WALLA WALLA — Victor Palencia, a wunderkind of the Washington wine industry, paced the fifth annual Walla Walla Valley Wine Competition with five gold medals, led by his Palencia Winery 2014 grenache as best of show.
“Wow, I have been drinking that wine pretty aggressively,” Palencia said with a chuckle. “The grenache is doing really well, and I know the wine club took a big chunk of it. It’s all extremely humbling.”
A record number of 36 wineries combined to enter 125 wines in the competition that also serves as fundraiser for the viticulture and enology program at Walla Walla Community College. The judging is a collaborative effort by Great Northwest Wine and WWCC’s College Cellars.
Palencia, 32, was a part of the first graduating class from Walla Walla Community College, and he wasn’t the only Latin winemaker from the College Cellars program to shine at the June 13 judging. One of his classmates, Amy Alvarez-Wampfler, helped Sinclair Estate Vineyard lay claim to three double gold medals for red wines from the 2013 vintage and best red blend for its 2013 Vixen. She joined her winemaking husband, Daniel Wampfler, at Abeja after the 2015 crush.
Johnson Ridge — formerly Walla Faces — has the acclaimed Chris Camarda as its consulting winemaker, however the day-to-day winemaking is handled by Victor de la Luz, who is continuing his education with a few classes at College Cellars.
“I call him ‘Victor Two,’ ” Palencia chuckled. “I’m so excited for him.”
Adamant Cellars won the award for best white wine, a scintillating 2016 Albarino from Gateshead Vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley near Pepper Bridge Vineyard. It marked Devin Stinger’s fifth commercial vintage with the white Spanish grape.
“When people have been tasting all day around Walla Walla, it’s red, red, red,” Stinger said. “We’ve got crisp white wines to offer, and our wine club eats it up.”
Grantwood Winery, a tiny husband/wife operation west of downtown Walla Walla, came away with four gold medals, which included three best of class awards and two unanimous double golds.
Zerba Cellars also won four gold medals. Balboa and Beresan wineries, two brands that recently merged under Thomas and Amy Glase, combined to win four gold medals.
Here are the three top wines from the 2017 Walla Walla Wine Competition:
Palencia Winery 2014 Grenache Yakima Valley, $36: Winemaker/owner Victor Palencia has shown a touch with Rhone red varieties, as evidenced with this suburb grenache from the cooler Yakima Valley. Aromas of gorgeous high-toned red fruit, followed by nicely integrated black pepper, cherry cola, black currant and fresh-picked raspberries. Notes of fresh cedar and incredibly peppery. This won best red and best of show at the 2017 Walla Walla Wine Competition. (14.5 % alcohol)
Adamant Cellars 2016 Albarino Walla Walla Valley, $25: Each year, we are seeing more and more winemakers embracing this exciting Spanish variety, and with great results. This stunning example unveils aromas and flavors of lime zest, pear, apple and racy minerality, backed by perfect acidity. A perfect pairing with crab dip or any grilled salmon. This won best white at the 2017 Walla Walla Wine Competition. (13.6 %)
Browne Family Vineyards 2016 Grenache Rose Columbia Valley, $19: Grenache in all its forms is proving itself great in Washington, and this example from Browne Family is among the best we’ve tasted, thanks to compelling aromas and flavors of strawberry, a hint of cinnamon and nectarine. Mouthwatering acidity makes this a perfect wine all summer long. This earned best rose at the 2017 Walla Walla Wine Competition. (13.1%)
Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning media company. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.