Wine Enthusiast’s 19th Annual Wine Star Award Nominees

Wine Enthusiast announces the exceptional individuals and companies across 16 categories nominated for its prestigious 2018 Wine Star Awards.
Photo by Mark Tomaras Photography

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 19th Annual Wine Star Awards. The winners will be announced in Wine Enthusiast’s special “Best of Year” issue, and they will be honored at a black-tie gala on Monday, January 28, 2019, in Miami at Nobu Eden Roc.

Explore the 2018 Wine Star Award Nominees…

Lifetime Achievement American Wine Legend

Cocktail Legend Award Person of the Year Innovator

Wine Executive | Winemaker | American Winery 

European Winery | New World Winery | Wine Region

Importer | RetailerSpirit Brand/Distiller of the Year

Sommelier/Wine Director | Social Visionary of the Year

 

Lifetime Achievement

To be announced

American Wine Legend

To be announced

Cocktail Legend

To be announced

Person of the Year

Alan Dreeben

An influential Texas-based distributor executive for most of his comprehensive career, Dreeben is a partner and member of the board of directors with Republic National Distributing Co. (RNDC), the country’s second-largest wine distribution firm. Dreeben has been with RNDC for nearly 20 years, but before that, he was vice chairman and director of Block Distributing before it merged with RNDC. As many other leading wine sales executives have been, Dreeben is a “graduate” of E. & J. Gallo Winery. He worked directly under Ernest Gallo in the late 1960s before he returned to San Antonio to lead Block’s wine program and drive its growth. Dreeben has been deeply involved in industry associations like the Institute of Masters of Wine and Wine Market Council, as well as community organizations like the American Cancer Society and Jewish Social Service Federation.

Bill Newlands

After just three years at Constellation Brands, the world’s largest publicly traded wine company, Newlands became the American-owned firm’s president in 2018, in addition to his previous role as chief operating officer. He leads the wine and spirits, beer, national sales, finance, human resources and legal divisions, with 65-plus brands and 10,000 employees under his direction. Newlands built his innovative management skills at some of the world’s most impressive schools and organizations;. he attended the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, earned an MBA at Harvard Business School and served as an executive at Beam Inc., Beam Wine Estates, Allied Domecq Wines USA and other companies.

Bill Price

A world-class investor, Price has been instrumental in big corporate mergers and acquisitions of Continental Airlines, Petco, Beringer Vineyards and many others. But lately, he’s made an illustrious second career out of creating and maintaining focus and excellence across Sonoma County via his Price Family Vineyards & Estates. That includes ownership and management of Sonoma Coast vineyards like Durell, Gap’s Crown, Walala, Alana, One Sky and William James Vineyard. He also has interests in Kistler Vineyards, Gary Farrell Winery, Three Sticks, Lutum and Head High. In 1992, Price and two partners co-founded Texas Pacific Group (TPG), a private equity firm. TPG invested in companies as large and diverse as J. Crew and Continental Airlines. In 1995, TPG purchased Beringer.

Emma Swain

As chief executive officer of Napa Valley’s St. Supéry Estate Vineyards and Winery the tireless Swain has been instrumental in lifting the winery and industry to higher levels of professionalism and integrity since taking over from executive Michaela Rodeno in 2009, increasing brand awareness through creative partnerships and lifestyle events. Swain earned a bachelor’s degree in Agriculture and Managerial Economics from UC-Davis before work in finance and operations at Niebaum-Coppola winery and later Sebastiani Vineyards and Winery. She serves as the board chair for the Wine Market Council and is a board member of the Napa Valley Vintners.

Chris Underwood

As CEO of the Southern California-based Young’s Market Company, Underwood follows in the footsteps of his father, Vern Underwood Jr., now chairman of the board. Vern’s family founded Young’s as a retail business in downtown Los Angeles in 1888. Young’s is rated as the fourth-largest wine distributor in the U.S., and the company proudly states that “[Underwood] is the driving force behind a culture committed to integrity, family, quality and an entrepreneurial spirit.” He’s active in the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America, the Young Presidents Organization and the OM Foundation Board of Directors.

Innovator of the Year

Ryan Harms

Owner and founder of Union Wine Company, based in Tualatin, Oregon, Harms is a champion of wine that’s unpretentious and affordable. A wine packaging pioneer at Union Wine Co., Underwood’s wine-in-a-can brand has rocked the boat of the wine industry. A degree in environmental science and an early job at a health insurance company didn’t stop him from entering the wine world. Harms founded Union Wine Co. in 2005, where he innovated with screwcaps, cans and kegs, and he was successful enough to buy Oregon’s Amity Vineyards with his brother, Eric Harms, in 2014.

