Wine Enthusiast’s 21st Annual Wine Star Award Nominees

Ballroom of Wine Star 2020 awards gala
Scenes from the annual Wine Star Awards gala / Photo by G9 Event Photography
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This year marks the 21st anniversary of Wine Enthusiast’s Annual Wine Star Awards, honoring the individuals and companies that make outstanding contributions to the wine and alcohol beverage world. Here are the nominees across 15 categories for the 2020 Wine Star Awards. The winners of these categories, as well as the Lifetime Achievement Award and American Wine Legend, will be announced in the magazine’s Best of Year issue. In a challenging year for all industries, we salute the dedicated beverage professionals who have innovated and flourished.

The Process

This year, all full-time and contributing divisions (Sales, Events, Marketing, Editorial) of Wine Enthusiast Media were invited to submit nominees for our Wine Star Awards categories and submitted their nominations anonymously, with explanations of what made the nomination appropriate for consideration. That list of nominees was then sent to the group for anonymous voting to cull the larger nominee lists down. Final winners were chosen from the culled down list by the Executive Publishing team with selections based on many factors, including impact on consumers and trade in the wine, spirits, or beer space, commercial successes, company/brand vision, and trendsetting. The Wine Star Awards are an overall beverage industry awards program. While the editors are invited to participate, this is a collaborative program incorporating the input of all divisions of our company and is not a specifically editorial franchise. 

Explore the 2020 Wine Star Award Nominees

Person of the Year

Benjamin Aneff

For 14 years, Benjamin Aneff has worked with retailer Tribeca Wine Merchants, a renowned Burgundy specialist in lower Manhattan where he is now managing partner. In 2020, Aneff also campaigned to protect the industry from a series of tariffs on select European wines, serving as president of the newly formed U.S. Wine Trade Alliance (USWTA). Passionate about the importance of hospitality, he has testified about the effects of tariffs at the International Trade Commission and worked with the National Association of Wine Retailers to send some 28,000 letters to Congress.

Bento Amaral

Without Bento Amaral and his team, no Ports or Douro wines could get to the market. He is the director of technical services and certification, and heads tasting and approval operations for the Port and Douro Wine Institute (IVDP). But Bento is remarkable in another way. In 1994, when he was ready to travel to Australia as a winemaker, he sustained a major surfing accident and is now quadriplegic. He has overcome these life-changing injuries with his work at the IVDP, since 1999.

Ann Mukherjee

In December 2019, Ann Mukherjee became the first woman CEO of Pernod Ricard North America. Within six months, the company launched a progressive, multi-million-dollar Absolut campaign focused on consent, and began to build an app in which consumers can identify and target hate speech on social media. A visionary for social change, her philosophy is to engender the next generation of leaders. “Once you have earned a seat at the table—act on it. Make changes that ensure those behind us do not have to wait as long to be seen or heard,” she told Forbes earlier this year.

Jeff O’Neill

The third generation of a California winemaking family, Jeff O’Neill is the founder of O’Neill Vintners & Distillers, the seventh-largest winery in the state. O’Neill says that the company has grown by 30% annually for several years, and produced nearly 1 million cases in 2019, thanks in part to the rapid growth of its Line 39 brand. Late last year, the company partnered with NFL star Charles Woodson to launch Intercept, a line of red wines from Paso Robles. In 2020, Intercept gained national distribution and Woodson became the first Black NFL player and wine brand partner with national, direct-to-retail distribution. O’Neill also recently pledged $25,000 to the Restaurant Workers’ Community Fund’s Covid-19 emergency relief fund.

Heidi Scheid

A former Ernst & Young valuation analyst and venture capitalist, Heidi Scheid joined her family’s wine business in 1992. She is now executive vice president of Scheid Family Wines, which makes estate-driven wines from grapes grown in Monterey County, all of which are certified by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance. During Scheid’s time with the company, Scheid Family Wines expanded to 12 properties. In 2018, Scheid was elected chair of Wine Market Council, the nonprofit trade organization for which she has been a director since 1996.

Lifetime Achievement Award

To be announced.

American Wine Legend

To be announced.

Winemaker of the Year

Ntsiki Biyela

Ntsiki Biyela studied winemaking at the University of Stellenbosch before she began her career at Stellekaya Winery as junior winemaker, and then moved into the head winemaker role. Recognized as South Africa’s first Black head winemaker, Biyela founded her own wine company, Aslina Wines, in 2017. She uses her position to inspire winemakers of tomorrow as a board member of the Pinotage Youth Development Academy, a technical training and personal development organization for young people in the Cape Winelands that prepares them for wine industry careers.

Greg Brewer

Co-founder of Brewer-Clifton in Santa Barbara County, California, Greg Brewer sold that company to Jackson Family Wines in 2017. Instead of retiring, however, he became the head winemaker at the same time. He doubled down on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay made from vineyards in the Santa Rita Hills while the company opened a new tasting room in nearby Los Olivos. Brewer also produces a Brewer Clifton Syrah and additional brand, Diatom. A former French instructor who learned winemaking at Santa Barbara Winery, Brewer is a relentless ambassador for Santa Barbara County wines as a whole.

Theresa Heredia

When the opportunity arose to work for Joseph Phelps Vineyards and help create its new estate winery in California’s Sonoma County, Theresa Heredia dropped out of a doctoral program in chemistry to pursue winemaking. She was instrumental in developing the Freestone vineyard, winery and brand from the ground up during 10 years with Phelps, including five as winemaker at Freestone, creating cool-climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. She transitioned to nearby Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery in 2012, where she made Wine Enthusiast’s number 1 wine in the Enthusiast 100 list for 2017. Among the first Latinx head winemakers in California, Heredia advocates for a more inclusive wine industry.

