This year marks the 23rd 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 13 categories for the 2022 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 and celebrated at the annual black-tie gala in January 2023. We salute the dedicated beverage professionals who have innovated and flourished 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 Media 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 solely an editorial franchise.
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Explore the 2022 Wine Star Award Nominees
You’re Invited: 2022 Wine Enthusiast Wine Star Award Winners will be honored in person at The Westin St. Francis on Union Square, San Francisco, CA
For event inquires or to attend, please contact Abigail Turrisi, Events & PR Coordinator, email@example.com
Person of the Year
The Napa Valley Wine Academy has helped more than 25,000 professionals and amateur wine lovers progress along the path to Wine & Spirit Education Trust certification and has earned several global awards for doing so. Key to the academy’s success has been the work of co-owner and Vice President of Education Catherine Bugue, who helped the academy achieve one of the highest pass rates in the WSET’s history while also remaining active with Napa Valley technical tasting groups and wine writing.
Tim Lightbourne & Rob Cameron
Although Invivo & Co. has enjoyed the celebrity spotlight thanks to successful brand collaborations with UK talk show host Graham Norton and actor Sarah Jessica Parker, the company also parlayed two innovative and successful equity crowdfunding campaigns to fund its growth into one of the largest wine producers in the founders’ native New Zealand. In 2022, founders Tim Lightbourne and Rob Cameron invested in additional vineyards in Marlborough to supply increased winemaking at the Invivo winery that is set to produce more than 2.5 million liters this year.
Since founding O’Neill Vintners & Distillers in 2004, Jeff O’Neill has led the firm into becoming one of the largest vertically integrated wine and spirits producers in the United States. The company produces several notable wine brands including Line 39, Robert Hall and Rabble. In recent years, the company has made sustainability a focus as evidenced by winning the California Wine Institute’s Green Medal Leader Award in 2021 and earning the prestigious B Corp Certification this year. The recent certification makes the firm one of the largest companies in the United States to have successfully earned the rigorous sustainability certification.
Vintage Wine Estates CEO and founding partner Pat Roney implemented a series of strategic acquisitions of wineries and brands over the past 20 years to form one of the most successful and proactive wine companies in the United States. In 2021, Vintage went public to further solidify its leading position while also investing in new ventures such as The Sommelier Co. and Vinesse wine club to support future growth in e-commerce and direct-to-consumer sales.
One of the original Oregon winemaking pioneers, Adelsheim and his wife Ginny purchased their first 19-acre property in the Willamette Valley in 1971. Driven by a focused vision to create consistently decent wine, Adelsheim continued to improve his efforts and those of other growers and winemakers in the state to regularly produce great wine and that eventually led to Oregon cementing its reputation as the source of world-class wine.
Lifetime Achievement Award
American Wine Legend
Winemaker of the Year
Ata Rangi, which means “dawn sky” in Te Reo Māori, helped put New Zealand Pinot Noir on the map and winemaker Helen Masters has been steadily improving the iconic winery’s output since taking over in the cellar in 2003. The family-owned winery’s estate vineyards in the southern end of the North Island are organically farmed, and Masters has maintained the winery’s reputation for uncompromising quality while continuing to achieve sustainable commercial success.
After studying winemaking in her native Portugal, Ana Diogo-Draper moved to California to work in Napa Valley in 2005, joined Artesa in 2013 and was promoted to director of winemaking just two years later. Diogo-Draper dramatically improved the winery’s Pinot Noir program and just recently developed a new single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from estate vineyards in the Mount Veeder AVA while expanding the winery’s ever-popular sparkling wine program. She achieved all this while also being a founding board member of a new winemaking research group and making wines under her eponymous label through Naked Wines.
Prior to making critically and commercially successful Rhône and Burgundy varietals as well as exceptional Sauvignon Blancs from California’s Central Coast, Doug Margerum and his family were some of the earliest and most vocal supporters of the region’s wines through their restaurant and wine shop Wine Cask. Margerum also owned Vita Nova winery with Bob Lindquist of Qupé and Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat for more than a decade before launching his own winery in 2001.