Tim McEnery

Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants, conceived and built by company founder and CEO McEnery, is a game-changer in the wine industry. The company pushes the envelope of traditional wine production and sales, as it serves as a multifaceted winery-restaurant-retail chain that has become one of the 50 largest wineries in the U.S. Based in Orland Park, Illinois, Cooper’s Hawk has grown to more than 30 locations in the Midwest, East Coast and South in just 13 years. While the main production facility is in Illinois, each restaurant stores and displays barrels of Cooper’s Hawk wine as it ages.

Marc Noël

The founder of wine closure company Nomacorc in Zebulon, North Carolina, Noël is also chairman of the firm’s corporate parent company, Vinventions, and he continues his legacy of disrupting the wine world with consistent out-of-the-box vision. Noël founded Nomacorc in 1998 to provide an efficiently produced, low-cost synthetic “cork” at a time when natural wood corks were beset by TCA-taint. Among recent innovations, the company introduced the first wine closure with zero carbon footprint, made from sugarcane. Since January 2015, Vinventions has acquired Nomacorc, Ohlinger Group and Syntek Bouchage, and it has created strategic partnerships with industry leaders like Cork Supply, a natural cork supplier.

Terry Wheatley

Wheatley started her career at E. & J. Gallo, followed by a position as senior vice president of sales and marketing for Trinchero Family Estates. She founded her own wine brand, sales and marketing company, Canopy Management, in 2008, which she sold to VWE in 2014. At that time, Wheatley was named Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Vintage Wine Estates, a role that she held until her appointment to president in July 2018. She’s helped the company quietly amass a huge collection of brands, but what Wheatley is perhaps most proud of is that she’s aided to foster a culture that champions women in the wine industry and corporate responsibility. Wheatley is known to have a firm grip on the reins, as she was a trick rider as a child and is married to a professional rodeo cowboy.

Sebastián Zuccardi

A third-generation family winemaker, Zuccardi manages one of the hardest-working wineries in Mendoza, Argentina, Familia Zuccardi. He’s pushed for fresher wines largely from the Valle de Uco, and he’s spent more than $10 million to construct, equip and open Bodega Piedra Infinita in the Paraje Altamira appellation in 2016. The winery is unique, as it uses no small oak barrels, just cement and some large Austrian foudres. His wines are cutting-edge, lively and full of focus, which has helped set a new course for Mendoza that others are following. To top it off, Zuccardi is highly respected and actively involved in the community.

Wine Executive of the Year

Corey Beck

The long-time winemaking chief for Sonoma County’s fast-growing winery, Francis Ford Coppola Winery, Beck was named CEO of The Family Coppola in early 2018 by owners Francis & Eleanor Coppola. Beck’s grandfather was the vineyard manager for Chateau Montelena in Napa Valley, and he got his start there after he earned a degree in fermentation science from UC-Davis. Beck joined the Coppola organization in 1998, and when the family bought the former Chateau Souverain property in 2006, he was installed as general manager and director of winemaking. Corey worked closely alongside Francis to help revitalize and expand the Francis Ford Coppola Winery, overseeing major components of the renovation, as well as bottling line and winemaking improvements.

Marius Berlemann

In 2016, at just 30 years old, Berlemann was promoted to global head of wine and spirits and director of the world’s leading trade fair for wine and spirits, ProWein. He joined Messe Düsseldorf, the company behind the Düsseldorf, Germany-based ProWein and other events, as a trainee in 2010 and was promoted to senior project manager in 2012. There, he was tasked to grow the ProWein family in China (Shanghai) and Southeast Asia (Singapore). Since he became director, Berlemann has assumed responsibility for ProWein’s global portfolio of wine and spirits events. He’s worked tirelessly to continue to expand and advance the show’s prominence, introducing progressive new programs and partners to the show to ensure its fast-growing relevance in a competitive market.

Stephen Cronk

As founder and owner of Mirabeau en Provence, a French rosé brand, Cronk recently took a very bold step: He introduced premium, appellation-specific Pure Provence rosé in cans, which further shook up the already hot rosé category. In 2009, Cronk and his family had moved from the leafy suburbs of London to the village of Cotignac in Provence, where they began a new life and followed a dream to make their own wine. Mirabeau is now sold in more than 50 markets, and it has won acclaim from some of the world’s most discerning wine critics.

