Louis “Bob” Trinchero and Roger Trinchero are well known and respected in the wine business for their giant California wine brands that include Ménage à Trois and Sutter Home. However, they’re perhaps even more respected by their employees and community members, a tribute that stems from lessons learned long before their family winery hit the big time.
Bob and Roger were children in 1947 when their father and uncle bought the Sutter Home winery in St. Helena, California, and moved the family from New York City to Napa Valley. Bob, 10 years older than Roger, became involved immediately in winemaking at the most basic level. Roger and their sister, Vera Trinchero Torres, would follow into family business when they were old enough.
Located on Main Street in St. Helena, Sutter Home was a small operation at the outset. In those early days, it sold 65 percent of its production direct to locals and passersby. That hands-on experience inspired the brothers later to take care of their employees as if they were family members.
“Since Roger and I and the family have worn all the hats, we were appreciative of our employees who were doing the work we once did,” says Bob. “We thought to ourselves if they are going to dedicate 20 or 30 years of their lives to our family, we should treat them right.”
The family instituted a profit-sharing program for employees many years ago.
“Today we have one of the best 401(k) plans in the industry, and we continue to contribute to the plan,” says Roger, the chairman of the wholly owned and operated family company, Trinchero Family Estates (TFE). Roger serves as chairman emeritus.
Not only do the brothers invest in their employees, but they’re also extremely active in supporting their local communities. TFE created a Family in Need Fund that uses revenue from aggressive recycling efforts to help employees with unexpected crises like the Lake County wildfire in 2015. OLE Health, a community clinic in Napa, has received $2 million from the family.
“The Trinchero family’s wineries are places everyone wants to work,” says United States Representative Mike Thompson, Democrat of California, whose Congressional district includes Napa Valley. “They treat their employees like family, and their generosity to our community is second to none. Bob and Roger embody an incredible sense of loyalty, respect and ethics, and they’ve made it part of their business plan. I admire them more than I can express in words.”
Bob became winemaker in 1958, while beginning in the 1980s, Roger developed a world-class sales and marketing team and established national distribution for fast-growing Sutter Home White Zinfandel. The winery became America’s leading varietal wine producer.
Bob and his winemaking team mastered production and quality control on a massive scale. At the same time, Roger and his staff introduced a series of breakthrough packaging innovations and marketing programs that included single-serve varietals, a non-cork closure and award-winning advertising and promotions.
Today, TFE has 8,000 acres of vineyards and produces 17 million cases across 44 American brands like Trinchero Napa Valley, Napa Cellars, Terra d’Oro and Trinity Oaks. The company also markets numerous domestic brands that include Joel Gott Wines and Charles & Charles, imports wines from Australia and Chile, and has a growing spirits portfolio.
Despite all that branding and sales success, Roger says, “What Bob and I take the most pride in is that we’ve been able to recognize talent and hire it.” They mention standouts that include current CEO Bob Torkelson and longtime executives Jim Huntsinger and Hal Huffsmith.
Bob and Roger also take pride that they’ve provided consumers with high-quality, reasonably priced wines for their entire careers. They never thought they should dictate what people should drink, but as Roger says, “We always tried to see where the market was going, and make available to the consumer regardless of their taste, something that they will enjoy.”
A perfect example of this was the accidental invention of a pink, lightly sweet Zinfandel.
“We made this wine, and all of a sudden everyone wanted it, so we made more,” says Bob simply.
By always being able to serve such needs and meet many other challenges, these brothers played a critical role in the transformation of America into the world’s biggest wine-consuming country.
For these accomplishments and their dedication to prioritizing their employees and community, Wine Enthusiast is proud to honor Bob and Roger Trinchero with its Lifetime Achievement Award. —Jim Gordon
The head of Moët Hennessy North America is a humble force for growth and change across the wine and spirits industry, and beyond.
Some individuals who achieve tremendous success in their professional lives develop egos just as prodigious.
Jim Clerkin has never fallen into that trap. For him, humility, grace and goodwill have always been paramount.
Clerkin is not just president and CEO of Moët Hennessy North America. He also devotes his energy to a multitude of professional and charitable organizations, mentors many employees and youth, and is always generous with his time.