From the success of his eponymous label and other winemaking projects, the name Paul Hobbs has come to represent outstanding winemaking around the world. Working with vineyards in California, New York, Argentina, France, Armenia, Spain and elsewhere, Hobbs is one of the most successful and well-known global winemakers. After growing up on the family farm in upstate New York, Hobbs studied winemaking at the University of California, Davis, took his first winemaking job with Robert Mondavi and was then inspired by legendary growers Larry Hyde and Richard Dinner to produce his owns wines in 1991. In May 2022, Hobbs opened his latest winery endeavor, Hillick & Hobbs, which is located in Seneca Lake, N.Y., and where he is focused on showcasing the best Riesling possible from the Finger Lakes region.
The venerable J Vineyards & Winery estate in the Russian River Valley has been a leader in premium sparkling winemaking and that legacy began with founder Judy Jordan, who ran the winery for decades. Winemaker Nicole Hitchcock has been carrying on both traditions of quality winemaking and female leadership as the winery’s winemaker, and in 2022 she helped launch the “Shifting the Lens” culinary program that featured three BIPOC chefs showcasing their unique culinary creations paired with J wines over separate two-week residencies. The series also was intended to pave the way for more equitable conversations and representation in the food and wine industry.
Wine Executive of the Year
Robert Bradshaw—who joined importer Cape Classics in 2009 as chief operating officer and became its chief executive officer in 2010—was instrumental in the company’s expansion into importing wines from France and Italy. Bradshaw is also credited with improving the company’s distribution network, growing its national accounts and forging new, strategic partnerships including a pivotal agreement with South Africa’s largest independent wine producer, DGB, which is comprised of some of the country’s most renowned brands.
Named Treasury Wine Estate’s president of the Americas region in January 2020, Ben Dollard helped the Aussie wine corporation navigate the stormy waters of the pandemic by focusing on luxury wine sales in the U.S. market and a successful partnership with rapper Snoop Dogg and the popular 19 Crimes brand. The focus on premiumization and the U.S. market helped Treasury bounce back from Australia’s trade dispute with China and paved the way for a $315 million acquisition of Frank Family Vineyards in Napa Valley.
As executive vice president of sales and marketing for the Thornhill Companies and Miller Family Wine Co., Nicholas Miller plays an instrumental role in one of the most dynamic full-service wine companies in the United States. In addition to owning the Bien Nacido, Solomon Hills and French Camp vineyards, the family—which has been farming in California since 1871—owns thousands of other vineyard acres in the Central Coast and produces dozens of their own wine brands while also maintaining an extensive private label business.
Founder and CEO of Willamette Valley Vineyards, Jim Bernau has long been a pillar of Willamette Valley winemaking, leading the way in creating a world-class winery focused on Pinot Noir and supporting the larger community and setting a model of sustainability. His innovation shown through with the recent launch of Domaine Willamette at Bernau Estate Vineyard—a facility making superior traditional method sparkling wine in Dundee Hills.
Miami, Florida-based Ethica Wines has become one of the most influential importers of Italian wines for the U.S., Canadian and Asian markets. The company represents more than 50 of Italy’s top wineries and Vice President of North America and National Key Account Manager Alessandro Angelini has been instrumental in increasing the size and share of the firm’s portfolio. An import-export veteran with nearly 30 years of experience, Angelini joined the firm in 2012 and helps manage its global distribution and sales network from his home base of Trento, Italy.
Named CEO in March 2021, Tyson Overton helped the family-owned Wente Family Estates in Livermore, California, see another year of strong growth. Overton joined the company in 2014 to oversee its sales team and was promoted to the post of chief sales and marketing office after steady year-over-year sales increases that helped Wente increase its share of the highly competitive U.S. wholesale market. Overton continued that streak of successful sales growth through the challenges of 2020 and is now one of just a few non-family members to lead the iconic winery over its 139-year history.