Alex Ryan

Now president and CEO of the dynamic, world-class collection of wineries known as Duckhorn Wine Company, Ryan started work for Duckhorn Vineyards in Napa Valley in 1981 during summer vacations from high school. After he earned a degree in viticulture from Cal State-Fresno, Ryan joined founders Dan and Margaret Duckhorn full-time in 1988. In 2000, he was promoted to COO and general manager, and ascended to president in 2005. In the years since, Ryan unveiled state-of-the-art wineries for both Paraduxx and Goldeneye, successfully launched the Migration brand and rolled out an expanded Decoy line to great acclaim. He also established Canvasback in Washington and spearheaded the acquisition of Calera Wine Company, all while achieving five-fold growth for Duckhorn Wine Company.

Caroline Shaw

Shaw is executive vice president of corporate communications and social responsibility at Jackson Family Wines of Santa Rosa, California. After she served for nine years as chief communications and marketing officer, Shaw assumed new responsibilities in the wake of the devastating and deadly wildfires in Sonoma and Napa counties in late 2017. Shaw began to work directly for Chairman/Proprietor Barbara Banke to lead recovery and rebuilding efforts in the region while continuing to support the company’s ambitious and innovative business strategies. A powerhouse in the community and beyond, Shaw is also the executive leader of the JFW Cares program that provides scholarships, emergency relief and fosters community engagement.

Winemaker of the Year

Adam Mettler

While he’s responsible for wine production at Mettler Family Vineyards, it’s at Michael David Winery, in Lodi, California, where Mettler’s stamina has been put to the test. Working closely with the Phillips family, which has farmed in the area since the 1850s, Mettler is laser-focused to maintain quality in the winery’s bold, rich and balanced wines. He also shepherds the rapid growth of the Michael David brands that include Seven Deadly Zins, Earthquake, Petite Petit and Freakshow. Mettler earned gold medals as an amateur winemaker and completed winemaking stints in South Australia and Livermore, California. He then established Mettler Family Vineyards before he joined Michael David in 2005, where Mettler oversees all aspects of winemaking as director of wine operations.

Peter Fraser

Jackson Family Wines has many reasons to be thankful for the efforts of Fraser. As winemaker at Yangarra Estate Vineyard from the winery’s start in 2001, he built the Australian brand into one of the country’s finest. He also converted the old vines in McLaren Vale’s Blewitt Springs to biodynamics, used traditional winemaking techniques and championed elegance and verve in a warm region known for power and richness. This year Peter and his Vineyard Manager Michael Lane are celebrating 20 years of working together in these special vineyards. Fraser also has a hand in neighboring Hickinbotham winery, and he’s helped transform it into something spectacular. Despite being a hugely lauded winemaker, Fraser is a picture of humility and grace.

Sandrine Logette-Jardin

Logette-Jardin has been the chef de cave, or cellar master, of Champagne Duval-Leroy since 2005, where she’s responsible for all aspects of winemaking at the prestigious Champagne house in the village of Vertus. She’s taken numerous steps to improve wine quality, from initiating separate vinification of vineyard parcels, more precise selection of oak barrels and construction of a new, nearly 800,000-gallon winery that can fill 10,500 bottles per hour. Having grown up in the Champagne area, she focused studies on science and enology, and earned an advanced diploma (DESS) in Champagne winemaking.

Dave Phinney

Napa Valley’s Phinney has a knack for the production of wines that consumers love, and the creation of brands that other wineries love to buy from him. After he sold The Prisoner brand to Huneeus Vintners in 2010 for $40 million (which later sold it to Constellation for $285 million), Phinney dealt his next big project, Orin Swift, to E. & J. Gallo in 2016, but stayed in charge of winemaking. In June, Gallo bought Phinney’s latest project, Locations Wine, a joint venture with importer Aveníu Brands, a subsidiary of Codorníu Raventós; Phinney will continue to make the wines.

Pietro Ratti

In 1988, a twenty-something Ratti assumed ownership and management of his family’s winery after the death of his father, Renato, who founded the operation. A trained enologist, Pietro has carefully preserved his father’s vision for a world-class style of Barolo from the family’s Marcenasco vineyard. In the 1990s, he carried on the work of expansion and restoration of the family vineyards, and he furthered research of the various unique sub-zonal varieties. Not only does 2018 mark Ratti’s 30th anniversary at the helm, but the 2015 vintage, to be released in 2019, marks 50 years since the family began producing Barolo Marcenasco, a benchmark for the famous appellation in Piedmont.