“Jim Clerkin has made an indelible mark on the wine and spirits industry,” says Wayne Chaplin, president and CEO of Southern Wine & Spirits, who was Wine Enthusiast’s Person of the Year in 2016. “His success can not only be attributed to his great talent and leadership, but also to his integrity, humility and commitment to helping everyone he works with reach their full potential. I consider it a great pleasure and honor to get to work with him and his team.”
Arguably, the best trait of a leader is embracing teamwork. This is a concept that Clerkin may take to the extreme.
When informed by Wine Enthusiast that he’d be honored as its 2017 Person of the Year, Clerkin dished off credit deftly.
“What an extraordinary honor this is,” says Clerkin. “There’s no chance I’d get that consideration without the great people I work with. I also feel very fortunate to represent some of the most iconic brands in the world. I truly see my role as being a caretaker, to protect the heritage and honor the pioneering spirit, and ensuring I leave them in a better place than I found them.”
That won’t be a problem.
Clerkin oversees a staff of 377 people. He’s running the North American region for iconic global brands like Champagnes Dom Pérignon, Krug, Moët & Chandon, Ruinart and Veuve Clicquot; Hennessy Cognac; Scotch whiskies Ardbeg and Glenmorangie; Belvedere vodka and more.
Also included in the prestigious portfolio are wineries like Cloudy Bay, Domaine Chandon and Newton Vineyard. Recent expansion has added superpremium spirits Tequila Volcán De Mi Tierra, as well as newcomer Woodinville Whiskey Company, acquired in July.
Clerkin was born in 1954 on a farm in the village of Rostrevor, in County Down, Northern Ireland. The oldest of nine children, Clerkin learned the value of family, friendship and hard work from an early age.
“My parents taught me that family really matters most of all,” he says. “I like to think I’m a great team player, and that I motivate very different people with very different styles to come together and harness energy as one team for a common goal. At Moët Hennessy, we continuously cultivate diversity and inclusive engagement through education, exposure and experiences.”
He credits his father as his first and most important mentor. As someone who appreciated Hennessy, and enjoyed it mixed with ginger ale and a single ice cube, Jim learned from him about the history of the Hennessy family, who left Cork in the mid-1700s to seek their fortunes overseas.
In 2015, Hennessy celebrated its 250th anniversary.
“A great milestone,” says Clerkin. “The brand has doubled its sales in the past five years. Last year, Hennessy VS crossed the three-million-cases mark and still grew 20 percent, a record for the brand. And not just VS, but VSOP, Hennessy Black and XO are also performing very well.”
Clerkin began his career with Guinness in 1976. He advanced quickly, joining its board of directors at age 36.
In 1994, Grand Metropolitan recruited Clerkin to lead its wines and spirits division in Ireland. Three years later, the company merged with Guinness to form Diageo, and he was promoted to executive vice president as well as president of its Western U.S. wine and spirits division.
In 2003, he joined Allied Domecq as president for North America and Canada, and after its acquisition by Pernod Ricard and Jim Beam, he was appointed CEO of The Jim Beam Company for Canada, Mexico and the U.S.
Moët Hennessy (the wine, Champagne and spirits division of LVMH Moët Hennessy – Louis Vuitton) named Clerkin its executive vice president and chief operating officer in 2008. Shortly after, he became CEO and president of Moët Hennessy USA. Most recently, Clerkin’s responsibilities expanded to include Mexico and Canada.
Clerkin takes much pride in the success of his staff, where the departments work alongside dedicated teams for areas such as business intelligence, digital, new business and strategic marketing.
While respecting the history and tradition of their brands, Moët Hennessy’s Champagne houses continue to strive for innovation, seizing creative opportunities to further the art of winemaking. Recent innovations include Moët Ice Impérial, the first Champagne designed to be poured over ice, and a Clicquot line extension called Rich, designed to be served like a cocktail.
“We’ve made Champagne less formal and more approachable and, as a consequence, we are growing in a steady, longer-term fashion.” he says.
Competition from other sparkling wines has increased in recent years, notably Prosecco. Clerkin embraces the challenge. “I take my hat off to competitors who have been innovative with packaging,” he says. “We see everybody, at any price point, as competitors. I would argue that this has inspired us to work harder at growing Champagne.
“I will take some credit, with my team, to talk about Chandon. This year we will sell six million bottles for the first time ever in America. A lot has to do with one-off special editions that have been remarkably successful. And I am excited for what will be coming in 2018.”
