Mother Lode wineries bring home fair gold

By Alex MacLean, The Union Democrat June 27, 2012 12:56 pm

A number of Mother Lode wineries brought home gold at this year’s California State Fair Wine Competition.

Several wineries who grow their grapes outside of the county won a plethora of medals and two others that grow their grapes in Calaveras and Tuolumne counties won gold as well.

The California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition is one of the oldest of its kind in the United States. For more than 150 years, wineries across the state have competed in the annual competition, which in recent years has drawn nearly 3,000 entries.

All wines are entered based on the viticultural area — or appellation — where the grapes are actually grown, not where the winery is located. A panel of judges who come from a range of professional backgrounds evaluate the wines before determining the winners.

Local winemaker and Sonora City Attorney Richard Matranga didn’t enter a selection from his Sonora Winery and Port Works this year, but instead served as a judge.

Matranga said about 70 judges each tasted about 200 wines in a two to three day period at the State Fairgrounds in Sacramento. He said the Sierra Foothills had a surprisingly strong showing, rivaling bigger and better-known appellations including Napa Valley and Sonoma.

“As a foothills winemaker, it’s really great to have that happen,” he said. “The State Fair is the granddaddy of all wine competitions in California, so it’s big.”

Gianelli Vineyards, which is located in Jamestown and grows its grapes in Tuolumne County, won a gold medal for its “La Dolce Vita” dessert white wine. The particular wine has also won a number of other awards.

Lorie Gianelli, who has operated the vineyard since 1980 with her husband, Ron, said it’s common to see a spike in visitors coming to their tasting room after winning high-profile awards for their wines.

“We’ve been winning a lot of awards in the past few years, but anytime we win a gold it’s so exciting,” she said. “Our name is getting out there now.”

Gianelli Vineyards also took home one bronze and four silver medals for other wines. Their “Nino” wine, which is a blend of grenache, primitivo and petite syrah, won best of class for the Sierra Foothills Appellations.

In Calaveras County, Chatom Vineyards won a gold medal for its 2008 syrah. It also won two silver and two bronze medals for other wines it entered.

Chatom Vineyards in Douglas Flat is owned by Gay Callen, who first purchased her 21-acre property in 1980 and began with two wines. Now, the company plants 13 different varietal grapes and has grown to 65 aces.

Callen said her vineyard has won a number of awards over the years, including double gold for the same syrah at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, but the special recognition is always a confidence boost.

“It’s a congratulation to all of us,” she said. “We really take a lot of pride in what we do.”

Other wineries in Calaveras County that won medals for wines which the grapes were not grown locally were: Black Sheep Winery, one gold and three silver medals; Broll Mountain Vineyards, one silver and two bronze medals; Irish Family Vineyards, two silver medals; Ironstone Vineyards, one gold and one bronze medal; Milliaire Winery, one double gold, one gold, one silver and three bronze medals;  and Twisted Oak Winery, five silver medals.

Contact Alex MacLean at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it or 588-4530.