American Winery of the Year

Bogle Vineyards

Located in the river delta town of Clarksburg, California, Bogle Vineyards is a long-reigning king of great value wines. Family owned and operated, the winery is celebrating its 50th year in 2018. A fourth-generation wine family, the Bogles make serious wines, like oak-barrel-fermented Chardonnay, that sell for very reasonable prices. Run by siblings Warren, Jody and Ryan Bogle, the winery produces 2.5 million cases annually and has received at least 20 Best Buys from Wine Enthusiast in the past four years. Bogle was recently honored with the California Green Medal for sustainability, and it’s launched an ambitious high-end label, Phantom, as well as impressive reserve wines.

Early Mountain Vineyards

Founded in 2012 and co-owned by Jean Case and her husband, AOL co-founder Steve Case, Early Mountain Vineyards, in Madison, Virginia, has received notable recognition for wines that show the state’s terroir in its best light. Chosen for this year’s Governor’s Cup to represent Virginia wines, Early Mountain is helmed by Winemaker Ben Jordan, who’s creating a collection of elegant, award-winning wines that are raising the bar in the exciting and emerging Virginia wine landscape.

Leonetti Cellar

One of Washington’s most storied wineries, Leonetti Cellar of Walla Walla continues to innovate as it plants new vineyards and explores new varieties. It just released its first Aglianico this year. Founders Gary and Nancy Figgins planted their first commercial vineyard in 1974 with the help of great uncles George and Bill Leonetti, and they’ve helped foster a community of eastern Washington wineries through the inspiration of their concentrated and highly rated wines. Today, Chris Figgins is in charge of the Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Reserve wines made from the family’s own vines and other Washington vineyards.

Riboli Family of San Antonio Winery

At more than 100 years old, San Antonio Winery still operates in downtown Los Angeles where it started, and it recently finished construction of a new winery in Paso Robles. Founded and operated by the Riboli family for four generations, San Antonio’s portfolio includes nearly 20 diverse brands. It has vineyards in Napa Valley, Monterey and Paso Robles, and the new 125,000-square-foot Paso Robles facility can produce 300,000 cases of wine per year. San Antonio owes much of its success to its still, sweet and sparkling wines imported from Italy under the Stella Rosa brand name, which has grown fast since its introduction in 2003. The winery is known for its creative promotion and packaging.

Wölffer Estate Vineyard

For 30 years, Wölffer Estate Vineyard has been known as one of the finest producers on the East Coast and a center for innovation and hospitality. Based on Long Island, in Sagaponack, New York, it’s committed to the production of distinctive wines, ciders and spirits. Founded in 1988 by Christian Wölffer, a man with great creative vision and a huge passion for life, it’s now owned and operated by his children, Marc and Joey Wölffer, and Winemaker-Partner Roman Roth. The estate spans approximately 470 acres, which includes the acclaimed 55-acre sustainably farmed estate vineyard, 52 acres on Long Island’s North Fork, 200 acres in Mendoza, Argentina, 2.5 acres in Mallorca, Spain, and 160 acres managed in collaboration with North Fork growers.

European Winery of the Year

Cantina Paltrinieri

Barbara and Alberto Paltrinieri, through their efforts in the Sorbara district of Italy near Modena, put Lambrusco back on the map, as well as the ancestrale method to make it. Since they took over the family’s winery in 1998, a growing number of Lambrusco producers have revived the tradition of dry, bottle-fermented Lambrusco. Paltrinieri’s Lambrusco di Sorbara offerings have long been Wine Enthusiast’s top-rated Lambruscos.

Domaines Schlumberger

This family-owned estate is one of the largest in Alsace, with 346 acres of vineyards that include the Grands Crus of Kitterlé, Saering, Kessler and Spiegel. Schlumberger only bottles estate wines, and never buys fruit. Based in the small town of Guebwiller, the family’s vision is global, as 65% of its 700,000-bottle annual production is destined for export. What makes Schlumberger unique is that the estate has a wonderfully tiered system for Alsace across the typical grape varieties, and the wines are exquisitely affordable even at the highest level.

Famille Perrin

Famille Perrin is the leading organic wine grower of the southern Rhône Valley of France, where the family-owned company grows vines in many of the region’s best terroirs. Its properties and wines include Château de Beaucastel, Miraval, Domaine du Clos des Tourelles and La Vieille Ferme, and it’s a co-founder of Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles, California. Members of the Perrin family have owned the estate for five generations, and their values have established a worldwide reputation for excellence. Those values include respect for the soil, a commitment to manual methods and a deep belief that organic viticulture is the only way to express the true essence of the terroir. Moreover, the combination of talents within the family ensures the continuation of their unique expertise.