David Ramey

The founder of Ramey Wine Cellars in Healdsburg, Calif., Ramey popularized traditional, artisan winemaking techniques in California during a period when making wine by the university book was the norm. Early in his career, he created benchmark wines for Matanzas Creek, Chalk Hill, Dominus and Rudd. In 1996, David and his wife Carla founded Ramey Wine Cellars. Now he’s launched a new brand, SideBar, that features grapes from vineyards in lesser-known regions of California and produces Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel and even Kerner. Ramey’s winemaking practices include the use of oxidized juice in making white wine; eliminating acidification of red wines; and bottling without filtration.

Patricia Tóth

Hungarian-born winemaker Patricia Tóth is a rising star at Italian producer Planeta, which owns five vineyard estates across Sicily. She came on board in 2005 after studying food engineering and fermentation at the University of Budapest and gaining winemaking experience in Hungary, Turkey and Northern Italy. In 2012, the Planeta family built a new winery in the Etna region on the slopes of the great Mt. Etna volcano and put Tóth in charge. She makes whites and reds from traditional Sicilian grape varieties and imported vines like Riesling and Furmint, and their quality has soared under her direction.

Wine Executive of the Year

Isabel Guilisasti

Isabel Guilisasti is the marketing manager for Origin Wines at Concha y Toro. Under her direction, Concha y Toro’s broad portfolio of brands from Chile, Argentina and California showed how to excel at the intersection of volume, quality and depletions in 2020. She is a strong female leader in the wine industry, and a member of the Guilisasti family that controls the company, which currently exports to 140 countries and owns 28,000 acres of vineyards. Its well-known brands include Don Melchor, Almaviva (a joint venture with Baron Philippe de Rothschild), the Trivento brand from Argentina, and Fetzer and Bonterra from California.

Amy Hoopes

The United States’ oldest, continuously operated family-owned winery, Wente Family Estates, is now presided over by a non-family member: Amy Hoopes. Promoted to president in 2016, Hoopes had been with Wente since 2007 and rose to executive vice president and chief marketing officer with responsibility for overseeing all global marketing and sales operations for Wente Vineyards, Entwine, Murrieta’s Well, Double Decker and Hayes Ranch wine brands, as well as for the family’s golf course and concert program. By combining the sales and marketing operations, Hoopes helms a long-term, brand-driven sales strategy with the ultimate goal of positioning Wente Family Estates as the most respected family-owned winery in the world.

Carlton McCoy Jr., MS

Carlton McCoy Jr., MS came up in the restaurant trade and was a Master Sommelier and wine director at The Little Nell in Aspen, Colorado, before switching to the production side of the wine business when he joined Napa Valley’s Heitz Cellar as president and CEO in 2018. The Lawrence family had just acquired the iconic winery that, in the 1960s, pioneered vineyard-designated wines with its Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. In September 2020, the Lawrence family and McCoy added another classic Napa Valley property to their holdings, Burgess Cellars on Howell Mountain. McCoy has also made significant changes at Heitz to navigate the novel coronavirus pandemic, and added a diversity and inclusion program, library releases and involvement in The Roots Fund to promote change in the industry.

Mario Piccini

As CEO and co-owner with his sister Martina, Mario Piccini is among the fourth generation to lead Tenute Piccini. First established in Chianti Classico, Piccini now has four estates throughout Tuscany and two others in Basilicata and on Mount Etna in Sicily. Under Mario’s leadership, the firm has had a real impact on the Italian wine scene, including acquiring the Geografica Cooperative cellar in Chianti, thereby saving the historic brand and hundreds of jobs. Piccini practices organic viticulture and winemaking at all the estates. The first certified organic wines were released in 2020 and wine quality is higher than ever across the board. Piccini and his family rely on a team of young wine professionals in Italy and strong partners abroad for their growing distribution network that spans 72 countries.

Gerard Thoukis

Finishing up his third year with Foley Family Wines, Gerard Thoukis is in charge of marketing a diverse array of estate wineries in California, Oregon and New Zealand for company founder and CEO Bill Foley. Hired in 2017, after 20 months Thoukis was promoted to chief marketing officer of the Sonoma County-based business. In 2020, Foley Family put the marketing of another estate winery in Thoukis’s hands when it announced the purchase of Ferrari-Carano Vineyards & Winery in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley. Thoukis previously worked for many years at E. & J. Gallo after earning a bachelor’s degree in fermentation science from U.C. Davis and an MBA from the University of Notre Dame.

Innovator of the Year

Laura Catena

Dr. Laura Catena has been called “the face of Argentine wine” for her role in studying and promoting the Mendoza wine region and Argentine Malbec. Raised in a winemaking family, her lifelong obsessions are to learn more about high-altitude viticulture, vineyard soil microbiomes and wine ageability. Catena is an author and a physician who worked in medicine for 30 years before becoming managing director of Catena Zapata Winery. As the pandemic spread around the world in 2020, she led her employees and clients to find safe solutions for continuing their work via tech solutions like Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams and Instagram live.

Greg Lambrecht

Greg Lambrecht is the inventor of the Coravin Wine Preservation System and founder of the Coravin company. Widely embraced as a way to serve one glass at a time without opening a wine bottle, the Coravin evolved from Lambrecht’s interest in wine and his previous experience working in medical device technology, where he focused on patients with spinal disorders. Lambrecht has an MS in mechanical engineering and a BS in nuclear engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and holds numerous patents.

André Hueston Mack

Sommelier, designer and author André Hueston Mack was the first Black American named Best Young Sommelier in America by the international organization Chaîne des Rôtisseurs in 2003. He worked as a sommelier at Thomas Keller’s three-Michelin-starred French Laundry restaurant in Napa and opened Keller’s Per Se in New York City before founding graphic design firm Get Fraiche Cru in 2011. His book 99 Bottles: A Black Sheep’s Guide to Wine published in 2019. He makes Maison Noir Wines, the label he launched in 2007, as well as Vine & Supply in Oregon, and he owns several food and drinks spots in Brooklyn, including a wine and ham bar called & Sons Ham Bar. He’s also a sought-after public speaker and an ardent wine educator.