According to LVMH interim financial reports, highlights for the first half of 2017 include their Champagne sales volume up eight percent and a “very good first half” for Hennessy, “driven in particular by United States, where demand continued to rise.”
Overall, global profits in Wines & Spirits were up 21 percent and revenues were up 12 percent, with Europe and the United States particularly dynamic regions.
Clerkin also finds time to serve on several industry groups. Notably, he’s chairman of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS).
“Jim Clerkin is a key leader in our sector promoting modernization, innovation and social responsibility,” says Kraig R. Naasz, president and CEO of DISCUS. “Jim has helped guide us at the Distilled Spirits Council as our chair and active member of the board, where he has presided over an extended period of growth in market share and several significant public policy victories.”
The UJA-Federation of New York’s Wine & Spirits Division bestowed upon Clerkin its Samuel Bronfman Memorial Award after he helped raise a record-breaking $775,000 for the organization. He supported the grand opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC, where Hennessy, Belvedere and Moët & Chandon were featured and served.
A U.S. citizen, he retains a connection to his roots. Clerkin is involved in organizations like Irish America, Northern Ireland Connection and Co-operation Ireland, a nonprofit that promotes peace and a sustained reconciliation between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which he serves as chairman.
Clerkin’s focus there, as in much of his charity work, is on youth leadership programs. It’s a way to pay back mentors like his father that helped pave his way. He’s also a board member at the Royal Academy America, a nonprofit that promotes the arts, as well as a supporter of the 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York City.
For his vast contributions to the wine and spirits industry, as well as his philanthropy, generosity and character, Wine Enthusiast is proud to honor Jim Clerkin as its 2017 Person of the Year. —Paul Gregutt
A Master Sommelier who leads the Guild of Sommeliers.
“What’s more impactful than education?” says Chris Tanghe, chief instructor at the Guild of Sommeliers (commonly known as GuildSomm), a nonprofit educational and networking organization for sommeliers and other wine professionals. “I travel to most major U.S. cities and teach classes to 40 wine professionals at a time. In a given year, I will have influenced, to at least some small degree, a few thousand somms, who will then take that knowledge and experience to their guests.”
The role of a sommelier is evolving. There are many wine-related businesses that can benefit from a sommelier’s wide-ranging skills, like wineries, schools, distributors, importers and retailers. Many sommeliers have also started wine clubs or become winemakers. Thanks to the popularity of films like the documentary SOMM and publications that highlight the profession, the intensified attention given to sommeliers recalls the rise of the “celebrity chef.”
“With a bit of drive and skill-set expansion, sommeliers can now branch out to work for a winery, importer, distributor, educational entity and elsewhere,” says Tanghe. “Hospitality extends to all of these avenues, which makes a sommelier relevant to these positions.”
When he was just 13, Tanghe lied about his age to land a dishwashing job at a Cape Cod, Massachusetts, country club. The next year, he moved to line cook.
While he studied at the Culinary Institute of America, he took the Introduction to Wine course and was inspired to apply for the introductory class with the Court of Master Sommeliers, only to be forced to wait until he was 21. Once he was finally of legal drinking age, he pursued his wine education with passion while he worked as a cook, server and, eventually, sommelier, at some of the Pacific Northwest’s most acclaimed restaurants (The Herbfarm, Canlis, RN74, Aragona).
Tanghe passed the Master Sommelier exam in 2013. The next year, as he sought a new challenge and relief from long restaurant hours, he moved to Vinum Importing to become a portfolio manager and educator for the sales teams.
The transition to a broader educational role set the stage for Tanghe’s work with GuildSomm, which created the chief instructor position for him. He conducts master classes and webinars for GuildSomm members internationally, and contributes study guides and other materials (some of which are publicly available at GuildSomm).
Tanghe also works with GuildSomm’s partner organization, the Guild of Sommeliers Educational Foundation (SommFoundation), which offers scholarships, enrichment trips and access to other wine-focused events. He’s a tireless advocate for Washington State wines, but speaks to other passions, like Burgundy, Bordeaux, Spain and Italy, with the same authority.
“The same skills that made Chris successful with restaurant customers—enthusiasm, clarity and approachability—now benefit our members,” says Geoff Kruth, president of GuildSomm.