González Byass

From the highly popular Tio Pepe Sherry to top fortified wines like Noé, Matusalem and the Tres Palmas series, there’s no argument that the wines made by Winemaker and Master Blender Antonio Flores are among the best from the Jerez region. Founded in 1835 and based in Cádiz, Spain, González Byass is a family-owned collection of wineries that spans Spain’s most important wine-producing regions. Today, the fifth generation of the family serves as custodians of these exceptional brands.

Tsantali

The Tsantali family of Halkidiki, Greece, has cultivated vineyards, crafted wine and distilled ouzo and tsipouro since 1890. Evangelos Tsantalis, a second-generation winemaker and a charismatic figure in recent Greek winemaking history, elevated the local family business into a rapidly developing brand name at the forefront of innovation. The family has rejuvenated some of the most exquisite vineyards in Northern Greece like Mount Athos, Rapsani, Halkidiki and Maronia. Strategic investments have preserved native grapes and given incentive to younger vine growers and winemakers in the area. Today, the third and fourth generations carry on the Tsantali commitment.

New World Winery

Bodega Garzón

The 205,000-square-foot winery of Bodega Garzón in Uruguay is the first in the world to seek LEED certification for its entire facility. Founded by Alejandro & Bettina Bulgheroni, Bodega Garzón showcases estate-grown, limited-production, premium wines crafted by influential Winemaker and Viticulturist Alberto Antonini. Bodega Garzón is located near the southeastern coast of Uruguay, only 11 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, in a region that’s emerged as a leader in the production of Uruguay’s signature varietal wine, Tannat.

Cave Spring Cellars

More than three decades ago, the Pennachetti family helped pioneer the cultivation of noble European grape varieties on the Niagara Peninsula with the planting of Riesling and Chardonnay vines at Cave Spring Cellars in Jordan, Ontario. In the years since, Cave Spring Cellars has established itself as one of Canada’s most acclaimed wineries. It’s earned a reputation for crafting elegant and distinctive cool-climate wines in the heart of Ontario’s wine country.

Felton Road

On the South Island in Bannockburn, New Zealand, Felton Road has long been considered one of Central Otago’s top wineries, producing outstanding examples of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling. Owner Nigel Greening bought the 36-acre Elms Vineyard in 2000 after he acquired the 21-acre Cornish Point Vineyard in 1998, but the winery’s history began in 1991, when Stewart Elms planted vines on Felton Road. The estate is farmed biodynamically.

L’Avenir

In Stellenbosch, South Africa, L’Avenir focuses primarily on the country’s legacy grape varieties of Chenin Blanc and Pinotage, along with red Bordeaux varieties and sparkling wines. Mauritian-born Marc Wiehe founded the estate in 1992 on land that had already been planted to grapevines. Soon, L’Avenir’s Chenin Blancs were ranked best in the country and its Pinotages were often rated among the country’s 10 best. It was acquired by Chablis-based Laroche in 2005, which later merged with the Jeanjean family to form Advini in 2009. L’Avenir is now part of the family-owned AdVini firm, with a newly rebranded identity since 2014. The wines are now crafted by Winemaker Dirk Coetzee, who exhibits a sincere respect for the winery’s tradition while also keeping an eye to the future.

Trapiche

Founded in 1883, Trapiche is one of the oldest wine brands produced in Argentina. As the country’s leading export winery, Trapiche produces upwards of 3.5 million cases per year that are shipped to more than 80 countries. Malbecs from the winery’s top-tier Terroir Series are among the finest examples of Argentine wines. Trapiche also offers something for every wine drinker, from entry-level varietal bottlings on up.

Wine Region of the Year

Champagne, France

While the UK has been the largest export market for Champagne for years, the U.S. is now snapping at its heels and has overtaken the UK in value of Champagne consumed. A unique, historic region that leads the world in terms of high-quality, bottle-fermented bubbles, the creative and stylistic latitude on Champagne is vast, despite the most stringent prescriptions governing every aspect of production. The region has managed to progressively grow the overall Champagne brand while staying true to the legacy of its properties.

Franciacorta, Italy

Franciacorta has often been compared to Champagne. The two regions use bottle-fermentation methods and the same primary grape varieties, but the similarities end there. Franciacortas have their own identity, elegantly reflecting their unique terroir. The region has made a huge effort to convert to organic farming, and nearly 70% of the denomination’s 117 wineries are already certified organic or in the conversion process, making it the denomination with the highest percentage of organic producers in Italy.

