The Canada-U.S. border has been closed for months, but the pandemic didn’t prevent Wild Goose Vineyards in Okanagan Falls, British Columbia, from using its 2019 Mystic River Vineyard Gewurztraminer to win Best of Show at the 2020 Cascadia International Wine Competition.
It marked the third time in four years for the Kruger family to top the annual showcase of Pacific Northwest wines staged by Great Northwest Wine. And it signaled the successful winemaking transition from Hagen Kruger to his son, Nikolas, who took over as head winemaker prior to the 2019 harvest.
“The 2019 vintage has all been Nik,” said general manager Roland Kruger, who co-founded the winery in 1984 with his older brother, Hagen, and their late father, Adolf. “Hearing about this award was very exciting for us. This award is an indication of just how well we’ve been able to make the change.”
Wild Goose Vineyards was named Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year by Wine Press Northwest magazine in 2009 — and the accolades have continued. The Krugers won best of show at the Cascadia in 2017 and 2018 with exciting examples of pinot gris. At the 2014 Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition — a tasting held in Hood River, Oregon, for leading Northwest wine buyers — the Wild Goose 2012 God’s Mountain Vineyard Riesling led the judging.
It was no surprise that the entry voted as the Best Red Wine of the Cascadia came from Clearwater Canyon Cellars, which is Wine Press Northwest’s 2020 Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year. Karl and Coco Umiker in Lewiston worked with Phinny Hill Vineyard in Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills to produce the 2018 carmenere that finished a handful of votes away from grabbing Best of Show in the field of 752 entries.
“The success we’ve had with carmenere in competitions has helped us break through the fog and allowed people to take notice,” Coco Umiker said.
A year ago at the Cascadia, the Clearwater Canyon 2017 Carm won best of class while the Wild Goose’s 2018 Okanagan Valley Gewürztraminer — a larger production wine than the Mystic River — won best of class.
Joshua Maloney, winemaker for Aquilini Brands USA Inc., produced the Best Rose of the Cascadia — the Be Human 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé ($15.99). The Aquilini family owns more than 500 acres of vineyards on Washington state’s Red Mountain, but Maloney relied on its Windy Ridge Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills for the two wines entered by the Aquilinis — both rosés and each earning a double gold in different flights. The Roaming Dog 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé is $12.99, and the two wines represent the first wines that soon will be released in the Seattle area and beyond as part of a new launch by Aquilini with Maloney.
“External validation is good,” Maloney chuckled.
Wit Cellars in Prosser, also took a somewhat non-traditional approach in producing the top sparkling wine of the Cascadia as Yakima Valley winemakers Flint Nelson and Cat Warwick used a bubbly rose made from syrah — the 2019 Unleashed — to impress judges. A 2017 cabernet franc under Nelson’s own Mazzacano Cellars brand was selected as Best of Class.
Melanie Krause, who spent five vintages making wine at Chateau Ste. Michelle, earned the award for Best Sweet Wine with her Cinder Wines 2019 46 Brix Riesling Ice Wine. It was her first commercial release of a riesling ice wine from the Snake River Valley in her native Idaho, and she finished with a total of four gold medals during the two-day judging near the Clearwater River.
Woodinville’s Brian Carter is credited as the winemaker behind nine gold medals at the Cascadia — four of those for his eponymous brand, three for young Bayernmoor Cellars and two for the chardonnay-only Array Cellars.
Acclaim continues to follow the work by Aaron Peet as the graduate of Walla Walla Community College’s winemaking program used Northwest grapes to amass seven gold medals at the Cascadia for Cellardoor Winery in Lincolnville, Maine. Yakima Valley Vintners, the winemaking school for Yakima Valley College in Grandview, received gold medals for its 2017 Late Registration Petit Verdot and 2017 Coyote Canyon Vineyard Primitivo.
Walter Gehringer, who earned a winemaking degree from Geisenheim University in Germany, picked up five gold medals at the Cascadia for white wines by Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery in Oliver, British Columbia.
Mt. Hood Winery, led by homegrown winemaking talent Rich Cushman, also produced five gold medals and showed remarkable versatility with top awards for barbera, gewurz, grenache, merlot and pinot noir.
Stephen Reustle of highly decorated Reustle-Prayer Rock Vineyards in Oregon’s Umpqua Valley remains the Northwest’s best producer of the Austrian white grape Grüner Veltliner, but his work with estate tempranillo also helped him finish with five gold medals at the Cascadia.
Nodland Cellars in Spokane crafted the Best Cabernet Sauvignon of the Cascadia, and owner-winemaker Tim Nodland backed that up with gold medals for syrah and a red blend.
Orenda Winery, named this spring by Wine Press Northwest magazine as the 2020 Washington Winery to Watch, validated that acclaim with three gold medals for red wines. Rio Vista Wines near Chelan also struck gold with a trio of red wines, as did Spangler Vineyards in Roseburg, Oregon.
Organizers of the Cascadia — held on June 24 in Lewiston, Idaho — faced myriad obstacles in the face of the pandemic. There were two postponements, a venue change and the deployment of social distancing protocols throughout the tasting. Judges were placed at individual tables and spaced more than 6 feet apart, and they also were provided hand sanitizer. The backroom team strapped on face masks and disposable gloves while applying sanitizer on tables and their hands. Judges left their tables as wines were presented.
Eric Degerman operates Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning media company. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.