Mar 19, 2017

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SavorNW Wine Awards: Wine Judges Discover the Best Wine of the Northwest in Beautiful Cannon Beach

SavorNW Wine Awards is one of the largest wine competitions that focuses on showcasing wines from regions scattered throughout the Pacific Northwest.  Entries from Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and Idaho include wine from some of the most recognized labels, to labels that are truly some of the Pacific Northwest’s best hidden gems.

A flight of Rosé will always make for a great start to a day of wine judging

The competition takes place in the extraordinarily beautiful Cannon Beach, Oregon; a minuscule coastal community of tight-knit small-town devotees who mostly reside in charming shingle sided cottage-style homes while running their small family-owned businesses in buildings that closely resemble their picture-perfect residences.  A bona-fide Cannon Beachean loves dogs, the rain, sand castles, Puffins, art, wine, Oregon Dungeness crab and the good life.  They swear the majestic Haystack Rock drew them to their final destination.

The view from my room at the Hallmark Inn Resort & Spa showcased a lovely sunset on the first night of my arrival for the SavorNW Wine Awards in Cannon Beach

Having had the opportunity to travel to Cannon Beach (about a 3 hour drive from Eugene) to judge at the meticulously-executed SavorNW Wine Awards for my third time, I realize what an absolute honor it is to discover the vast variety of exceptional wines coming from a stretch of terrain that I proudly call home.  The Pacific Northwest is brimming with site-expressive, elegant, fresh, acid-driven, food-friendly wines.  Many of these incredibly diverse wines, from a myriad of terroirs, find their way to the glasses that are placed before the judges – a group of wine writers, sommeliers and other experienced and qualified members of the wine industry.

From the judges seat, flights of wine arrive by carts pushed by some of the hardest working, most meticulously-focused folks I’ve ever met. Conditions for judging the wine are flawless.

From the judges glasses straight to the glasses of wine enthusiasts attending the notably revered Savor Cannon Beach Wine & Culinary Festival, this four-day annual event consists of wine tastings, culinary events and a heralded wine walk where approximately 40 Northwest wineries are featured in a series of exciting wine tasting experiences.  A fantastic opportunity for vintners to boast about and share their recently awarded wines, participants get to explore, sip, savor and discover the vast array of high-quality, notable wines that are produced in the Pacific Northwest.

A flight of Pacific Northwest Pinot Gris arrives for a round of judging. In the background is one of the three judges on my panel, wine expert Ken Robertson.

Taking place just days prior to the festival, in a precise and scrupulously controlled environment, panels of SavorNW wine judges single-blind taste entered wines and award them a Gold, Silver or Bronze Medal.  Double Gold medals are awarded for wines that are given a Gold by all the judges on a panel, and all Double Gold and Gold medal wines are eligible for Best of Class.

This year, I was delighted to share a panel with two wine judges that are well-known seasoned professionals of the wine industry; as well as, remarkably kind and genuine people: Ken Robertson and April Reddout.

True wine aficionado, Ken Robertson, is an absolute delight to share a wine judging panel with – with each encounter, I continue to soak in his boundless expertise and wisdom of wine. | photo: SavorNW

I’ve shared a panel with Ken in the past, and he’s been tasting and writing about Northwest wines since he moved to Kennewick, Washington, in 1976.  He retired as editor of the Tri-City Herald, where he was among a group of editors and writers who helped found Wine Press Northwest magazine.  He remains a contributing editor on the magazine and serves on its tasting panel.  He has judged at several Northwest wine competitions including SavorNW Wine Awards, Wine Press Northwest’s annual Platinum Judging, the Northwest Wine Summit and the Idaho Wine Competition.  Ken is witty, thoughtful and undeniably knowledgeable in his field.

Insta-friend, April Reddout, is being engulfed by flights of wine as she sits on the judging panel at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition – a testament of her knowledge that requires no explanation. | photo: April Reddout

I met April Reddout for the first time during the 2017 SavorNW Wine Awards, and I knew the moment we met that we would fast become friends.  Like Ken, April also resides in the great state of Washington, she’s super witty and totally well-rounded in the her wine-centric career.  She is the Wine Program Manager at the Walter Clore Wine & Culinary Center, and she procures wines from all over Washington while overseeing the wine education programs offered at the center.  April had just finished judging at the influentially distinguished San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and would soon be on her way to be the Chief of Judges at the Cascadia Wine Competition.  Amazingly, she finds time to be a recurring judge for Great Northwest Wine, SavorNW Wine Awards and writes a wine column for the Prosser Record-Bulletin.

Bursting with stories that will urge you to grab a glass of wine, sit and listen, there’s always something to learn from Master Facilitator, Hank Sauer. | photo credit:

Our panel moderator, Hank Sauer, who is also the facilitator of the SavorNW Wine Awards alongside his wife Nancy, is steadfastly known in the Pacific Northwest for his wine competition facilitator expertise.  Together they have facilitated some of the largest wine competitions in the region, including the Great Northwest Wine Competition, the Walla Walla Valley Wine Competition, the Wine Press Northwest Platinum Judging, the Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition and the Northwest Wine Summit.  Both are retired educators who have participated with the SavorNW Wine Awards for several years, and they are both bursting with fascinating stories – grab a glass of wine and simply listen, there is so much to learn from them.