Galicia, Spain

Wine drinkers are now well aware and appreciative of Galicia’s Rías Baixas district as the home of Albariño, one of the most popular Spanish white wines in the U.S. But beyond Rías Baixas, there are two other appellations in Valdeorras and Ribeira Sacra that produce elegant wines that are unmatched elsewhere in Spain. While not one wine region per se, Galicia is home to five Denominacións de Origen: Rías Baixas, Valdeorras, Ribeira Sacra, Ribeiro and Monterrei, all of which are on the rise.

McLaren Vale, Australia

McLaren Vale in South Australia has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years. It has transformed its reputation from one of bulk wine production to one of exceptional quality, particularly through its world-class Grenache bottlings, which has put the grape variety back on the map. McLaren Vale’s spirit of experimentation, combined with environmentalism and humility, make it an excellent contender for Wine Region of the Year.

Sonoma County, California

Sonoma County is a beautiful and diverse California wine destination that got right back to what it does so well—entertaining visitors in style—after 2017’s devastating wildfires. With more than 400 wineries that range from simple and rustic cellars to elaborate wine castles, Sonoma offers a wide variety of tasting-room experiences, along with highly rated restaurants and resorts. Well established as the state’s leader in high-quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Sonoma also counts the rugged Pacific coastline as an attraction.

Importer of the Year

Cape Classics

Cape Classics began as a one-man operation more than 25 years ago, when South African native Andre Shearer saw a gap in the American wine market for high-quality South African wines. Today, the importer employs 30 people between the U.S. and South Africa, and it’s expanded the portfolio to include French estates in the Loire, Burgundy, Languedoc and Bordeaux. Cape Classics is all about quality. It’s meticulous with the wines selected and chooses to work with family-run farms that embrace sustainable ecological and social practices.

Ethica Wines

Ethica Wines is an importer that specializes in Italian wines from classic regions throughout the country, from Piedmont in the north to Puglia and Sicily in the south. Based in Miami, this dynamic importer offers a diverse range of Italian wines from across the peninsula and adds a few more top names to its portfolio each year. The wide-ranging selection spans value brands to high-end Italian producers, and its brand list includes Cordero di Montezemolo, Cafaggio, Fattoria Le Pupille, Villa Sparina, Cantina Lavis, Nicolis and Le Contesse.

Eric Solomon Selections/European Cellars

Headed by Founder Eric Solomon and associate Jon-David Headrick from a home office in Charlotte, North Carolina, European Cellars imports more than 400 wines from France and Spain, but also offers micro projects from Chile, Macedonia and Switzerland. The firm concentrates exclusively on small family wineries, mostly of the highest quality. From its start in 1990, Solomon has championed unheralded wine-growing regions and promoted young, innovative winemakers.

Louis/Dressner Selections

Ahead of the times, Louis/Dressner was one of the first firms in America to import low-intervention or natural wines, and it played a huge part in putting them on the map. New York-based Dressner now boasts a list 100 strong that includes some of the top names in natural wine. The importer continues to be an outspoken proponent of wines with “integrity and respect for the traditions of the native region.”

Skurnik Wines

Skurnik Wines and Spirits is an importer and distributor of fine wines and spirits headquartered in New York City. Michael Skurnik founded the firm in 1987, and he was later joined by his brother, Harmon, and sister, Rita. Instantly synonymous with quality products with unique stories, the Skurnik group tastes, selects and offers a diversified portfolio of wines and spirits from around the world that has grown to represent more than 500 estates.

Retailer of the Year

Duty Free Americas

Duty Free Americas is the pre-eminent travel retailer in the Western Hemisphere, with more than 180 duty-free stores in the U.S. and abroad. Exposing countless travelers to their products, the stores offer an extensive selection of fragrances, cosmetics, tobacco, food products, luxury leather goods, watches, jewelry and travel-exclusive merchandise, as well as a selection of wine and spirits that represents some of the premium brands of the world.

Full Pull Wines

Full Pull, founded in 2009, is an online store that offers many of the world’s best boutique wines to its mailing-list members, with special focus on the company’s home region, the Pacific Northwest. Paul Zitarelli, the owner/editor-in-chief, is a Harvard-trained applied mathematician who graduated from the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business in 2009. He converted the readership of his burgeoning wine blog into Full Pull’s initial membership list. Zitarelli is also the lead wine writer for Seattle Magazine.

K&L Wine Merchants

With stores in San Francisco, Redwood City and Hollywood, K&L is a champion for California wines, but it also covers the world and emphasizes the classic, collectible wines of France, Italy, Germany and other regions. Founded in 1976, K & L developed a team of buyers who taste, purchase and write about what they find. The company buys direct whenever possible. Its experienced, knowledgeable salespeople deliver reasonable prices and a wealth of rare and old wines, now available via an online auction system.

