Each year, the editors of Wine Enthusiast Magazine honor outstanding achievement in the wine and spirits world, both within that given year and over time. New to this year’s 13th annual Wine Star Awards is the Sommelier of the Year award, given to an individual whose knowledge and efforts make an establishment’s wine program exemplary, and the American Wine Legend award, granted to a person with exceptional long-term service to the American Wine Industry.
And the nominees for the 2012 honors are…
Miguel A. Torres, of Torres Group
Miguel Agustín Torres, a pioneer in employing modern winemaking techniques in multiple countries and a leader in the globalization of wine, joined his family’s wine business 50 years ago, Under his leadership, Miguel Torres S.A. has grown into one of the largest wineries in Spain, while the Torres Group of wineries, which includes properties in Chile and California in addition to Priorat, Rioja, Ribera del Duero and other regions within Spain, is world renowned. Across the globe, Torres wines are sold in 140 countries.
A man of the people as well as the boardroom, Torres recently stepped down as general manager of the Torres Group but is continuing as group president, a position that allows him to oversee and grow budding import and distribution businesses in China and India, emerging markets.
A lifelong visionary who, early on, grasped the importance of exporting his family’s wines along with the “culture of wine,” Torres spearheaded the purchase of 250 acres of vineyard land in Chile’s Curicó Valley in 1979, thereby setting up the company’s original overseas winery. He immediately imported and installed that country’s first stainless steel fermentation tanks and also brought in the first new oak barrels Chile had seen since the 1940s. In 1996, the Chilean government named Torres a Grand Official of the Order of Bernardo O’Higgins in recognition of his contributions to developing Chile’s fledgling wine sector.
Since the dawning of the new millennium, Torres has largely concentrated his efforts in three key areas: domestic expansion; importing and distributing Torres wines in China and India; and speaking about climate change and its impact on global viticulture.
“Miguel Torres has changed the world of wine by not only setting an example for the modernization of the Spanish wine industry, but on a global scale,” says Wine Enthusiast editor and publisher Adam Strum.
Andrew Browne, founder and CEO of Precept Wine
Founder and CEO Andrew Browne has developed Precept Wine into the largest privately owned wine company in the Northwest, with recent brand acquisitions including Waterbrook, Canoe Ridge, Sagelands and Ste. Chapelle Winery.
David B. Kent, CEO of The Wine Group LLC
Elected the Wine Institute’s chairman for the 2011–2012 fiscal year, David B. Kent is also The Wine Group’s vice chairman. He served as The Wine Group’s president and CEO from 2001-2012, helping them to become a global leader in carbon-efficient production.
Francis Ford Coppola, owner of Francis Ford Coppola Winery and Inglenook Estate
In 2012, the Academy Award-winning movie director and owner of Francis Ford Coppola Winery and Inglenook Estate revived the historic Inglenook property, aspiring to develop the winery into a veritable Napa Valley great growth.
Joseph E. Gallo, President and CEO of E. & J. Gallo Winery
President and CEO of the world’s largest family-owned winery, Joseph E. Gallo has reinvented the company his father and uncle founded, creating the largest exporter of California wine, overseeing robust development of an expansive import business, expanding into Washington State, creating a powerful spirits business and nurturing the world’s top-selling wine brand, Barefoot, among many others.
Louis-Fabrice Latour, president of Maison Louis Latour
Since taking the reins of his family’s company in 1999, the seventh-generation president of Maison Louis Latour Latour has continued the growth of one of Burgundy’s most renowned négociant-éleveurs.
Hermann J. Wiemer (Finger Lakes, New York)
Having helped bolster the Finger Lake’s reputation for winemaking and viticulture, Hermann J. Wiemer continues to produce some of the state’s most noteworthy Riesling.
Leonetti Cellar (Walla Walla Valley, Washington)
A pioneer of Washington State winemaking and the first winery in Walla Walla, Leonetti has recently shifted into its second generation, with superstar winemaker Chris Figgins at the helm.
Raymond Vineyards (Napa Valley, California)
Acquired by Boisset Family Estates in 2009, Raymond has been considered a hallmark of the Napa Valley since its inception in the early 1970s. Today, with Stephanie Putnam as director of winemaking, the winery continues to prove its Cabernet Sauvignon-making prowess.
Rodney Strong Vineyards (Sonoma County, California)
Certified by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance for its environmentally conscious approach to winemaking and viticulture (it was also the first carbon-neutral winery in Sonoma), Rodney Strong continues to make strides with its estate-bottled, vineyard-designate selections.
