Biz Buzz: Paso wines win big in S.F. wine competition

An earlier version of this story misidentified Alapay Cellars' winning wine. The 2009 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc, not Zinfandel, was recognized. Also, it misspelled the name of Alapay Cellars' owner and winemaker, Scott Remmenga.

Paso Robles winemakers are once again celebrating, with half of the Sweepstake winners in the largest American wine contest coming from the region.

The 2011 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition evaluated more than 5,050 wines from 23 states in blind tastings. More than 60 judges from wine education, media and the industry participated. “That just shows you how on fire Paso is right now,” Michelle Thacher said. She and her husband, winemaker Sherman Thacher, own Thacher Winery.

Their 2008 Triumvirate, a reserve zinfandel, tied with Ecluse Wines’ 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon for Best Red honors.

“For us, that was almost a bigger win than us winning it,” said Pam Lock, who owns nearby Ecluse with her husband, Steve.

Alapay Cellars swept the dessert category to be recognized for its 2009 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc, priced at $30. Winners in the other three categories came from Sonoma, New Mexico and Washington.

“They’ve matured as an industry,” said Frances Larose, the competition’s public relations director, of Paso wineries. “They’re attracting more sophisticated winemakers.”

Winemaker Scott Remmenga owns Alapay with his wife, Rebecca. He credits the local growers for much of the region’s success.

“The growers have really dialed themselves in as to how to grow fruit,” he said. “It’s easier to produce a great wine when the fruit is really nice.”

The recognition comes on the heels of Saxum, another Paso Robles winery, earning the No. 1 spot on Wine Spectator’s list of Top 100 wines of 2010.

Lock sees such national honors attracting more sales for all wineries in the region. It also brings visitors.

“That can only add to the tourism — bed and breakfasts, hotels, restaurants — the whole economy,” she said. “That’s a big impact.”

Carl Bowker, owner and winemaker for Caliza Winery, agreed that such visibility benefits everyone in the local industry. One of his wines won a gold medal this year, while another appeared on the Chronicle’s recent Top 100 list.

“To have three Paso Robles wineries get (Sweepstake) awards this year is a tremendous accomplishment for our region,” Bowker said. “We’re living up to that ‘up-and-coming’ promise.”

But he predicts there’s more to come.

“We’re not at a pinnacle yet,” he said. “I don’t think any of us want to sit on our laurels and say, ‘We’ve arrived.’ ”

For a full list of medal and best of class winners, including many from San Luis Obispo County, visit

The wines will be poured at a Feb. 19 tasting in San Francisco.

— Raven J. Railey

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