Trader Joe’s

In 1967, the first Trader Joe’s opened in Pasadena, California, and from the beginning, it sold wine alongside groceries, which included “every California winery there was” at the time, according to the company. As the chain expanded throughout California and many other states, the wine, beer and spirits selection grew, too. While it emphasizes value, Trader Joe’s also offers many top-quality brands. But where Trader Joe’s has singled itself out is with its custom-made store brands. The most famous of these is probably Charles Shaw wine, made by the Bronco Wine Co. and introduced at Trader Joe’s 15 years ago. It’s fondly known as “Two-Buck Chuck.”

Wally’s Wine and Spirits

The Los Angeles-based fine-wine retailer to the stars has expanded to become a gourmet food market and spirits seller. In 2014, it opened Wally’s Beverly Hills within a full-blown restaurant, which re-imagined how retail can be approached. Founded by Steve Wallace, Wally’s came under new ownership in 2013, when Paul and Maurice Marciano of fashion brand GUESS? Inc. partnered with Wally’s’ longtime wine buyer, Christian Navarro, to purchase the landmark purveyor of wine and spirits.

Spirit Brand/Distiller of the Year

Beefeater Gin

One of the most iconic, traditional gin brands in the world has expanded well beyond the classic London dry. Owned by Pernod Ricard since 2005, Beefeater has developed a range that stretches from the whimsical Beefeater London Pink to Beefeater 24, Burrough’s Reserve and London Garden gins. Master Distiller Desmond Payne has made Beefeater relevant to a new generation of bartenders and mixologists.

Diplomático Rum

The story of what’s now one of the country’s largest Fsanrum producers began in Venezuela in 1959, and since 2002, it’s been owned by a group of entrepreneurs there. At that time, the distillery became 100% Venezuelan and privately owned, and it adopted its current name: Destilerías Unidas S.A. (DUSA). Diplomático is distributed to more than 70 countries and holds the “Ron de Venezuela” Protected Denomination of Origin, which adds to its distinction as one of the finest rums in the world.

High West Distillery

High West began with humble roots as a small 250-gallon still and saloon in a historic livery stable and garage. What was once a small operation in downtown Park City, Utah, has grown into an internationally recognized brand with four locations. High West Distillery was founded in 2006 by David Perkins and his wife, Jane. A former biochemist, David was inspired by the parallels between his expertise and the fermentation and distilling process during a trip to the Maker’s Mark Distillery in Kentucky.

Laird’s

Applejack, or apple brandy, has been a part of American culture since the colonial days. The Laird family has produced applejack in New Jersey since 1698, with the first commercial transaction recorded in the family ledger in 1780. In recent decades, to meet consumer demand for lighter, lower-proof spirits, the Laird family created the blended applejack spirit category in 1972. Prestige products like a 12-year-old apple brandy and the excellent new Straight Applejack 86 have extended the brand’s proud legacy.

WhistlePig

Specializing in rye whiskey and based on a former dairy farm in Shoreham, Vermont, the WhistlePig distillery is one of constant experimentation. The team is encouraged to try new things and unlock the spirit’s potential. The whiskey distilled on the property is aged in Vermont-grown white oak from trees on the WhistlePig property and nearby area. WhistlePig opened its new distillery in 2015 and released its first estate product in 2017. It’s evidence that the brand is on the way toward fulfilling its vision to create a fully farm-to-bottle operation.

Sommelier/Wine Director of the Year

Andres Blanco

Blanco, 2017 winner of the Best Sommelier Competition at the TexSom conference, with selections from Valle de Guadalupe in Baja California, was born in Mexico City and has worked in Houston area restaurants for 11 years. Blanco joined award-winning Mexican seafood restaurant Caracol as a server on its opening team in 2013; he was later promoted to manager and floor sommelier. He became a certified sommelier and then started consulting for other restaurants in addition to his work at Caracol. For Amalfi Ristorante Italiano in Houston, he created an all-Italian wine list.

Andrew Fortgang

Fortgang is co-owner/wine director of three restaurants in Portland, Oregon, the French bistro-inspired Le Pigeon, Little Bird Bistro and Canard, the new wine bar and casual restaurant next door. He’s among Portland’s most influential sommeliers, and he brought with him 11 years of experience as a cook, manager and beverage director at Gramercy Tavern and Craft Restaurant in New York City.