The key to pulling off a wine competition without a hitch? Ask the experts behind the scenes, in the backroom of the SavorNW Wine Awards wine competition. They are THE pros. | photo: SavorNW

There were nearly 700 entries this year, and our panel along with two other panels (set-up exactly like ours), began our two and a half day journey of single-blind tasting a plethora of varietals and blended wines, including non-grape wines and dessert wines.  At the start of the competition, we sailed into a sea of pink beauties with a flight of Rosé wines produced using a diverse group of varietals, from Rosé of Pinot Noir to Rosés produced from Grenache, Tempranillo, Cinsault and Malbec – and everything in between.  We had flights of Grüner Veltliner, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and “Other Whites” that showcased Chenin Blancs, Pinot Blancs, Roussanne, white blends and more.  Malbec (a rising star of the Northwest according to Andy Perdue of Wine Press Northwest) was surprisingly showcased in big numbers, and there were Pinot Noirs, Barberas, Dolcettos, Tempranillos, Cabernet Sauvignons and Red Blends galore.

The sparkling wine flight that none of us will soon forget. Tasting blind is the only way to judge wine with a level playing field.

Finishing the third day of the competition with sparkling wine, dessert wine and non-grape wine, our panel had a very exciting Double Gold sparkling wine that all three of us scored as a 100 point wine   – a very rare occurrence in a competition.  We tasted through our flight of bubbles numerous times, and each time we went back to one sparkling wine in particular, noting in unison its frolicsome bubbles and alluring aromatics.  We discussed our fondness for the small amount of residual sugar that played its roll perfectly in balancing out the vibrant acidity with elegance, and each of us agreed that its nuances evolved and blossomed with exposure to air.  It was purely delightful to drink.

The beauty of sparkling wine

Curiosity developed as other judges overheard our discussion, and interest piqued when our trio of 100 point scores were declared.  Our beloved bubbles made way to a few inquiring palates around the room, and nods of delight ensued with thumbs up approvals.  It was awarded Best of Class.  Excited for its reveal, the sparkling wine that had won our hearts and palates turned out to be a widely accessible, surprisingly affordable, non vintage Brut produced by 14 Hands Winery.

As a die-hard Pinot Noir fan, I was thrilled when this flight arrived.

At Washington’s 14 Hands Winery, winemaker Keith Kennison explains the winemaking philosophy, We take a practical approach to winemaking—really letting the fruit express itself with as few manipulations as possible.  Making wines that people enjoy drinking is our ultimate goal, so we often make decisions throughout the winemaking process based purely on taste.  In the end, we want our wines to be smooth and fruit-forward, yet bold and complex.”  Produced using Methode Champenoise, varietals in this blended non-vintage sparkling Brut could include Chardonnay, Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Meunier or Pinot Noir – all hailing from the Columbia Valley AVA.

Our first night is always spent at the highly recommended Seasons Cafe, where we can meet and greet many of the people involved in the creation of SavorNW Wine Awards, including founder and Chief of Judges, Gary Hayes.

Ironically, taking place just a few months prior to the SavorNW Wine Awards, 14 Hands NV Brut also took home the Class Champion/Double Gold at one of the nation’s largest international wine competitions: Rodeo Uncorked! International Wine Competition.  According to Eric Degerman, co-owner of Great Northwest Wine (and fellow judge at SavorNW Wine Awards), of the 2,850 wines entered into the Rodeo Uncorked! competition, from more than 15 countries (with 105 of those entries being from Tuscany alone), nearly 100 wines from the Pacific Northwest took home medals. (Read the full article here.)

Two Best of Class champions that our panel had the pleasure of awarding. The Puffin Pinot Gris is owned by Steven Sinkler, proprietor of the local Cannon Beach wine shop named The Wine Shack. Fellow Eugenean and winemaker extraordinaire, Ray Walsh, produced this award-winning Pinot Gris.

Other stand-out wines that our panel awarded Gold, Double Gold or Best of Class included Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards 2015 Winemaker’s Reserve Grüner Veltliner (Best of Class), Puffin Wines 2016 Oregon Pinot Gris (Best of Class), Stave & Stone Winery Dorothy Pinot Noir Rosé (Best of Class), Walla Walla Vintners 2014 Dolcetto (Best of Class), Knudsen Vineyards 2014 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir (Double Gold) and so many more unforgettable wines from all over the Pacific Northwest.  Attached is the full list of Best of Class, Double Gold, Gold, Silver and Bronze medal winners, in alphabetical order per the label’s name.

Traditions rule at SavorNW! The wine Awards always comes to a close with an appreciation dinner held at the Wayfarer Restaurant in Cannon Beach – where Oregon Dungeness crab and Gold Medal wines from the event are simply divine.

For the full list of winners: 2017SavorNWWinners


When visiting Cannon Beach for the Savor Cannon Beach event, be sure to visit IceFire Glassworks – the owners are hard working volunteers for SavorNW Wine Awards. Keep an eye out for an upcoming article on this amazing business.


Thank you to every single person involved in SavorNW Wine Awards. You all never cease to amaze me.


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