Innovator of the Year
Anita Oberholster, Tom Collins and Elizabeth Tomasino
This trio of West Coast university researchers has made numerous breakthroughs in understanding and managing the effects of wildfire smoke in grapes and wine and has communicated those findings to the industry through conferences and webinars as well as through the media so consumers can better understand the risks and sensory effects from smoke. With Anita Oberholster at the University of California Davis, Tom Collins at Washington State University and Elizabeth Tomasino at Oregon State University, the three experts are implementing a coordinated approach that is also mindful of key regional differences to what is poised to be the biggest threat to modern winemaking in the western United States.
Faced with the prospect of losing coverage or prohibitive cost increases to secure fire insurance for his Junction City, Oregon, estate, Stephen Hagen enlisted his menagerie of farm animals to graze their way to safety. Calling his strategy “grazing-based viticulture,” Hagen expanded the animals’ grazing area into the wildlands surrounding his vineyards to reduce the fire risk and provide his critters with free forage. His systematic approach starts with sheep grazing tall grasses, followed by goats clearing out remaining brush and brambles while pigs provide a final round of vegetation removal.
Over the past year, the data analytics firm Enolytics forged several key partnerships with firms such as Commerce7, WineDirect and Vermont Information Processing that help wineries find success in both the direct-to-consumer and wholesale markets. Enolytics co-founder Cathy Huyghe is a frequent speaker at industry conferences, where she spreads a message of how the company is really about empowering winery staff to feel confident using the data they already have to make better decisions and reach company goals.
Calling her Salem, Oregon, vineyard and Hope Well wines the “alchemy between the natural world, my deep love for this ground and the unsung heroes whose strong hands, hearts and minds have helped me make it,” Mimi Casteel has become a vocal and successful advocate for regenerative farming. After a career as a botanist and ecologist for the U.S. Forest Service, Casteel worked at her parents’ Bethel Heights Vineyard for a decade before establishing her own 80-acre farm that supplies grapes to other wineries and Casteel’s Hope Well brand. Casteel points to the devastating wildfires of 2020 as evidence that the crisis of climate change requires a comprehensive shift to regenerative farming, and her message is gaining traction among growers and winemakers around the world.
Tablas Creek Vineyard
One of the best-known brands out California’s Central Coast, Tablas Creek Vineyard is also famous for its focus on Rhône varietals thanks to the founding partnership between France’s Perrin family (Château de Beaucastel) and their American partners, the Haas family. The winery has also become one of the most sustainable U.S. wineries after earning organic certification in 2003, biodynamic in 2016 and a recent certification through the Regenerative Organic Alliance, ROC. In 2022, the winery added the ROC logo to its label and introduced a premium box wine (with the equivalent volume of four bottles) to further its sustainability efforts.
Social Visionary of the Year
The Hue Society, founded in 2017 by Tahiirah Habibi, is a trailblazing organization increasing Black, Brown and indigenous representation and access in the wine industry. By connecting a prominent community of innovators, sommeliers and winemakers with a rapidly growing population of Black wine enthusiasts, the Hue Society is bridging the gap in economic inclusion and representation for communities of color.
John Jordan Foundation
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Jordan Winery in Healdsburg, California, and the 10th anniversary of owner and CEO John Jordan’s own charitable foundation, the winery hosted a multi-city tour to support local groups helping their communities. Proceeds from events in Dallas, Denver and Nashville went to support initiatives in education, public health and humanitarian causes.
Maryam + Company
Maryam Ahmed is the former director of public programs at the Culinary Institute of America in California, where she implemented a variety of consumer and trade programs. In 2022, Ahmed launched her own company, Field Blends, which provides unique travel experiences to facilitate an improved discourse on food and wine. Maryam + Company is a food and wine consulting firm that provides an even greater suite of services in events, communications, wine education and professional networking to ultimately improve diversity and equitable access.