Carlton McCoy

Currently wine director at The Little Nell in Aspen, Colorado, McCoy once won a scholarship to the Culinary Institute of America that drew him to his true passion, wine and service. Before he arrived at The Little Nell in 2011, he passed through several legendary institutions like Thomas Keller’s Per Se, and Marcus Samuelsson’s Aquavit. McCoy was drawn to The Little Nell by the hotel’s award-winning wine program and the property’s exciting reputation. In May 2013, Carlton became the 10th master sommelier to come through The Little Nell’s famous wine team.

Amanda McCrossin

A sommelier at Press restaurant in Napa Valley and a YouTube vlogger, McCrossin is indicative of a new breed of charismatic sommeliers who have created social media followings independent of their restaurant work. Having worked previously as a sommelier in New York City, McCrossin moved to the West Coast in July 2015 to join the wine team at Press.

June Rodil

Reared in Austin, Rodil is a master sommelier who oversees the wine and beverage program for eight top restaurants there as part of the McGuire Moorman Hospitality group. The namesake bar is the kind of place “where you can drink Champagne while wearing shorts and flip-flops,” she says, and Rodil’s impressive provenance is often belied by her earthy approach to service and education for consumers, an approach which is clearly popular at the bustling restaurants. “I’m a restaurant person who happens to be a sommelier,” she says. Rodil has also organized sommeliers for the TexSom conference, and she speaks at wine events around the country, like the Russian River Valley Forum.

Social Visionary of the Year

José Andrés

Honored by Time Magazine as one of its “100 Most Influential People” in 2012 and 2018, Andrés has been named “Outstanding Chef” and “Humanitarian of the Year” by the James Beard Foundation. Andrés is a culinary innovator, author, educator, television personality, humanitarian and chef/owner of ThinkFoodGroup. As a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Spain, Andrés has been a tireless advocate for immigration reform. In 2010, Andrés formed World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit that provides smart solutions to end hunger and poverty. Notably, his team served more than 3.6 million meals to the people of Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

Yannick Benjamin

Benjamin is a New York City-based sommelier and co-founder of Wheeling Forward, an organization that helps recently disabled people who lack a support system. In 2003, a car accident left Benjamin paralyzed, but he still pursued his dreams to attend college and become a world-class sommelier. While he worked at Le Dû’s Wines for more than seven years, he also became an accomplished para-athlete who has competed in several marathons. Benjamin’s deep connections in the wine world have helped Wheeling Forward build a broad base of supporters. It’s also inspired many sommeliers and wine distributors to give back to their communities.

Sarah Bettman

Bettman is the director of diversity and inclusion at Constellation Brands. She has two decades of experience designing and implementing organizational and leadership development solutions in a variety of industries. Bettman joined Constellation Brands in 2017 and has dedicated the majority of her time to building and championing Constellation’s diversity and inclusion efforts, including the launch of the Women’s Leadership Development Program, expansion of the Women’s Leadership Network, and introduction of Unconscious Bias and Creating Inclusive Culture Programs, which has contributed toward an elevated conversation around these topics throughout the industry.

Deborah Brenner

Brenner is the founder and CEO of New York-based Women of the Vine & Spirits. After she spent more than 20 years in the male-dominated field of high-end technology and owned a marketing and public relations firm, Brenner found that many women in the wine industry were also under-recognized. She began to champion women in wine when she authored Women of the Vine: Inside the World of Women Who Make, Taste and Enjoy Wine. In 2015, Brenner organized the inaugural Women of the Vine Global & Spirits Global Symposium, which sold out. Due to the positive response, Brenner and the group’s advisory board developed a consortium that supports professionals in the alcohol industry year-round, and has expanded the group to Europe.

Amy Hoopes

Hoopes is president of Wente Family Estates in Livermore Valley, California, where she began in 2007 as vice president of marketing. Hoopes heads a long-term sales strategy that strives to position Wente Family Estates as the most respected family-owned winery in the world. One of her key initiatives for the country’s oldest continuously operated, family-owned winery is Make Time. Among other goals, the program seeks to strengthen Wente’s pledge to create a culture of balance for its employees. The initial phase includes additional paid time off, the creation of a team of employees to establish a Make Time culture and company-held social events during business hours.

Wine Enthusiast Wine Star Awards will be taking place on Monday, January 28, 2019, in Miami, FL at Nobu Eden Roc.

For event inquires or to attend, please contact Jen Cortellini, director of special projects & events, jcortellini@wineenthusiast.net.

Published on September 6, 2018
Topics: Wine Star Awards



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