Cory Rellas

As CEO and co-founder of Boston-based Drizly, Cory Rellas imagined a company that could become the Amazon of wine and spirits sales. This year during the pandemic multitudes of consumers were glad that he and his team had built that dream. Drizly is a mobile-centric app that enables customers in markets across the U.S. and Canada to order retail purchases of wine and spirits that are then delivered to their homes or offices by the nearest retailer aligned with Drizly. Rellas told the Boston Business Journal that Drizly’s consumer transactions grew by 350 percent in the first half of 2020 compared to a year earlier.

Caine Thompson

New Zealand-educated viticulturist Caine Thompson served as general manager of David Phinney’s Locations brand in Napa Valley before moving to Paso Robles in 2017 to become president of Rabble Wine Company. Rabble was founded by grape grower Rob Murray and has grown to include the brands Rabble, Tooth & Nail, Stasis and Amor Fati. Under Thompson’s direction, Tooth & Nail Winery has emerged as one of the fastest-growing wineries in the Paso Robles AVA and is known for its balance-driven wines, edgy design aesthetic and distinctive visitor experience at the castle-like winery on Highway 46.

Social Visionary of the Year

Julia Coney

Residing in Washington, D.C., and Houston, Julia Coney is a wine writer, educator, speaker and consultant who founded Black Wine Professionals in 2020. Its goal? To “lift up the multifaceted Black professionals in the world of wine.” Black Wine Professionals provides a network of Black wine media, restaurant, sommeliers and other wine professionals, and five scholarships to the Wine Scholar Guild’s Champagne Master-Level certification in partnership with Champagne Laurent-Perrier USA. Coney’s writing includes stories on wine, winemakers, personal essays, and the intersection of race and wine, and she has contributed to publications like The Washington Post, Texas Monthly, Essence and Wine Enthusiast.

John deBary

Through his nonprofit advocacy organization Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation (RWCF), John deBary tackles the restaurant industry’s quality-of-life crisis that includes low wages and racial injustice. Prior to that, deBary spent nearly 10 years working in New York City bars and restaurants, starting as a bartender at the acclaimed neo-speakeasy PDT (Please Don’t Tell) in 2008, and then working as the corporate bar director for the Momofuku restaurant group until 2018. Since March 2020, RWCF has raised more than $6.4 million for hospitality worker relief related to the novel coronavirus pandemic. deBary published his first book, Drink What You Want, an empowering guide to making cocktails, and he continues to develop Proteau, the nonalcoholic drinks brand he launched in 2019.

Brad and Randall Lange

Twins Brad and Randall Lange are fourth-generation Lodi, California, grape growers, and founders of LangeTwins Winery and Vineyards. They grew up and raised their families in the same place they farm today and are committed to being conscientious stewards of the land. Their dedication to sustainable farming practices recognizes that the base of their livelihood is the health of their soil and the crops it can produce. Now including the fifth generation, the Lange family farms over 8,500 acres in both the Lodi and Clarksburg appellations. Features of the winery’s sustainability include wildlife habitats, water conservation programs, renewable energy production, integrated pest management, and the willingness to share best practices and challenges with other wineries.

Phil Long

The president of the Association of African American Vintners, Phil Long is the founder and winemaker of the Livermore Valley boutique winery Longevity, which recently became a nationally distributed brand thanks to a partnership between Long and the Franzia family, Bronco Wine Co. In 2020, Longevity grew to be, in terms of cases sold, one of the biggest, if not the biggest, nonwhite-owned winery in the U.S. Long is a passionate spokesperson for inclusion and was quoted in numerous impactful articles and broadcasts throughout the year.

Hansjörg Wyss

The owner of Halter Ranch vineyard and winery in Paso Robles, California, Hansjörg Wyss, topped the winery’s long-term commitment to sustainability with the announcement that he would give $1 billion over 10 years to a climate change initiative. National Geographic called it the single largest commitment in history by an individual to help expand land and ocean conservation, and, in 2019, honored him with its inaugural Philanthropist of the Year Award. Wyss is a Swiss citizen who founded the medical device manufacturer Synthes and sold it to Johnson & Johnson in 2012.

Wine Region of the Year

Adelaide Hills, Australia

The Adelaide Hills lost a whopping 30% of its total vineyard acreage to wildfires in early 2020, yet members of this innovative and gorgeous cool-climate wine region banded together to begin rebuilding their region. Dubbed the home of “energy, courage, and groundbreaking vision” even before the fires, and a hotbed of natural winemaking, the Adelaide Hills are a mecca for small-production winemakers. Wineries like Henschke, Petaluma and Shaw & Smith produce elegant, long-lasting wines. Culinary attractions in the area include Mount Lofty House, Gin Long Canteen and modern Australian fare at Restaurant Orana.

Mendoza, Argentina

Mendoza is a bustling city to the east of Mount Aconcagua, the highest peak in the Western Hemisphere. Although it draws its share of adventure travelers, lured by the climbing, skiing, hiking and rafting opportunities within an easy drive of downtown, the area’s vineyards bring enophiles in even greater numbers. Wineries are spread through the three main wine regions—Luján de Cuyo, Uco Valley and Maipu Valley—and offer wide open spaces with nothing but vines, mountain grandeur and blue skies, plus some of the best winery architecture in the world. Mendoza produces nearly two thirds of Argentina’s wine, including many of its highly rated Malbecs.