Jordan Sager and Adam Sager
Brothers Jordan and Adam Sager are co-presidents of Winesellers, Ltd., which is an importer and marketing firm serving all 50 U.S. states and which was founded by their father in 1978. In 2021, the Sager brothers founded Kind of Wild, which is a direct-to-consumer wine company selling organic and vegan-certified wines produced by family-owned wineries. Since launching the venture, the Sagers have contributed to various environmental groups, and in 2022 they joined 1% for the Planet, pledging to donate one percent of Kind of Wild’s annual sales to support a variety of nonprofits focused on improving the environment.
After being named president of Compris Vineyard in 2021, Tiquette Bramlett became the first Black woman winery executive in Oregon and since then has used her position to continue to advocate for equitable representation in the industry. Prior to her new role, Bramlett had already founded the group Our Legacy Harvested to educate, advance and empower the BIPOC community in the wine industry. The group’s inaugural internship program placed five BIPOC individuals at diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI) trained wineries in the Willamette Valley for this year’s harvest.
Wine Region of the Year
Earlier this year, the Consorzio Tutela Vini d’Abruzzo announced its new “Abruzzo Model” that redefined the region’s production regulations with the introduction of a “Superiore” classification for the regional d’Abruzzo DOCs and the reduction from eight IGTs to a single IGT Appellation, Terre d’Abruzzo. The new model marks a pivotal turning point for Abruzzo and is intended to help foster and strengthen a common identity in the region. The organizational changes are in step with a wider effort among family-owned wineries to move away from the high-volume, low-price co-op model toward higher quality wines that reflect the region’s distinct terroir and that are increasingly made with organic grapes.
Marlborough, New Zealand
Few New World wine regions have had as much global impact as Marlborough. Ever since its bombastic, zingy and affordable Sauvignon Blancs burst onto the world stage in the early 1980s, wine drinkers can’t seem to get enough of a wine style that is today emulated by wineries around the world. Marlborough is the source of 71% of all New Zealand’s wine and 99% of its vineyards are certified sustainable. While Sauvignon Blanc remains Marlborough’s signature variety, a new wave of innovation has yielded excellent Pinot Noir and a kaleidoscope of quality cool-climate Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Syrah.
Southern Oregon/Rogue Valley, Oregon
The region stretching between the California-Oregon border and the southern tip of the Willamette Valley has seen an explosion in recent years of new wineries while established estates have enjoyed an infusion of new investment. One of Southern Oregon’s greatest attributes is its wide range of winemaking styles and grape varieties, thanks to a mild climate with ample sunshine and a diversity of soil types and elevations. An ever-improving infrastructure of hotels and restaurants is spreading throughout the region that remains largely free of crowds and traffic. Add in jaw-dropping scenic beauty as well as cultural attractions such as the world-famous Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon, and Southern Oregon is quickly becoming a must-visit for any traveler.
Uco Valley, Argentina
The diversity of soils and micro-climates make Uco Valley one of the most exciting high-altitude wine regions in South America. Located at the foothills of the Andes Mountains, Uco Valley is home to some of the most renowned producers in Argentina. Many of these wineries were built in the late 1990s and early 2000s and continue to produce outstanding wines while offering equally unforgettable hospitality experiences. While Malbec remains the region’s mainstay, many wineries in the Uco Valley and Mendoza are enticing customers with crisp whites and flavorful rosés as they continue to expand their offerings to serve an international audience.
SLO Coast, California
Approved by the federal government this year, the new SLO Coast AVA stretches along a portion of the actual coastline of the much larger Central Coast region of California. Taking its name from the city and county of San Luis Obispo, the region is significantly cooler than the rest of the Central Coast and known more for light-footed, savory Pinots and refreshing, saline Chardonnays than the luxurious Cabernets and brambly Zins of nearby Paso Robles. With a cool climate and untapped potential, the SLO Coast is becoming a popular destination for younger winemakers eager to make their mark by crafting innovative and delicious wines.
American Winery of the Year
Far Niente Winery
Far Niente Winery has thrived in recent years thanks to a sophisticated direct-to-consumer program and an extensive sales and distribution network that nimbly balances strong retail demand with a recovering restaurant sector. A shrewd sales strategy has been coupled with a pragmatic approach to supply that has seen the winery, which is backed by the resources of a private equity investment firm, acquire several new vineyards and another Napa Valley winery to support the expansion of its Bella Union brand.