Yao Family Wines (Napa Valley, California)
Established in November 2011 by former NBA star Yao Ming, this Napa Valley newcomer excels in the luxury Cabernet Sauvignon category, with Tom Hinde as president and director of winemaking.
Arnaldo Caprai (Umbria, Italy)
The innovative Arnaldo Caprai has helped revive Umbria’s indigenous grapes, bringing the wine region into the international spotlight for its production of Sagrantino di Montefalco.
Artadi (Rioja, Spain)
Established by visionary winemaker Juan Carlos López de Lacalle in 1985, Artadi has established a reputation for being a leader in Spanish wine production, upholding its philosophy that “the value of a great wine is intimately linked to the land and its people.”
Chanson Père & Fils (Burgundy, France)
Under the ownership of the Champagne group Société Jacques Bollinger, this Burgundian négociant has hit its stride, offering consumers a generous spectrum of bottlings ranging from entry level Bourgogne Chardonnays to estimable Chablis grand crus.
Famille Perrin (Rhône, France)
The Perrin family, proprietors of the famed Château de Beaucastel in France’s Châteauneuf-du-Pape, has steadily acquired properties in many of the Southern Rhône’s top appellations and is now one of the largest organic producers in the region.
Veuve Clicquot (Champagne, France)
Not only did Veuve Clicquot celebrate its 230th year of shipping wine to the United States in mid-2012, but the Champagne house also released the 2004 vintage of its prestige cuvée, La Grande Dame, and launched Cave Privée line in the United States.
Bodega Colomé (Salta, Argentina)
Founded in 1831, Bodega Colomé is one of Argentina’s oldest wineries, specializing in small-production Malbec using grapes sourced from 60- to 150-year-old pre-phylloxera vines.
d’Arenberg (McLaren Vale, South Australia)
Celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, this fourth-generation family-owned winery in South Australia continues to prove itself as one of Australia’s greatest producers.
Golan Heights Winery (Galilee, Israel)
Golan Heights Winery is at the top of its game, using state-of-the-art equipment like vineyard meteorological stations and electro-conductivity soil scanning to aid in its viticultural success.
Mission Hill Family Estate (Okanagan Valley, British Columbia)
With over 100 operating wineries in Canada’s Okanagan Valley, Mission Hill has garnered a reputation for being a leader of this region’s burgeoning wine industry.
Saint Clair Family Estate (Marlborough, New Zealand)
Established in 1994, Saint Clair has become synonymous with quality winemaking in Marlborough, producing an array of varieties ranging from Sauvignon Blanc to Grüner Veltliner using sustainable winemaking practices.
Cape Winelands, South Africa
The largest wine producing region in South Africa and an UNESCO World Heritage Biosphere Reserve since 2007, the Cape Winelands encompasses some of the country’s most lauded wine-producing districts, such as Constantia, Stellenbosch and Paarl.
Loire Valley, France
Considered the garden of France, the Loire Valley is a patchwork of soils and climates, resulting in distinct expressions of myriad varieties, such as Cabernet Franc, Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc.
Napa Valley, California
Rich in winemaking history, the Napa Valley represents some of the best vinous efforts in the United States, making a name for itself with the production of Cabernet Sauvignon.
Ribera del Duero, Spain
Famed for its massive, age-worthy expressions of Tempranillo, Ribera del Duero has seen huge advances in both quality and consumer accessibility. The “Drink Ribera. Drink Spain.” campaign has heightened awareness of this region’s wines, making them a contemporary favorite.
Walla Walla Valley, Washington
With more than 130 wineries and unique vineyard sites, Walla Walla Valley has developed a reputation for being home to some of Washington State’s finest producers and best bottlings.
Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant
This pioneering importer has compiled an acclaimed French- and Italy-centric portfolio, including famed producers Auguste Clape (Rhône), Méo-Camuzet (Burgundy) and Guido Porro (Piedmont).
Founded by Rudolph Kopf in 1944, Kobrand’s portfolio has grown to include over 40 of the world’s finest wineries, including such notables as Taittinger (Champagne), Tenuta San Guido (Tuscany) and Maison Louis Jadot (Burgundy).
Old Bridge Cellars
Having amassed an impressive portfolio of some of Australia’s finest producers, including John Duval, d’Arenberg and Cullen, Old Bridge Cellars prides itself on bringing the best of Oz to the United States.
