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In over 40 years of showcasing Sonoma County's agricultural roots and passion for world-class wines, the Harvest Fair Awards are at the epicenter of this event. Awards from the professional food and wine competition are highly coveted for the prestige they bring to the winners. In fact, the Harvest Fair has become the largest regional wine competition in the United States. Each year the awards given have made a huge difference to countless businesses, and in some cases, put them on the map.
In addition to wine and food awards the Sonoma County Harvest Fair also recognizes five individuals or businesses for their dedication and support to County’s $3 Billion dollar agriculture industry. These honorees are selected by the Sonoma County agricultural community to be honored for their contributions to the preservation and enhancement of farming in Sonoma County. The Ag-Recognition selection committee is comprised of past recipients and a chairman which, for 2014, is Steve Dutton, owner of Dutton Ranch and Dutton-Goldfield Winery.
Companies from small to very large have benefitted from winning Sonoma County Harvest Fair awards. Here are a few examples of businesses and their products that won awards:
The wine judging is done through an exacting, highly respected process designed to identify the very best entries each year. So it's no surprise the winning wines are often showered with attention and accolades. Well-known wine judges come to Sonoma County from around the nation, and in some cases, travel from other countries. The blind tastings are carefully controlled, to assure a fair and accurate outcome.
Hanna Winery & Vineyards
"It was like an avalanche, said Christine Hanna, president of the winery based in Santa Rosa and Healdsburg. The winery won its first Harvest Fair Sweepstakes award about a decade ago for its Sauvignon Blanc, and the wine sold out in less than half the usual time. "It was gone in five months, and normally it would have taken at least a year," she said.
Hanna Winery & Vineyards won the Sweepstakes award for white wine three out five years, and at one point, sold 3,000 cases in two days. "Back then, that was unheard of," she said. At the time Hanna won its first award, the winery was making about 12,000 cases a year (3,000 cases of Sauvignon Blanc). Now, the winery produces 45,000 cases annually, and has increased Sauvignon Blanc production to 26,000 cases.
"The Harvest Fair awards put our Sauvignon Blanc on the map," said Hanna. "In many ways, the medals were the catalyst for what has become our flagship wine."
Francis Coppola Winery
What Corey Beck of Francis Coppola Winery likes most about winning Sonoma County Harvest Fair medals is the credibility it brings to their wines. "People notice these awards," said Beck, general manager and director of winemaking. "It also creates credibility among our peers, which is every bit as important. After we won, I saw another winemaker who congratulated us, and said he was going to go try the wine."
Beck said this is the one awards event where all Sonoma County winemakers are totally engaged. "It's in our own backyard, and creates some healthy sparring."
He said the Harvest Fair awards also help staff members understand even more clearly the high quality of the wines. "The staff tells visitors about our Best of Class medals. If you poll tasting room staff and restaurant servers, they'll tell you the wines they recommend most are the Harvest Fair award winners. So does it accelerate sales? Absolutely." Beck said that after they won a medal, it took six months to sell what normally would have taken a year.
Among the winery's Harvest Fair awards are Best of Class medals for its 2009 Reserve Syrah and 2010 Director's Cut Chardonnay.
Judges for the food portion of the Harvest Fair awards are professionals such as chefs, caterers, restaurant owners, and other experts. The process is similar to the wine awards, in which each judge evaluates the product without knowing the brand, or who made it.
Valley Ford Cheese Company
Cheesemaker Karen Moreda and her son, Joe Moreda, entered their Estero Gold Reserve because they wanted to know what people thought of it. "When it won, I said 'you're kidding me!' I have ultimate respect for all the judges, so it was awesome feedback."
The cheese won Best of Show for dairy, and stores that carried Valley Ford Cheese Company's "younger" cheeses started asking for the Estero Gold Reserve. The cheese is unusual because it's aged about 18 months, which is longer than the normal aging process. That, and the unexpected popularity of the Estero Gold Reserve, created a problem for Moreda, albeit a good one. "I had to build an additional aging room to accommodate the demand," she said. "Suddenly, I needed a lot more space!"
Karen started Valley Ford Cheese Company about four years ago. Using milk from the family dairy, they make three products: Estero Gold, Estero Gold Reserve and Highway One.
Costeaux French Bakery
Costeaux French Bakery won its first Sonoma County Harvest Fair award just six months after buying the bakery in 1981. It was the only gold medal for bread that year. More than 30 years later, owners Nancy and Karl Seppi, as well as their son, General Manager William (Will) Seppi, have many more Harvest Fair medals, which are proudly displayed on the bakery's walls.
"The medals draw a lot of attention when people walk into the bakery," said Will. "They lend credibility to the bread. Being judged in a professional setting like the Harvest Fair validates the product, and can translate to more sales."
Each Costeaux package is imprinted with "Gold medal award - Sonoma County Harvest Fair." "It shows that our products have been tested, and are trusted," he said.