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 Gewürztraminer to win best of show at the Cascadia International Wine Competition.
It marked the third time in four years for the Kruger family to use its scintillating white wine program 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, Nicholas, who took over as head winemaker prior to the 2019 harvest.
“The 2019 vintage has all been Nick,” 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 and Nick and assistant winemaker Riley Hollenbach and our amazing team. 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 back in 2009, yet 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, Ore., for leading Northwest wine buyers — the Wild Goose 2012 God’s Mountain Vineyard Riesling led the judging.
“For many, many years, we’d say that Nick does the work and Hagen gets all the credit,” Roland quipped.
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, Idaho, worked with Phinny Hill Vineyard in Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills to produce the 2018 Carménère that finished a handful of votes away from grabbing best of show honors.
“The success we’ve had with Carménère in competitions has helped us break through the fog and allowed people to take notice,” Coco Umiker said, “and we’ve been so proud to be working with the Beightol family — first Dick, and now his son Brandon — on that program since 2006.”
A year ago at the Cascadia, the Clearwater Canyon 2017 Carm won best of class and the Wild Goose’s 2018 Okanagan Valley Gewürztraminer — not the Mystic River — won best of class.
Joshua Maloney, winemaker for Aquilini Brands USA Inc., produced the best rosé 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 two wines entered by Aquilini — 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 will be released as part of a new launch by Aquilini with Maloney.
“External validation is good,” Maloney chuckled.
Wit Cellars in Prosser, Wash., 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 rosé made from Syrah to impress judges.
Melanie Krause, who spent five vintages making wine at Chateau Ste. Michelle, earned the award for best sweet wine with her Cinder Wines 2019 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.
Woodinville’s Brian Carter was 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, Gewürz, Grenache, Merlot and Pinot Noir.
Stephen Reustle of decorated Reustle-Prayer Rock Vineyards in Oregon’s Umpqua Valley remains the Northwest’s best producer of the Austria 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, Ore.
Other wineries with multiple gold medals include ALUVÉ in Walla Walla, Bitner Vineyards in Caldwell, Idaho; Browne Family Vineyards in Walla Walla, Bunnell Family Cellar in Prosser, Clearwater Canyon, DeLille Cellars in Woodinville, young Fortuity Cellars in Wapato, Wash., Idaho-based Huston Vineyards, Jacob Williams Winery in Wishram, Wash., King Estate near Eugene, Ore., Kiona Vineyards Winery on Red Mountain, L’Ecole No. 41 in the Walla Walla Valley, Mercer Estates in Prosser, Recline Ridge in British Columbia, Wines of Sagemoor north of Pasco, Wash., Siren Song along the south shore of Lake Chelan, Two Bad Labs Vineyard in the historic Lewis-Clark Valley and Yamhill Valley Vineyards in McMinnville, Ore.
Tongue River Winery represented the state of Montana, and the Miles City producer made a delicious impression on judges. Bob Thaden, a retired pastor, received double gold medals for a pair of bright white wines using estate grapes, led by the 2019 St. Pepin that reached the sweepstakes as the best hybrid wine of the Cascadia.
Organizers of the Cascadia 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 six feet apart, and they also were provided hand sanitizer produced by Ocean’s Daughter Distillery, a sister company of Westport Winery Garden Resort in Aberdeen, Wash. 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.
A group of 21 wine professionals from Washington, Oregon and Idaho gathered at the Red Lion Hotel in Lewiston to evaluate 752 entries. The recession and closed border trimmed participation in the Cascadia by about 25 percent, both in terms of entries and winery involvement. Judges awarded gold medals to 136 wines, a rate of 18 percent which was up 2 percent from the 2019 Cascadia. During the course of the judging, none of the winemakers who served as judges sat on a panel that determined an award for their wine.