Hope Family Wines
Producing several popular and fast-growing brands including Liberty School, Treana, Quest, Austin Hope and Troublemaker, Hope Family Wines in Paso Robles is quickly becoming one of the foremost producers in a region that continues to gain national acclaim for wines that are as easy to enjoy as they are affordable. The company’s estate winery recently earned certification as sustainable in conjunction with other environmentally friendly farming practices.
Located in the Applegate Valley of Southern Oregon, Troon Vineyard has a long history dating back to 1972, yet recent years have seen it become one of the most forward-thinking wineries in the U.S., as it is one of just two to have become Regenerative Organic Certified through the Regenerative Organic Alliance. The recent certification follows a conversion to biodynamic farming that has revitalized the estate’s soils while also providing a template for other wineries both locally and around the world to reduce their environmental footprint.
The Eyrie Vineyards
Building on its legacy as the first commercial Pinot Noir vineyard in the Willamette Valley, The Eyrie Vineyards is becoming a leader in regenerative and sustainable farming. Since David Lett planted his first vines in 1965, the vineyard has never been treated with chemical fertilizer, plowed or irrigated, and native plants thrive between the vineyard rows. This commitment to low-impact farming has helped maintain a diverse mix of plant and animal life, leading to a vibrant and healthy vineyard that continues to produce excellent wines.
Wild Arc Farm
Situated on 10 verdant acres in the Hudson Valley of New York, Wild Arc Farm was founded in 2016 by Todd Cavallo and Crystal Cornish, who left Brooklyn with a vision of creating a sustainable food system. The lifelong city residents proved to be quick learners, and their regenerative farm (where they practice permaculture) was soon producing quality wines sold through a mailing list and select retailers. While Wild Arc is often credited with handedly renewing interest in piquette, they are innovative producers of a wide variety of wines, cider co-ferments and traditional spirits, as well as champions of hybrids. And they proving it can all be done in a really demanding climate.
European Winery of the Year
Pasqua Vigneti e Cantine
The Veronese wine company founded in 1925 and still owned by the Pasqua family could be considered an international research laboratory. The business employs staff from nine different nationalities spanning five continents—all who foster an open-ended discussion on making the best wine possible. After adopting a new motto, “House of the Unconventional,” the winery has pushed the boundaries of winemaking styles and traditions and that has helped it win new fans in the pivotal U.S. and Asian markets.
The Trimbach family has been at the center of wine production in Alsace, France, since 1626, spanning 14 generations. Comprising more than 130 acres, the Trimbach estate has been farmed organically since 1972 and more than one third of the estate is Grand Cru vineyards. The winery is the leading supplier of Alsatian wines to the U.S. market and its Riesling and Pinot Gris wines are widely lauded as being some of the finest examples of the varietals produced anywhere in the world.
After celebrating its 160th anniversary in 2021, Bodegas Faustino, located in Oyón, Rioja Alavesa, is another European winery with a long history that has kept pace with the trends of the global market and is lauded as one of “First Families of Rioja.” The winery is the largest vineyard landowner in Spanish region with more than 1,300 acres, providing it with nearly half of the total market share of Rioja Gran Reserva wines and a leading Rioja brand in the U.S. market.
One of the original and leading producers of high-end Provençal rosé, Domaines Ott has been at the forefront of the surge in popularity of rosé wines in the U.S. and around the world. The company’s three main estates, Château de Selle, Clos Mireille and Château Romassan, each produce a rosé as well as red and white wines. In recent years, the company has been credited with setting a new standard for ultra-premium rosé with its Etoile wine that is produced with an artisan-vigneron approach and represents the very best of all three estates.
The iconoclastic winemaker Walter Massa is often referred to as a genius, but in the late 1980s and ’90s many questioned his judgement for working with a nearly forgotten—and almost—extinct white grape known as Timorasso. What may have seemed like a foolhardy pursuit then has become incomparably astute now, as the grape in Massa’s talented hands has proved to be an outstanding signature white for the Piedmont region. Massa has helped save several other subalpine grapes in subsequent decades as well.