Rías Baixas, Spain

The Rías Baixas appellation is the historic home of Albariño, Spain’s famed white wine. Technically there are other white wines grown in the region, but Albariño makes up about 90% of the production. So, while wineries from Oregon to Uruguay are helping make the grape popular today internationally, Rías Baixas wines are still the global leaders. Located in the Spanish region of Galicia, sometimes known as “Green Spain,” the Rías Baixas climate is cool and coastal unlike much of inland Spain. Exposed to the Atlantic, Galicia enjoys plentiful seafood, which is a big part of the draw for visitors.

Santa Barbara County, California

Santa Barbara’s Vintners Association has been working hard in recent years to get the word out far beyond Santa Barbara, and the visitors keep coming, from Los Angeles, the Bay Area and across the U.S. The Funk Zone in downtown Santa Barbara is a buzzing hub of tasting rooms, while the northern county offers tasting experiences in the towns of Los Olivos, Buellton, Lompoc, Santa Ynez, Solvang and now, thanks to a new trolley, Santa Maria. The wine industry’s enthusiasm has enlivened the food and hospitality scene all around the area.

Trentino, Italy

In the Dolomite range of Northern Italy, the province of Trentino is home to world-class, terroir-driven wines. Some of the best-known offerings are bottled under the Trento Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC), which produces classic examples of traditional-method sparkling wines made from Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco and Pinot Nero. The distinctive quality of these wines has contributed to the denomination’s growing presence in the American market. The province is also home to the Trentino DOC, which encompasses a range of still wines that represent the backbone of the region made from Pinot Grigio, Teroldego, Lagrein, Merlot and many other regional and international varieties.

American Winery of the Year

Benziger Family Winery

Benziger Family Winery was established on an 85-acre estate in Glen Ellen, California, in 1980 by Mike Benziger. In 2015, the company was acquired by The Wine Group, but Benziger family members Chris and Jamie Benziger remain in key roles. A leader in biodynamic, organic and certified-sustainable farming, the Sonoma County winery crafts wines that are true to the grape variety, vintage and vineyard. The Benzigers believe that natural and carefully cultivated farming yields wines with more flavors, aromas and site-specific character. Chris Benziger announced in 2020 the retail expansion of Tribute, a wine brand now available that commemorates the family’s shared history as vintners.

Duckhorn Vineyards

Adding a winery location and expanding its multiple lines of West Coast wines, the iconic Napa Valley wine company Duckhorn Vineyards was on the move in 2019 and 2020. It acquired the former Starmont Winery in Napa as a base for its fast-growing Migration brand and launched new wines like Decoy Limited and Postmark Cabernet Sauvignon. Its Canvasback line from Red Mountain vineyards in Washington State has won accolades and the brand opened a new tasting room in Walla Walla. In recent years the additions of collectible Pinot Noir specialists Calera in the Central Coast and Kosta Browne in Sonoma County have broadened the Duckhorn portfolio. Goldeneye winery in California’s Anderson Valley and Paraduxx in Napa Valley are two more significant properties created by Duckhorn.

Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard

Founded in 1979 by a German immigrant, Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard is an iconic New York winery in the Finger Lakes. Wiemer, along with a few other pioneering wineries, helped establish Vitis vinifera grape varieties in the cool-climate region thought to be hospitable to only native American or French-American crossed vines at the time. Today, the winery produces some of the best Riesling in the U.S., as well as traditional-method sparkling wines, Cabernet Franc and Lemberger. It is also a leader of the biodynamic movement in the region and currently farms 14 acres of its estate vineyards biodynamically, with the intention of transitioning the entire 33-acre site in the coming years.

Michael David Winery

After 150 years of farming in Lodi, California, and 36 years of making wine, the Phillips family of Michael David Winery continues to raise the bar. Named for brothers Michael and David Phillips, the winery sold its best-selling line, Seven Deadly Zins, to The Wine Group in 2018 and has refocused on its colorfully packaged Zinfandel, red blends and other robust wines under the tongue-in-cheek, fast-growing brand names of Freak Show, Petite Petit, Earthquake and Inkblot. Michael David is the most popular direct-to-consumer winery in Lodi, having completed a full renovation to its outdoor food and wine tasting space in 2020.

Zafa Wines

Wine and cider maker Krista Scruggs of Zafa Wines grew up in California with a deep connection to the land through her grandfather’s farm in the San Joaquin Valley. Later she worked a harvest in France, and then met Deirdre Heekin, the winemaker behind Vermont’s legendary natural winery, La Garagista. Scruggs was Heekin’s assistant at La Garagista before becoming a leader in her own right in the small wine and cider-making community of this up and coming area. Based on Isle La Motte in Lake Champlain, she is working to realize her dream of becoming a full-fledged vigneron while creating boundary-pushing bottles and uplifting women and people of color.

European Winery of the Year

Alpha Estate, Greece

Alpha Estate in the Amyndeon region of northern Greece is presided over by Angelo Iatridis, one of Greece’s most innovative winemakers, who excels at making wines from both indigenous Greek and international grape varieties. Iatridis and viticulturist Makis Mavridis co-founded the winery in 1997, building a state-of-the-art gravity-flow winery amid the vines and overlooking the Petres and Vegoritida lakes. Iatridis always strives for grape-growing precision and focused, exciting, terroir-driven wines. Alpha wines like a single-block Assyrtiko, an elegant rosé made from Xinomavro, and a Sauvignon Blanc have all won recent accolades.

Bodegas del Palacio de Fefiñanes, Spain

This historic Albariño producer is located on the waterfront in Cambados, one of the main towns in the Salnes region of Rías Baixas. Modern wines have been made here since the early 1900s, but the estate dates back to the 17th century. The winery’s president, Juan Gil de Araujo, is proud of Fefiñanes’ pioneering effort to focus on Albarino in making four different wines that total 12,000 cases. The wines are consistently excellent, thanks in part to the input of consulting winemaker Cristina Mantilla, who was profiled in Wine Enthusiast‘s March 2020 Advocacy Issue.

