Off-the-wall varietals winning big praise

Results of the 2011 Central Coast Wine Competition may reflect local experimentation with lesser-known varietals, says one winning veteran winemaker.

From more than 600 wines submitted, Pierce Ranch Vineyards of Lockwood earned both Best of Show and Best of White honors with its 2010 Albariño in the 2011 Central Coast Wine Competition.

Kenneth Volk Vineyards won Best of Red with its 2008 Touriga.

“I do think they were trying to reward people who were making good wines from not-necessarily-mainstream varieties,” Ken Volk said.

The founder of Wild Horse Winery in 1981, he sold it in 2003 and founded Kenneth Volk Vineyards in Santa Maria. Since last year, it has operated a tasting room in Paso Robles.

One of Volk’s fascinations is working with what he calls “heirloom varietals,” such as his winning touriga nacional. Both albariño and touriga nacional are grapes originally from northwest regions of Spain and Portugual.

“There’s so many other interesting varieties out there that you don’t know until you try,” Volk said. “Potentially, we still haven’t found some of the better grapes that might grow well locally in our area.”

The commercial wine contest accepts submissions from the Central Coast viticulture region, including San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Monterey, Ventura and San Benito counties.

Originally limited to San Luis Obispo County, it expanded in 2010, said Robin Nagele, one of the organizers with the California Mid-State Fair.

Best of class awards were given this year in 27 different categories, including single-varietal wines, blends, dessert and fortified wine.

“We have a whole class of other red varietals because there are just so many grown in this area,” Nagele added. “The objective is to promote Central Coast wines. Diversity is a component of that.”

More awards at L.A. competition

Volk also won two best of class honors at the 2011 Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition for pinot noir and mourvèdre.

About two dozen wines from San Luis Obispo County also took top honors at the competition. Judges sampled 3,117 wines from 17 countries, including Argentina, Ethiopia, France, Italy and Japan.

Paso Robles best of class winners include Vina Robles (cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot-petite sirah), Hearst Ranch Winery (malbec), Maddalena (zinfandel), Victor Hugo Winery (Bordeaux blend), Treana Winery (cabernet sauvignon-syrah blend), Eberle Winery (sweet muscat, viognier), Robert Hall Winery (viognier, port), San Antonio Winery (Rhône-style blend), Pianetta Winery (barbera, petite sirah), Adelaida Cellars (red Rhône blend), Sculpterra Winery (cabernet sauvignon) and Villicana Winery (cabernet sauvignon).

J. Lohr Vineyards won with two Paso Robles wines in the petite sirah and Bordeaux blend categories and with a Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir from Arroyo Seco.

In San Luis Obispo, Trenza Winery won with Tinto, a Spanish-style red blend. From Edna Valley, best of class winners were Tangent (albariño) and Chamisal Vineyards (pinot noir).

Phantom Rivers Winery in Arroyo Grande also won with its Santa Ynez Valley syrah.

Do you have news for Wine Notes? Email or call 441-4556.