New World Winery of the Year
Sam Neill is known around the world for his roles in blockbuster movies, yet his winery Two Paddocks in the Central Otago region of his native New Zealand is generating nearly as much buzz among wine fans as the latest installment of Jurassic Park did among moviegoers. Neil planted their first vineyard in 1993, and have steered the distinctively ethereal and elegant style of the label’s Pinot Noir that, as vines reach three decades of age, has been getting better and better. Two Paddocks is now one of the best Pinots labels in New Zealand. The impeccably farmed single vineyard wines are truly expressions of Central Otago’s distinctive subregions.
Bodega Zuccardi Valle de Uco
The Uco Valley estate of Familia Zuccardi, which is one of the largest wine producers in Argentina, was founded in the late 2000s; its architectural marvel of a winery was finished in 2016. Sebastian Zuccardi, who is a member of the third generation, has maintained a focus on research and innovation at the winery, which produces a range of wines from different regions of Mendoza, appellations of the Uco Valley and single vineyards. The resulting wines have been praised as fresh and complex examples of terroir rather than showpieces for specific grape varieties.
Monte Xanic Bodega Vinícola
The secret is out on the burgeoning wine scene in Mexico’s Valle de Guadalupe, and that is largely thanks to Monte Xanic, which produces nearly 100,000 cases of premium wines at a variety of prices. The winery’s approachable and consistently high-quality wines are matched by an outstanding hospitality experience and a commitment to protecting the environment and improving the quality of life in the area.
One of Chile’s largest wine producers, Montes Wines, continues to help raise the country’s profile when it comes to premium winemaking. What started out in 1987 as a small boutique winery has instead grown into one of the nation’s largest—without compromising quality by remaining committed to research and innovation. Montes was one of the first in Chile to develop vineyards on steep hillsides as well as in cool, coastal regions, and there is currently an ongoing project to produce fine wine on the rugged landscape of the Chiloé Archipelago nearly 750 miles south of the capital of Santiago.
Johan Reyneke took a vineyard laborer job after graduating university, and that humble work sparked a lifelong interest in organic and biodynamic viticulture that is now putting Reyneke and his eponymous winery at the forefront of sustainable winemaking. After forming a small farming operation, Reyneke started making wine to bring in additional revenue. Those organic wines captured the attention of the distributor Vinimark that partnered with Reyneke in expanding the business. Today, Reyneke Wines farms more than 120 hectares of vineyards without the use of any chemical inputs and in accordance with Demeter Biodynamic standards.
Importer of the Year
Based in New York and Birmingham, Alabama, Vineyard Brands was founded in 1971 by Robert Haas. He later created an employee stock ownership plan, thus enabling his colleagues (who had helped build the company) buy it—so he could focus on founding Tablas Creek Vineyard in the late 1990s. Since then, Vineyard Brands has grown to serve all 50 U.S. states, representing 60 wineries from around the world. Nearly all the wineries in the company’s portfolio are certified sustainable, organic or biodynamic and last year it partnered with the Black Wine Professionals to provide sample wines for education.
Pacific Highway Wines
Headed by sales and distribution veteran Mark Giordano, Pacific Highway is based in Greensboro, North Carolina, and represents wineries from around the world. The company is owned by the Oatley family of Australia and the Giesen family of New Zealand. The Giesen line of alcohol-free wines has been one of its top sellers of the past year. Several new brands added to the portfolio, including the U.S. brands Gaslighter and Wine by Joe, has the company confident in strong growth in coming years.
Skurnik Wines & Spirits
Michael Skurnik launched his import firm in 1987 and two years later roped in his brother Harmon and then joined by sister Rita in 1991. The siblings were inspired by their parents’ love of wine, and the inspiration paid off: The company has grown to represent more than 500 wineries from around the world. Skurnik Wines & Spirits recently announced an expansion of their distribution network into Rhode Island and introduced the single origin pisco, Suyo, to the U.S. market as part of the company’s craft spirits portfolio.