Le Chiuse, Italy

The Montalcino estate of Le Chiuse decided to hold back its 2010 Brunello Riserva Diecianni (rated 99 points by Wine Enthusiast) for 10 years until 2020. There aren’t many companies in the world that would have the courage to take such a step to ensure that no one drank their wine prematurely. Le Chiuse is a small, family-owned Tuscan property that covers 44 acres of vineyards, olive groves and woods and produces about 30,000 bottles a year of Rosso di Montalcino, Brunello di Montalcino and a bottle-fermented sparkling wine called Stellare.

Domaines Paul Mas, France

Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, Domaines Paul Mas is a South of France powerhouse. Founder Jean-Claude Mas set out to reinvent the viticultural traditions of the Languedoc while above all respecting the land and preserving its future. The firm’s growth has been exponential. Starting with an 86-acre family plot, Les Domaines Paul Mas has thoughtfully expanded its holdings to 2,100 acres of vineyards, producing 22 million bottles annually that are distributed to more than 71 countries. Able to blend with some 45 different grape varieties from a vast range of diverse Languedoc terroirs, the goal of Paul Mas wines is to capture a style of “rural luxury.”

Domaines Piron, France

This historic producer demonstrates how good the top Beaujolais crus, or village appellations, are now. An estate in Morgon has been in the Piron family for 14 generations and makes high-scoring wines. By combining great terroir and old vines, proprietor Dominique Piron makes Morgon that is substantial, structured and age-worthy, as well as red and white wines from other crus and villages in Beaujolais. Piron’s holdings include a total of 235 acres of vines. Dominique Piron is now president of Inter-Beaujolais, representing this region that is now beginning to enjoy the success it deserves.

New World Winery of the Year

Bodegas de Santo Tomás, Mexico

Santo Tomás is one of Mexico’s biggest wineries and the oldest in Baja California, the country’s premier wine region, located just 90-minutes by car from the U.S. border. Star winemaker Cristina Pino Villar joined the company in 2019 after six years at Monte Xanic, another of Mexico’s largest and most respected wineries, and is transforming it into a winery of higher quality and better sustainability. Founded in 1888 by Italian Francisco Adonegui and Spaniard Miguel Olmart, Santo Tomás was once owned by Abelardo Rodriguez, who later became interim president of Mexico. Current CEO Santiago Cosío is president of winery collective ProVino and focused on environmentally-sound development of this fast-growing region.

Casillero del Diablo, Chile

Company legend says that, in the 19th century, founder Don Melchor de Concha y Toro used the name of this winery, which translates to “the devil’s cellar,” to keep thieves away from his private collection. The brand was launched in 1963 but is remains relevant due to a recent repositioning and re-launch that have energized sales. Quality and affordability have long been among the brand’s strengths, but new technology is also in play as Casillero del Diablo became one of the first brands to work out an international direct-to-consumer online model.

Garage Wine Co., Chile

Owned by winemaker Pilar Miranda and wine marketer Derek Mossman Knapp, this boutique company produces wines mostly from old, dry-farmed vines in the Maule Valley, working with farmers from marginalized Chilean communities. Their wines feature micro-fermentations, and grape varieties like Cinsault and formerly discredited País. Smart marketing including very cool packaging make Garage cutting-edge in Chile. Through their role in the Movement of Independent Vintners, Miranda and Mossman Knapp helped convince importers, distributors and wine buyers the value of small wineries in a land of big ones.

Hans Herzog Family Estate, New Zealand

Everyone knows that Marlborough can make unique and world class Sauvignon Blanc. But when Swiss expats Hans and Therese Herzog planted vines in the region in 1996, they proved that Marlborough could make outstanding wine from numerous varieties. With 26 varieties planted, Herzog wines are 100% grown, produced and bottled on the property. Using an organic and holistic approach to their quality wines, Hans Herzog shares its vine stock and mentorship with winemakers across the country, contributing diversity to New Zealand’s wine landscape. Therese also runs a highly celebrated gourmet restaurant and cellar door experience.

Radford Dale, South Africa

Ben Radford and Alex Dale founded Radford Dale in 1998 in South Africa devoted to minimal intervention winemaking and progressive policies for its employees and the environment. While making highly rated Chenin Blanc, Pinot Noir, Pinotage and other wines from numerous regions, Radford Dale sets targets in four critical non-business areas: the environment, ethics, social justice and Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment. One of its efforts was to set up a trust for previously disadvantaged employees, called Land of Hope, which is an optimistic, positive instrument to facilitate a brighter future for the dependents of individual team members.

Importer of the Year

Dalla Terra Winery Direct

Dalla Terra Winery Direct is a national agent for a stellar lineup of Italian wines like Alois Lageder, Selvapiana, Tasca d’Almerita and Vietti. Based in Napa, in 2020, Dalla Terra added an Italian spirits division to its portfolio. The company works to keep retail costs as low as possible by bypassing the role of a traditional national importer and allowing distributors to buy directly from the winery. Wines from Dalla Terra are extremely well priced for their respective categories, making their portfolio a major driver of Italian wines in the U.S. Under chairman and founder Brian Larky, and president Scott Ades, Dalla Terra is also an active proponent of wineries that are sustainable, organic and biodynamic.

Jenny & François Selections

Two decades ago, Jenny & François introduced America to a category of wines that has disrupted the modern wine world: natural wine. Now, Jenny & François sells around 279 wines from 71 producers in 10 countries to 42 states. The company distributes its own wines in New York where it is based and sells wines in its portfolio through other distributors throughout the country. Jenny Lefcourt has bought the company out from her now ex-husband François Ecot. One of the hardest working women in the wine industry, Lefcourt is also a mother and human rights activist.