The largest privately owned wine company in the Northwest, Precept’s collection is comprised of brands from Oregon, Washington and Idaho, with minor selections from Germany and Australia.
The Other Wine and Spirits LLC (OWS)
The Miami-based importing company prides itself on providing consumers with value-driven wines and spirits, such as Barton & Guestier’s French selections, Mommesin’s Beaujolais wines and the Cahors wines of Château Lagrezette.
Binny’s Beverage Depot (Illinois)
With 28 storefronts in Illinois, this beverage emporium offers an impressive spread of everyday value wines and high-end collectibles. The extensive online catalogue makes shopping a breeze.
Publix Super Markets, Inc. (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee)
This southern supermarket chain features a sturdy wine discount program—any purchase of eight bottles or more warrants a 15% discount. Wine education is also emphasized: the Web site features informative wine 101 factoids.
With no storefront or online inventory to purchase from, consumers sign up to become a Garagiste member, and then receive daily wine deals via email from this flash-like gourmet retailer.
K&L Wine Merchants (California)
With three storefronts in California (Redwood City, San Francisco and Hollywood) and a flourishing online business, K&L has become the go-to retailer for collectors of fine and rare wines, and for those just looking for a great everyday bottle.
Park Avenue Liquor Shop (New York City)
This New York-based liquor emporium boasts one of the largest single-malt Scotch selections in America, including many rare, limited-production releases, with an expert staff to facilitate the buying process.
David Biggar—managing director of Vintage Point
A partner of the wine company Vintage Point and a 20-year veteran of the industry, Biggar provides brand- and market-development services to ultrapremium wineries including California’s Hundred Acre and Moone-Tsai.
Leslie Rudd—owner of multiple businesses in Napa Valley, California
After acquiring 55 acres in Oakville, California in 1996 and introducing the first Rudd wines in 2000, Rudd now spearheads several other ventures, including Dean & DeLuca and Press restaurant in the Napa Valley.
Cameron Hughes—CEO and founder of Cameron Hughes Wine
A prominent American négociant, Hughes makes, imports and distributes ultrapremium wine under the brands The Lot Series, The Flying Winemaker, Hughes Wellman, Frunza and Zin Your Face.
Michael Mondavi—Folio Fine Wine Partners and Michael Mondavi Family Estate
This son of Robert Mondavi remains a wine industry notable, offering through his Folio Fine Wine Partners a collection of California wines that include the brands Emblum, Oberon and Spellbound and such prestigious imports as Bruno Giacosa, Masi and Tenuta dell’ Ornellaia.
Oscar Farinetti—founder of Eataly
The mastermind behind the gourmet emporium Eataly, Oscar Farinetti teamed up with celebrity chef Mario Batali and restaurateur Joe Bastianich to create New York City’s culinary haven for Italophiles. Eataly also has locations in Rome, Turin and Tokyo.
Appleton Estate Rum
With the 2012 release of its ultrapremium 50-Year-Old Jamaica Independence Reserve Rum, Appleton continues to prove its long track record of excellence and innovation.
Founded in 1977, Bottega is an Italian grappa distillery with big ideas, including grappa packaged in a vaporizer, allowing consumers to spray the product on viands like oysters and risotto.
America’s first whiskey-distilling company, Michter’s continues to expand, including the opening of a new distillery in Louisville, Kentucky’s historic Fort Nelson Building in 2013.
One of the only major Tequila brands still produced as an estate-grown product, Partida is an ardent proponent of Tequila education, being one of the first distilleries to hire “ambassadors” to educate bartenders and consumers.
St. George Spirits
Founded in 1982 by Jorg Rupf and later expanded through the contributions of Lance Winters, St. George Spirits has become a model of excellence to many who have gone on to make their own small-batch spirits.
Angus Winchester—Tanqueray Gin
In 2012, Angus Winchesterlaunched a nationwide U.S. Bartenders’ Guild challenge, testing bartenders across the nation on their mixology prowess and promoting effective cocktail making.
Paul Monahan—Sailor Jerry Rum
A lover of spirits, cocktails and tattoo culture, Paul Monahan’s innovative mixology philosophy is the key to continuing the legacy of Norman “Sailor Jerry Collins” in his role as national brand ambassador.
H. Joseph Ehrmann—Square One Organic Vodka
One of the geniuses behind Square One’s branded cocktails, H. Joseph Ehrmann crafts culinary-inspired cocktails like his Flower Sour, using kumquat, agave nectar and egg white. Ehrmann is also owner of Elixir, the first certified green bar in San Francisco, and Cocktail Ambassadors, a cocktail catering and consultancy service.