Mary Taylor Wine
The 25% tariffs on wines from several of the leading European wine nations imposed in 2019 were described by many in the trade as more disruptive to business than the global pandemic. Mary Taylor, who found success with importing a line of affordable, easy-to-appreciate wines through her white label program, became a vocal and effective opponent to the barrier on world wine trade, speaking frequently on the topic on podcasts, media interviews and tireless campaigning.
Since acquiring the historic Heitz Cellar in Napa Valley in 2018, Gaylon Lawrence has quickly become one of the major players in Napa as well as the global wine business. That initial purchase has been followed by several others, including the formation of an import and marketing firm with partner Carlton McCoy Jr. and led by President Philana Bouvier. Demeine is based in Napa Valley and represents several wineries in Napa Valley as well as Italy and France.
Retailer of the Year
Founders Lindsay Held and Jeff Carton launched ReserveBar in 2013 after they were surprised to discover there was no website to facilitate the simple delivery of several bottles of premium vodka to a college friend who lived on the other side of the country. That simple discovery sparked the launch of what has become one of the leading U.S. e-commerce websites that offers consumers their choice among a loaded portfolio of premium wines and spirits while specializing in customization, personalization and innovative gifting. The company acquired the web-based marketplace and on-demand delivery service Minibar Delivery in 2021 to help it retain its leading position in the booming e-commerce beverage alcohol market.
Ray Berry left a job overseeing more than 3,600 7-Eleven convenience stores to launch a new kind of grocery store with his wife Beverly. In 1982, the couple opened the first location of The Fresh Market in Greensboro, North Carolina, and 40 years later the company has grown to 159 stores operating in 22 states across the U.S. In recent years, the chain has made a seamless pivot to e-commerce where shoppers can find a myriad of options for grocery delivery, fully prepped restaurant-quality meals and an extensive collection of beer, wine and spirits from around the world.
Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, FreshDirect proudly claims to have pioneered online grocery shopping. The company delivers orders to the greater New York Metropolitan area as well as counties in New Jersey and Connecticut, from its state-of-the-art, 400,000-square-foot facility in the Bronx. In the past year, the company expanded its popular “Rosé Express” service of two-hour deliveries of wine, beer and spirits to the Hamptons and Montauk.
As travel has rebounded back to pre-pandemic levels, the more than 30 Vino Volo locations at airports across the U.S. have incorporated more than just wine to attract thirsty travelers. The company, which is part of the global hospitality corporation, Lagardere Travel Retail, has launched an expanded beverage program featuring beers and cocktails by regional brewers and distillers that are paired with food items from the local area.
Benchmark Wine Group
Napa Valley-based Benchmark Wine Group describes itself as the leading source of fine and rare wine for retailers, restaurants and collectors around the world. The company purchases the collections of private individuals as well as members of trade and releases them for sale via its website. Benchmark guarantees the provenance and quality of the wine it sells from its 15,000-square-foot, temperature-controlled cellar and offers “Accellarator” packages that are curated collections of wines for those who want to instantly acquire an enviable collection of highly allocated wines.
Spirit/Distiller Brand of the Year
Americans can’t get enough tequila as seen by the spirit’s ongoing sales growth, and one of the fastest growing tequila brands is Teremana—Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s entry into the world of celebrity-backed tequilas, produced in partnership with Mast-Jägermeister in Jalisco. The name is derived from the Latin word “terra” meaning earth and “mana’ the Polynesian word for “spirit.” In August, the brand announced a promotional deal with the restaurant chain Applebee’s that featured two new flavors of margaritas.
Buffalo Trace Distillery
An enduring trend over the past decade has been the popularity of American whiskey and bourbon. Kentucky-based Buffalo Trace Distillery remains one of the U.S.’s most popular whiskeys and has been spending millions to expand its production capacity to meet insatiable demand. Master Distiller Harlen Wheatley is also widely respected for his “Warehouse X” trials that have yielded invaluable insights on whiskey production and aging. The company recently donated several bottles of its rarest whiskeys in an online auction to raise money to help those impacted by the floods in Eastern Kentucky.