Quintessential Wines

In 2020, the Napa-based importer of Georges Duboeuf and many other international wines became the owner of Accolade Wines’ U.S. brands: Geyser Peak, Atlas Peak, Outlot and XYZin. As such, Quintessential, owned by two generations of the Kreps family, Steve Sr., Dennis and Steve Jr., has evolved into one of the leading import and marketing companies of fine wines in the U.S.  Geyser Peak is an especially valuable addition to the firm’s portfolio, being one of the most recognized domestic labels. To support the brand’s rebirth, Quintessential has enlisted Robert Pepi, Jr., lauded for his prowess with Sauvignon Blanc, as consulting winemaker.

Vino del Sol

Vino del Sol is a small but mighty importer and agent for exclusively family-owned, sustainably farmed and estate-produced wines, both foreign and domestic. Making its mark originally as an Argentine wine specialist, the firm was founded by Matt Hedges who had fallen in love with wine while studying in Argentina. Hedges partnered with Alejandro Darago, the sommelier of the Alvear Palace Hotel in Buenos Aires, and Thane Prichard, who brought 20-plus years’ experience successfully building wine brands nationally. Examples of the company’s clientele are Altocedro and Anko from Argentina, Criss Cross and Gen5 from California, Lagar de Bezana from Chile and Taonga from New Zealand.

Vintage 59

Vintage 59 Imports is a national import company that prides itself on its careful choice of producers. The firm represents roughly 50 small wineries, primarily from France, and is strong in Champagne with such clients as Jacquesson and Pierre Moncuit, the Loire Valley with Charles Bove and Henry Natter, and Burgundy with Joseph Voillot and Domaine des Hâtes. Founder Roy Cloud had been working for the importing arm of the Michel-Schlumberger winery in California when he bought assets of that division to form a new company. Cloud says his rule is simple: “You work with people who make you proud and whose wine you drink at home.”

Retailer of the Year

Albertsons

After merging with Safeway in 2015, Albertsons became the second biggest supermarket chain in the country and one of largest retailers of wine. It owns more than 2,250 stores across 35 states and the District of Columbia under 19 banners, including Albertsons, Safeway, Vons, Pavilions, Jewel-Osco, Shaw’s, Acme and several others. Its wine program in some markets includes co-hosting winemaker dinners dozens of times per year, and in some locations the stores organize wines by appellations instead of varietals. To further demonstrate its commitment to fine wine and spirits, Albertson’s in 2020 hired Master of Wine Curtis Mann as a group vice president.

BevMax

BevMax, a 10-store independent chain based in Stamford, Connecticut, calls itself “The Wine & Liquor Superstore,” citing its vast selection of wines and spirits. BevMax provides shipping of online orders across the country, home delivery locally and free curbside service, as well as hosting wine, spirits and beer tastings, wine classes and winemaker dinners. The Connecticut stores are located in Bridgeport, Norwalk, Danbury, Stamford, Stratford, Hamden, New Milford and Wethersfield, and a New York store is in Port Chester. BevMax’s community efforts support pet rescue, nature centers, food banks and homeless shelters.

Target

Target is not just one of the biggest retailers of wine in the U.S., but also one of the friendliest, most accessible and most inclusive. There are four private store brands at reasonable prices, and a broad selection of nationally distributed wines with an emphasis on California labels. Early in 2020, Target introduced its $10 Rosé Bae wines. It debuted The Collection line at $9 in 2019 and, before that, $5 California Roots and The Wine Cube in 500 ml cartons and 3-liter boxes. Target stresses its supplier diversity program, in which it looks to work with supplier companies owned by women, military veterans, and members of the BIPOC and LGBTQ communities.

Urban Grape

TJ and Hadley Douglas own this awarded wine, beer and spirits shop in Boston’s South End that’s geared toward making wine accessible to all. Their creative thinking includes Progressive Shelving, a unique system of organizing wines by their body, rather than varietal or region; virtual events and videos, cellar consultations, and a book outlining their progressive approach. In 2020, they launched The Urban Grape Wine Studies Award for Students of Color, highlighting a three-pronged approach of education, work experience and mentorship to break down barriers to the beverage industry, to create opportunities for career advancement, and to prepare students of color for long and prosperous careers in wine.

Wine Access

Online retailer Wine Access doesn’t aim to have the world’s biggest selection of wine, but to source carefully curated selections of hard-to-find wines and offer many of them through special limited-time deals and daily emails. Making the selections are a Master of Wine, Vanessa Conlin, a Master Sommelier, Sur Lucero, and other credentialed tasters and buyers. Based in Napa, Wine Access was founded in 1996 and is currently led by CEO Joe Fisch. In June 2020, Wine Enthusiast named Wine Access one of the top five online wine retailers in the country.

Spirit Brand/Distiller of the Year

Aviation American Gin

Actor Ryan Reynolds was the co-owner of Aviation American Gin, which is handcrafted in small batches by a team of master distillers in Portland, Oregon. The brand has become one of the fastest growing in the super-premium gin category, and drew headlines in 2020 when Diageo, the world’s largest distiller, acquired it from Reynolds and co-owners Davos Brands in a deal worth up to $600 million. To make Aviation, distillers source botanicals from around the world, including cardamom, coriander, French lavender, anise seed, sarsaparilla, juniper and orange peel, and suspend them in a neutral grain spirit for 18 hours in macerating tanks. Next comes the distillation, the cut, blending and bottling.

The Balvenie

Two years ago, at age 26, Kelsey McKechnie was appointed to the position of apprentice malt master at Scottish distiller The Balvenie, becoming one of the youngest women in the world to hold that title. In a traditionally male-dominated industry, she is training to be the successor to malt master David C. Stewart. The Balvenie, which distilled its first whisky in 1892, still grows its own barley, uses traditional floor maltings and keeps both a coppersmith and a team of coopers on site. William Grant & Sons is the parent company.

