Month: April 2019

Results of the 38th Sierra Foothill Wine Competition

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The results are in from the 38th Sierra Foothill Wine Competition. This event is open to the counties in the Sierra Nevada foothills in California. Those include Nevada, Placer, El Dorado, Amador, Calaveras, Tuolumne and Alpine Counties. It was a blind tasting using the “Danish System” for the rating and tasting of the wines. This was Tom Benders’ 37th year presiding as Judging Coordinator for the event. Several prestigious and notable judges, writers and winemakers participated including Brad Alderson, Dan Berger, Greg Burns, Mark Chandler, Patrick Dodd, Mike Dunne, etc.

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The wine industry in the Sierra Foothills dates back to 1851 and includes many varietals grown in Spain, Portugal, southern France and Italy. Those include Barbera, Tempranillo, Mourvèdre, Nebbiolo, Grenache, Graciano, Albarino, Marsanne, Roussanne, Verdelho, Zinfandel, Petit Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc to name just a few.

The Calaveras best-in-show, Double Gold, and Gold Medal winning wines will be on display at the Calaveras County Fair in the Wine Pavilion May 16th to May 19th.

The 2019 Winners:
Best of Show White: Went to Ironstone Vineyards, 2017 Symphony “Obsession”. The Symphony varietal is a cross between Muscat of Alexandria and Grenache Gris. I noted while tasting it that the color was clear, had a floral nose and just a hint of sweetness. After the event I saw the winemaker’s notes which state “captivating aromas of gardenia, honeysuckle and star jasmine”. Personally I was surprised at the Symphony’s placement, but really enjoyed the wine.

Best of Show White for Calaveras County: Black Sheep Winery Semillon 2017.

Best of Show Blush: Was awarded to Milliaire Winery for their 2018 White Zinfandel. Again a surprise but deserving award. Color was +, nose + and taste was ++ from my notes.

Best of Show Red: No surprise here as it went to Jeff Runquist Wines ( ) for his 2016 Sangiovese “The Hill”. My notes were dark coloring, solid nose and complex finish.

Best of Show Red for Calaveras County: Mineral Winery 2016 Barbera

Winner of the Zin Challenge: Shenandoah Vineyards 2016 “Paul’s Vineyard”. My notes were color+, nose + and soft & rounded tannins, creating a smooth wine.

Winner of Best of Show Dessert Wine: Jeff Runquist 2018 Muscat Canelli.

Winner of the most Double Gold, Gold, Silver and Bronze medals went to Jeff Runquist for a variety of wines including additionally winning Best of Show Red and Best of Show Desert. 26 medals in total!! You can see a previous article that I had written on Jeff Runquist wine at: . Recently I was again at Jeff Runquist Wines tasting many of his wines and all were stellar to the varietal and taste.

Other notable awards some from previous written articles and tasted, but not tasted at our judging table for this event:
• Frog’s Tooth Winery 2016 Sangiovese – Gold
• Gianelli Vineyards 2017 Pinot Grigio – Gold (
• Gossamer Cellars 2016 Alicante Bouschet – Gold ( )
• Inner Sanctum Cellars 2018 Chardonnay – Double Gold ( )
• Inner Sanctum Cellars 2014 Vintage Port – Double Gold
• Jeff Runquist Tannat 2016 – Gold ( )
• Jeff Runquist 2017 Carignane – Gold
• Jeff Runquist 2017 Touriga – Gold
• Jeff Runquist 2016 Petit Sirah – Double Gold
• Jeff Runquist 2016 Charbono – Gold
• Lavender Ridge 2018 Grenache – Double Gold

Wines that won that I had not tasted prior to the Competition but now are on the radar include:
• Aloria Vineyards 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon “Renner” – Gold
• Amador Cellars 2016 “Farmhouse Red” blend – Double Gold
• Amador Cellars 2016 Montepulciano – Gold
• Amador Cellars 2016 “Reserve” Zinfandel – Gold
• Chatom 2015 Barbera – Gold
• Clavey 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon – Gold
• Convergence Vineyards 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon – Gold
• Convergence Vineyards 2017 Tempranillo – Gold
• Drytown Cellars 2015 Primitivo – Gold
• Hatcher Winery 2014 “Reserve” Zinfandel – Gold
• Ironstone Vineyards 2017 Sauvignon Blanc – Gold
• Ironstone 2017 “Red Obsession” blend – Gold
• Milliaire Winery 2015 “Ghirardelli” Zinfandel – Gold
• Mineral Wines 2016 Barbera Double Gold
• Mineral Wines 2016 Merlot – Gold
• Noceto Vineyards 2015 Sangiovese “Reserve” – Gold
• Sobon Estate 2017 Roussanne – Gold
• Sobon Estate 2016 Petite Sirah – Gold
• Sobon Estate 2016 Reserve Zinfandel – Gold
• Sobon Estate 2017 Fiddletown Zinfandel – Gold
• Shenandoah Vineyard 2017 Zingiovese blend –Gold
• Shenandoah Vineyard “Angelica” dessert – Gold
• Shenandoah Vineyards 2015 Tempranillo – Gold
• Stevenot Winery 2016 “Danza” blend – Gold
• Ten by Ten Wines 2016 Primitivo – Gold