For Tanghe, the education of a sommelier never ends. He emphasizes that you don’t become a true sommelier by simply passing exams.
“A great sommelier doesn’t just possess wine knowledge or tasting experience,” says Tanghe. “It’s a collection of skills learned over time that include hospitality, folding linens, sweeping floors, knowing how a reservation book works, washing dishes, polishing glassware, navigating Excel, learning how to lead a team and on and on and on. My hopes are that people put in the work, remain humble and always keep their guests at the top of their minds, not their egos.”
For his tireless work to promote wine knowledge and service skills that advance the wine industry across all job types and employers, Wine Enthusiast is pleased to recognize Chris Tanghe, MS, as its Sommelier of the Year. –Nils Bernstein
A booming retailer with an unmistakable commitment to its “guests.”
Safeway, one of the largest grocery chains in the United States, can trace its roots back almost a century. And for much of that time, it has sold wine and spirits wherever local laws allowed.
Albertsons Companies acquired Safeway in 2015 for $9.2 billion, which expanded the chain’s size and reach, but Safeway had steadily increased sales of wines and spirits prior to the purchase. Today, there are more than 900 Safeway stores across 18 states and the District of Columbia.
“In the past 10 years, we’ve continued to grow our wine business.” says Jim Blumling, Albertsons’ group vice president for wine, beer and spirits. “We’ve not had a down year. The business continues to grow.” In his mind, consumers are not customers, but guests.
Many of the stores have undergone makeovers, and particular attention has been paid to the wine aisles. Blumling credits Safeway’s beverage stewards—customer service specialists hired specifically to educate and aid wine shoppers—for part of the growth, “and we continue to add beverage stewards to [Safeway’s] wine sections, so we’ve got somebody trained to greet the guest and help them with their selection process,” he says. The stewards are also specifically trained to suggest wine pairings for various foods.
Safeway offers its own brand of wines and expands choices on a regular basis. Most recently, it has introduced a line of wines called Box Wize, produced by a California vintner for the chain. The store seeks value at a variety of price points.
“We’re always trying to find nice boutique offerings,” says Blumling, who has served as a judge at wine competitions up and down the California coast.
In 2013, Safeway became the exclusive wine retail partner for the Sunset International Wine Competition, launching in-store promotions and wine tastings.
Such support was a way that Safeway built and maintained its relationship with winemakers. Back in “1989, 1990, I think, Safeway was one of the early adopters of trying to help the Jackson Family create this wine enterprise,” says Blumling. “And we’ve partnered with them ever since.
“Whether it’s my role or any of the sales managers that are running these divisions, by some measure, we are stewards of the category,” he says. “We have the roles for the moment. We do see the wine space as relationship-driven. It’s not purely a transactional experience.”
Blumling recently attended the 10th annual STOMP event, a Napa charity fundraiser for family farmers. As he walked around chatting with his wife, a man approached him. “Hi, I’m Cyril Chappellet. Mind if I talk with you a minute?”
So, the two men chatted. Before he walked off, Chappellet, chairman of the family winery that produces Cabernet Sauvignons that Wine Enthusiast regularly rates at 90-plus points, suggested they stay in touch.
“ ‘Now that I know a little bit more about you and your commitment to Napa,’ ” Blumling says Chappellet told him, “‘I feel like maybe we should be doing something together.’”
That’s how relationships are built. “It’s not about me,” says Blumling, “It’s about making sure we’ve got a great set of offerings for our guests.”
It’s this commitment to their guests and a drive to better serve the wine industry through strategic partnerships and promotions that Wine Enthusiast names Safeway as its Retailer of the Year. –Leslie Gevirtz
Each year, Wine Enthusiast honors the individuals and companies that made outstanding achievements over the past year in the wine and alcoholic beverage world. Below are the nominees in 16 categories for the 18th Annual Wine Star Awards. The winners will be announced in the Wine Enthusiast’s special “Best of Year” issue and over the next few weeks here on Winemag.com. They will be honored at a black-tie gala in Miami on Monday, January 29, 2018.
- 1Lifetime Achievement Award: Bob and Roger Trinchero
- 2Jim Clerkin: Person of the Year
- 3Chris Tanghe, MS: Sommelier of the Year
- 4Safeway Inc.: Retailer of the Year
- 5Wine Enthusiast’s 18th Annual Wine Star Award Nominees