Monkey 47 Schwarzwald Dry Gin

Monkey 47 Gin is a little brand that could. This is gin from Germany’s Black Forest region is positioned as a luxury spirit with a fun, quirky brand identity, and was recently acquired by Pernod-Ricard. The company first took a majority stake in 2016, then completed an acquisition in 2020. Monkey 47 quickly became a high-end cult favorite in the bar industry. Its German origin is unusual for a gin, and a good third of the 47 ingredients come from the Black Forest, including juniper, lingonberries and dozens of other hand-picked botanicals. Prepared in extremely soft spring water from a local source, the gin has a distinctive flavor profile.

Uncle Nearest/Nearest Green

This Tennessee whiskey brand celebrates the legacy of Nathan “Nearest” Green, an enslaved Black man who taught the legendary Jack Daniels the whiskey-making craft. It has developed a cult following since its whiskeys debuted in 2017. Helmed by CEO and cofounder Fawn Weaver, Uncle Nearest/Nearest Green is an all BIPOC-led business and encompasses a premium aged whiskey with a blend of 8- to 14- year old spirits, an 11-year-old minimum age single barrel, and a 7-year-old small batch offering, all mellowed using the Lincoln County Process, including a filtering of Bourbon through sugar maple charcoal.

WhistlePig Whiskey

Emily Harrison, the lead distiller of WhistlePig Whiskey, is a former chemical engineer turned Bourbon distiller who specializes in rye whiskey. She is the mastermind of countless local distilling experiments at the brand’s headquarters in a former dairy barn on a Vermont farm. There, the team grows and harvests rye, tends pigs, sheep, goats and bees, and taps 20 acres of maple trees to make syrup. Harrison and her team are constantly pushing to try new things and to unlock the potential of rye whiskey, including harvesting oak trees from their farm to make whiskey-aging barrels. Peter Lynch is chief blender, and was guided by the late master distiller Dave Pickerell.

Wine Educator of the Year

David Glancy, MS

Master Sommelier David Glancy, MS founded the San Francisco Wine School in 2011 to help students break into wine, advance their careers or simply pursue their passions. Glancy is one of only 12 people in the world with both a Master Sommelier credential and the Certified Wine Educator certification. Through both in-person and online classes, the San Francisco Wine School offers everything from instruction for rank beginners in wine appreciation to prepping students to become professional sommeliers, including Wine & Spirits Education Trust programs taught by Grape Experience. The school’s innovations include founding the exclusive California Wine Appellation Specialist and Northwest Wine Appellation Specialist program.

Mary Ewing-Mulligan, MW

Mary Ewing-Mulligan, Master of Wine and Certified Wine Educator, is a leading wine instructor and writer who dedicated her career to helping Americans deepen their understanding and appreciation of wine. Ewing-Mulligan is the president of the International Wine Center in New York, and was the first woman in America to become a Master of Wine, a title she earned in 1993. Today, 14 of her former students also hold the MW. Ewing-Mulligan runs the academically rigorous programs of the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, which offer Americans the traditional pre-Master of Wine education. She has authored or co-authored 11 books and written hundreds of articles for newspapers and magazines.

Rebecca Hopkins and Cathy Huyghe

Rebecca Hopkins is VP of communications and partner in Michael Mondavi’s Folio Fine Wines, and co-founded the online forum A Balanced Glass with Cathy Huyghe, who is also co-founder and CEO of Enolytics, a data services firm for the wine business. Their mission for A Balanced Glass is to connect global wine and beverage professionals with insights and tips to support physical and mental health in the world of wine. Their videos, social media and in-person teachings aim to change the way industry members talk about health and wellness, bringing often shadowed subjects to light.

Cristie Norman

Certified Sommelier Cristie Norman joined the Spago wine team at age 21 and, in the past year, launched an affordable and accessible web-based wine school, The Online Wine Course for beginners. It has already provided more than 30,000 hours of wine education in more than 15 countries. When the novel coronavirus pandemic hit, she provided complimentary access to her $150 class to any interested hospitality worker. She also created a nonprofit organization, The United Sommeliers Foundation, to provide financial assistance to out-of-work sommeliers due to the novel coronavirus outbreak. The foundation has already raised more than $800,000 and distributed funds to more than 750 wine professionals in need.

Regine T. Rousseau

CEO Regine T. Rousseau fell in love with wine during a college study-abroad trip to Besançon, France. She began her career in beverage as a salesperson for a wine distributor. While in this role, Rousseau noticed how the barrier of “wine speak” formed a disconnect between wine professionals and consumers. Inspired to bridge the gap, in 1997 Rousseau took the helm of Shall We Wine, a wine, spirits and beer company based in Chicago. The experiential marketing, event planning and media powerhouse provides memorable customer experiences while expanding a brand’s presence across a variety of channels. A well-regarded poet, Rousseau has also traveled around the globe to share her wine and beverage expertise.

Sommelier/Wine Director of the Year

Yvonne Cheung

As director of wine for Swire Hotels & Restaurants, Hong Kong-based Yvonne Cheung is a star sommelier and wine expert. Her role with Swire spans properties in Hong Kong, China and the U.S. After attending the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., Cheung became a sommelier at Napa’s Carneros Inn. In 2010, she took the helm of wine operations at The Upper House, Swire’s flagship in Hong Kong. Cheung expanded her role to become a consultant for Cathay Pacific as well as serve as a panel judge for multiple international beverage organizations including the International Wine and Spirits Competition.