Upon the revealing of the “brown bags at the end” of the competition, some of my personal favorites were:
• Jeff Runquist 2016 “Shake Ridge Ranch” Tempranillo
• Chatom’s 2014 Malbec. Color+, Nose++ and taste++
• Jeff Runquist 2016 “Reserve” Cabernet Sauvignon.

I am thankful to have been a judge at this event two years in a row and believe the Sierra Foothill Wineries are making some excellent and notable wines for wine aficionados all around the globe! Well done to those wineries who participated and showed their esteemed wine making abilities.


Michael Kelly
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For a complete listing of varietal winners see:


Inner Sanctum Cellars – Went inside and What I Saw!!!

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The meaning of the words Inner Sanctum means “a private or secret place to which few other people are admitted”. While a couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege to step into the Inner Sanctum with some trepidation. The phrase Inner Sanctum conjures up all kinds of thoughts. This winery was new to me, so I peeked in the doorway and what did I behold? A small boutique winery with more ribbons than Secretariat! I was met with extreme friendliness by the staff, especially Rick Watts, General Manager. Their labels on the wine bottles were spectacular and further into the story, you can see them as well hear about the wines. The “Inner Sanctum” turned out not to be scary at all.

What I learned is that Pete and Karen Mariano-Luckhardt, founders and owners, set out to make some distinguished wines in Jamestown in Tuolumne County. Their goal was to bring to market many Spanish varietals – both known in the US and those unknown by most. The formed Inner Sanctum in 2010 and have never looked back. In fact they have even opened a second tasting room in Columbia, just outside Sonora. At this facility they have a floral & wares store and do weddings around a rustic barn. One of their quotes which is on the brochures and bantered about is “The only thing we take seriously are the wines, everything else is about having fun and enjoying good wine”. Obviously this is a great motto and they run their business accordingly.



My favorite wine of the tasting was the 2017 Verdejo from Tuolumne grapes. This wine called Mateo the Matador won Gold at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition in January 2019. This is a unique wine, with low levels of fruit and little sweetness. What stands out is the acidity of lime, grapefruit and hints of minerality. So little is planted in the US it is hard to even construct acreage with just a few vineyards in the Sierra foothills, Lodi and Clarksburg. Two days later I paired this with some fresh calamari appetizer and fresh scallops that made a wonderful meal at the Copper Grill.


Another one of their award winning wine is the 2015 Chardonnay called Dwell in Joy. Here a mild and rounded Chardonnay made via “old school” with barrel aging was powerful and graceful. Hues of light yellow and gold glisten in the glass. Currently they are offering the 2018 from El Dorado and is aged 8 months in the barrel. The 2017 version of Dwell in Joy won Gold at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition in January 2019. It is currently being offered and poured at the tasting rooms.


These two wines, Torro 6, a Reserve Tempranillo, and La Mera Dona “Boss Lady”, Tempranillo, provided some unique characteristics and tastes are my number two and three picks at Inner Sanctum. A previous version (2014) won Double Gold and Best in Class at the San Francisco Chronicle in 2017. The La Mera Dona just won Silver this year at San Francisco Chronicle.


Not to be swayed by the gorgeous art work on the bottles, it was only a precursor of what was to follow. These labels as “art” hang in the Jamestown tasting room wall. In other words, the lovely labels were not hiding any “poor wine” but just the opposite. Zack at Utilitarian Graphics along with Pete & Karen have created mesmerizing and unique labels for their wines. Their wine typically sells out with only 2,000 cases being produced. So if you want to take advantage of some award winning wines, get to one of the two tasting rooms quickly.


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