Brown-Forman’s Woodford Reserve Bourbon continues to innovate, even from its position as a leader in the American whiskey category. Master Distiller Chris Morris is only the second person to hold the title at the Versailles, Kentucky, distillery; throughout his career he has been instrumental in bringing cask-finishing to American whiskey while also supporting the next generation of distillers. Earlier this year, Morris opened a pop-up “sensory lounge” in Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport to showcase the company’s partnership with the iconic Paris cocktail bar Little Red Door.
Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin
Former spirits marketing executive, P.J. Rigney set up The Shed Distillery with a copper pot still in 2014 in a remote corner of Ireland to produce a gin with 12 exotic botanicals, gunpowder green tea and local flora. Everything is processed, distilled and bottled on site. The Kosher certified facility is also certified as a sustainable business through Origin Green. The gin is one of the fastest selling brands in the premium category and is also receiving rave reviews for its exotic, nuanced taste.
One of the best-known names in the world of single malt Scotch, Ardbeg, does not rest on its remote perch of the isle of Islay but is one of the most daring and experimental of Scotland’s legendary distillers. From sending vials of whiskey molecules to the International Space Station to study space-based maturation to launching a punk-rock, special release produced with roasted black malt, Ardbeg continues to find ways to push the boundaries of one of the most tradition-bound segments of the spirit world. Earlier this year, Ardbeg released “Planet Ardbeg,” which is a limited-edition sci-fi graphic novel depicting the adventures of a Quantum Distiller.
Sommelier/Wine Director of the Year
With more than two decades in the restaurant and beverage industries, Tonya Pitts is currently the sommelier and wine director of One Market Restaurant in San Francisco, California. After her first job as a host for a French restaurant in St. Louis, Missouri, Pitts traveled west to the Bay Area, where she worked as a server at Zuni Café and Stars Restaurant before overseeing the wine program for chef Loretta Keller at Bizou Restaurant. Pitts’ time with Keller inspired her to focus wholly on wine, and in addition to managing the beverage programs at other restaurants, Pitts was a judge for the San Francisco International Wine Competition for five years and runs her own beverage consultancy.
As beverage director for JF Restaurants, Amy Racine is not just handling drinks at some of New York’s most popular restaurants, she’s also at the cutting edge of pairing wine and cocktails for a wide range of concepts from New York (including the new La Marchande on Wall Street) to Long Island to Los Angeles and, soon, Tampa. Founding chef John Fraser is widely known as one of the world’s leading vegetable chefs, and Racine has developed beverage programs to support that unique vision. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Racine attended the Culinary Institute of America, earned her advanced sommelier certificate and worked in California for a few years before teaming up with Fraser in Manhattan.
Prior to becoming the beverage director at Tom Colicchio’s New York restaurant Craft this year, Cheron Cowan was in a similar role with Maialino Mare in Washington, D.C. Cowan is an advanced sommelier and member of the Court of Master Sommeliers. She is also the founder of Vine Media 360, which is an online resource to help those pursuing a career in the restaurant industry to learn more about wine.
Last year, Arjav Ezekiel and his wife Tracy Malechek-Ezekiel opened Birdie’s, a neighborhood restaurant and wine bar in Austin, Texas. The duo serves simple American food inspired by the cuisine of France and Italy. Ezekiel moved with his family when he was 12 from New Delhi, India, to Portland, Oregon, where they ran a restaurant. Ezekiel started his professional career at Komi in Washington, D.C., before moving to New York, where he helped open Danny Meyer’s Untitled at the Whitney and where he met Malechek.
The wine director and co-owner of Yono’s restaurant in Albany, N.Y., grew up working in his family’s restaurant before studying hotel and restaurant management in college. After graduating, Purnomo was inspired to focus on wine, and that has led to his wine lists winning multiple national and international awards. Purnomo is a member of the board of directors for the New York State Restaurant Association and the New York Wine & Grape Foundation.