Lauren Friel

Lauren Friel is the owner of the proudly feminist wine bar Rebel Rebel in Boston, who just opened another wine bar/shop/bookstore, Wild Child, and is soon to open Dear Annie, a natural wine pub and organic-produce market. Friel is socially active and has inspired many younger somms, especially women. A multi-talented sommelier, writer and marketer, Friel is the creative brain behind VinDrop, a beverage consulting and content development company she founded in 2014. She has written wine programs for retailers and restaurants up and down the East Coast, and the all-female wine list she developed for Dirt Candy is believed to be the only program of its kind in the U.S. One of Friel’s fundraising efforts raised more than $27,000 in one week for the Yellowhammer Fund supporting abortion access.

Zwann Grays

The wine director and buyer at Olmsted and Maison Yaki in New York City, Zwann Grays recently started a Black Entrepreneurs series at Maison Yaki. She began her wine career working in sales for distributor Zev Rovine Selections. Shortly after, she entered the restaurant industry working at some of New York City’s most notable wine destinations including Anfora, Bouley, Terroir Park Slope and, most recently, Estela. Having joined the team at Olmsted as wine director, Zwann continues the restaurant’s focus on natural, producer-driven wine selections and affordable offerings. She helped open Maison Yaki last year, bringing a progressive wine program to a modern yakitori spot across the street from the perennially popular and widely lauded Olmsted.

Victoria James

Victoria James is the head sommelier, beverage director and a partner in Cote Korean Steakhouse in New York City. She followed up her 2017 book on rosé, Drink Pink, with the recent memoir Wine Girl, which was one of the most talked about and popular wine books of 2020. Certified as a sommelier at age 21, she’s a strong advocate for women and all who are marginalized in the wine business. Along with Cote’s general manager Amy Zhou and events director Cynthia Cheng, she founded Wine Empowered, a non-profit that aims to diversify the hospitality industry by offering free wine classes to women and minorities.

Erik Segelbaum

The founder and chief “vinnovation” officer of Somlyay LLC, Erik Segelbaum took all that he learned as a wine director for an all-star roster of restaurants from South Beach to Seattle and started his own consulting company in Washington, D.C. Segelbaum has lobbied Congress against tariffs on European Union wines as a part of the U.S. Wine Trade Alliance. He’s also involved with the United Sommeliers Foundation to help with housing, medical needs and childcare for sommeliers who lost jobs due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. More than 700 sommeliers have received financial grants from the organization. Earlier in his career at Starr Restaurants, he championed underappreciated Madeira and at Schwartz Brothers, he managed an award-winning wine program with $4.5 million in annual sales.

Viticulturist of the Year

Duff Bevill

Involved in Sonoma County agriculture since 1973, Duff Bevill is a member of the board of directors of the Sonoma County Grape Growers Foundation, and helped make Sonoma become the first 100% certified sustainable wine region in the U.S. In 2014, his Bevill Vineyard Management became one of the first viticulture companies in Sonoma County to have all its clients certified as sustainable. His vision and leadership led to Sonoma County being recognized with the Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award in 2016. Managing more than 1,000 acres of grapes across the county for a who’s who of wineries, Bevill and his wife Nancy also own and lease 80 acres of their own in California’s Dry Creek and Russian River valleys.

Rosa Kruger

Industry icon Rosa Kruger has played an integral role in some of South Africa’s top wines, and championed the cataloging, preservation and discussion surrounding old vines and old-vine appreciation worldwide. After more than a decade of research, in 2016, she formally launched the Old Vine Project (OVP) to designate and champion old-vine vineyards and producers who protect them. It has since become a globally recognized name, with an official Certified Heritage Vineyard seal that the 80 vineyard members can use on their bottlings. She is formally a vineyard manager for six estates, though she works with countless other winemakers. Through OVP, she works with pruning equipment manufacturer Felco to provide training and education programs to vineyard workers.

Miguel Luna

In 2015, Miguel Luna was made a partner in Silverado Farming Company, which oversees the top Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards for some of the area’s most prestigious wineries: Dana Estates, Melka Wines, Vineyard 29, Lail Vineyards, Gandona, Stag’s Leap, Vineyard 7 & 8, Round Pond and Bart and Daphne Araujo’s new Accendo Cellars. Born in Mexico, Luna oversees farming for more than 600 acres of prime vineyards from some of Napa’s top appellations, including Pritchard Hill, Oakville, Rutherford, Diamond Mountain, Spring Mountain and Howell Mountain as well as parts of the Sonoma Coast. The company donates 1% of its gross revenues to underfunded grassroots nonprofits who focus on farm worker issues and at-risk youth. Luna also is a partner in a small wine project called La Pelle.

Attilio Persia

“Wine is made in the vineyards, not in the winery,” is the motto at Umbria’s Lungarotti Winery, the first in the region certified by the Ministry of the Environment’s V.I.V.A. (Evaluation of the Impact of Viticulture on the Environment) program. Devoted to sustainability, agronomist Attilio Persia works closely with enologist Vincenzo Pepe to respect the vine, biodiversity of the soil and of the vineyard environment at Lungarotti.

Brenae Royal

Brenae Royal is the vineyard manager for E. & J. Gallo’s Monte Rosso vineyard in Sonoma County, one of the most historic vineyards in the United States, having been planted first in 1886. Besides being responsible for one of the Gallo family’s most prized grape-growing sites, and using adaptation and experimentation to preserve and improve it, she uses her position and social media presence to recruit and elevate other women and people of color who want to enter the wine industry. The 30-year-old studied crop science and horticulture at Cal State Chico, worked as intern at Gallo and was promoted to vineyard manager in 2015.

Winners will be honored at our annual black-tie gala—virtual for 2021! Stay tuned for details on how we will roll out an exciting and unique event.

For more information on purchasing virtual tables to attend our event, please contact Jen Cortellini, senior director, operations & events.

Published on October 13, 2020