Jacques Bezuidenhout—Partida Tequila
Not only does Jacques Bezuidenhout serve as brand ambassador for Partida Tequila, but the Johannesburg, South Africa native also doubles as the master mixologist for Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants.
Claire Smith—Belvedere Vodka
As head of spirit creation and mixology, Claire Smith helped launch Belvedere’s newest product in 2012: a summery vodka made by fusing flavors of black and green teas, lemon grass, chamomile and honey.
Michael Madrigale—Bar Boulud (New York City), Épicierie Boulud (New York City) and Boulud Sud (New York City)
Madrigale makes wine for diners approachable and fun. A proponent of the use of social media, he tweets pictures and tasting notes of the bottlings he tastes daily.
Patrick Cappiello—Gilt at The Palace Hotel (New York City)
Bringing more than 21 years of industry experience to Gilt, Cappiello, director of wine and spirits, oversees a wine list of more than 3,000 international selections.
Dennis Kelly, MS—The French Laundry (Yountville, California)
Recently passing the notoriously difficult master sommelier exam in 2012, Dennis Kelly oversees The French Laundry’s extensive wine list, which features more than 2,500 selections.
Bobby Stuckey, MS—Frasca Food and Wine (Boulder, Colorado)
A master sommelier, Bobby Stuckey has inspired the Boulder, Colorado, beverage scene with his thoughtful Italian-centric wine list and unpretentious, polished service.
Shelley Lindgren—A16 (San Francisco) and SPQR (San Francisco)
Passionate about Italy’s lesser-known regions, Shelley Lindgren has developed a reputation for creating a wine list full of Italian wines made from esoteric grapes, ensuring an interesting drinking experience.
Charles Smith, of Charles Smith Wines (Walla Walla Valley, Washington); K Vintners (Walla Walla Valley, Washington)
A former rock band manager, Charles Smith is a prevailing force in the Washington State wine industry. Along with his K Vintners, Charles & Charles and Charles Smith Wines: The Modernist Project ventures, he has an all-Chardonnay project in the works.
Jorge Riccitelli, of Bodgea Norton (Mendoza, Argentina)
Chief winemaker for Mendoza, Argentina’s Bodega Norton since 1992, Jorge Riccitelli is the force behind this established Argentine brand that’s highly respected for its price-quality relationship.
Marcos Eguren, of Sierra Cantabria (Rioja, Spain); San Vicente (Rioja, Spain); et al.
The fourth generation of the Eguren family, Marcos Eguren is the talent behind some of Rioja’s most prestigious brands, crafting wines of impressive depth, complexity and ageability.
Philippe Melka, of Melka Wines (Napa Valley, California); Dana Estates (Napa Valley, California); et al.
A ubiquitous wine consultant and winemaker in Napa Valley, California, Philippe Melka has established an impressive client roster, becoming synonymous with ultrapremium winemaking for clients such as Dana Estates in Napa, and owns his own brand.
Vanya Cullen, of Cullen Wines (Margaret River, Western Australia)
Having been making wine at her family’s estate since 1983, Cullen has successfully evolved her family’s winery in Margaret River, Western Australia, into one of Australia’s most illustrious biodynamic and naturally powered premium wine estates.
Hubert Opici, of Opici Wine Group
With a wine career spanning more than 75 years at his family-owned Opici Wine Group, the vivacious, 96-year-old chairman, Hubert Opici, is a legend of the United States wine industry.
Opici’s start in the trade came after graduating from high school in 1934, when he began working as a delivery boy at his father’s wine business, the American Beverage Distribution Company of New Jersey. The company developed and expanded, and in 1945, the Opici’s forayed into new markets and purchased the Cazanove Wine Company in New York, which came to be renamed the Cazanove-Opici Wine Corporation.
As the demand for the Opici’s imported wines progressively increased, the family relocated to more commodious facilities in Hawthorne, New Jersey, where they ultimately shaped their business into the Opici Import Company. Today, the Opici Wine Group is an umbrella company comprised of Opici Wines, which boasts a portfolio containing more than 50 international brands, as well as Opici Distribution, which services restaurants and retailers in Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Florida and most recently Washington, D.C. And although the fourth-generation Opici’s have now taken over most of the company’s reins, Hubert continues to be an icon, a well of knowledge and an inspiration for the trade.