As a former resident of South Florida, I can tell you that Washington wines don'êt have a big presence in the Sunshine State. But that may change since boutique Washington wineries made a strong showing last month at the second annual American Fine Wine Competition in Boca Raton. Vin du Lac in Chelan won the best-of-show prize for white wines. It took the honor for its 2006 Barrel Select chardonnay, produced with mostly estate-grown fruit. Delille Cellars, DiStefano Winery, Dusted Valley Vintners, and Spring Valley Vineyard each won double gold medals. And Kiona Vineyards and Nicholas Cole Cellars took gold medals.
By coincidence, Vin du Lac proprietor and winemaker Larry Lehmbecker went on a Florida marketing tour with his distributor shortly after the competition, having recently targeted that huge market. He found that his best-of-show performance helped him sell his wine to shops and restaurants. 'êIt was a nice surprise,'ê he said. 'êI was able to brag everywhere I went. It accords you instant credibility when you can show several wines and say this one won best of show. I placed a lot of chardonnay so I think it had a lot of effect.'ê
The competition, which covers only American wines, included nearly 400 wines this year, in 12 varietal and two price categories. Most of the wines entered were from California. The wines were rated by 16 judges, many of them owners, chefs, and sommeliers from top South Florida restaurants. Shari Gherman, the competition'ês founder and chairwoman, recruited several of the wineries during her maiden Washington wine touring visit last spring. 'êAfter visiting the Washington wine region, I was so impressed with the wines that I invited many of them to participate,'ê said Gherman, an expert on Napa and Sonoma wines. 'êI'êm very pleased with the results, and I look forward to more Washington wineries participating next year.
South Florida is the second largest wine market in the country, but Washington wines are hard to find on shop shelves and restaurant wine lists, with the exception of wines by large producers such as Chateau Ste. Michelle. On his recent Florida visit, Lehmbecker found a lot of knowledge about Washington wines but very little penetration. 'êWe have people interested and open to taking our wines, but they haven'êt had a slew of people beating their door down,'ê he said. 'êThat'ês great, there'ês a lot of opportunity.'ê
Washington wines that won double gold medals at the American Fine Wine Competition:
Delille Cellars D2 (Bordeaux blend), 2006, Columbia Valley
Delille Cellars Doyenne (Syrah), 2005, Yakima Valley
DiStefano Meritage (Bordeaux blend), 2004, Columbia Valley
Dusted Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006, Columbia Valley
Spring Valley Uriah (Bordeaux blend), 2005, Walla Walla Valley