The 2018 North Coast Wine Challenge invited 28 wine judges from across the country to sniff and sip a total of 1,014 wines last week during the sixth annual North Coast Wine Challenge in Sonoma County, Calif., resulting in 177 gold-medal awards, five Best of Show winners, five Best of County winners and one, record-breaking Best of the Best champion.
Kokomo Wines, which produces the Seaside Wine Project wines sold exclusively in Seaside, is a family winery run by a winemaker in partnership with a grower. Kokomo took home the Best of the Best prize for its Kokomo 2016 Pinot Noir Gopher Hills Block Peters Vineyard Sonoma Coast. The pinot scored the highest points ever awarded by the contest in its six years: a perfect 100 out of 100. The Seaside Wine Project Pinot Noir was also produced on this vineyard.
“The wine was seamless and achieved our first 100 point score,” said Chief Judge Daryl Groom, who coordinates the contest. “It was clearly a delicious, well-made, high-quality wine.”
Rising to the top as the Best Pinot, the vibrant wine entered the sweepstakes round with 17 other red wines and easily captured Best Red Wine, then received 70 percent of the judges’ votes to win Best of the Best over four other wines: the Best of Show White, Sparkling, Rosé and Dessert wines.
The judges awarded a total of 177 gold medals to wines entered in the contest, or 17.6 percent of the entries. A total of 185 wineries making wine from grapes grown on the North Coast entered the contest this year, including 39 new wineries.
“I was very impressed with all the wines — there were no clunkers at all,” said Chris Munsell, a contest judge and director of winemaking for E&J Gallo. “There were really stellar wines, and some of these are the top representatives I’ve seen, ever.”
As for the Best of the Best pinot noir, Munsell said that he knew it was a top winner as soon as he raised the glass to his nose.
“It jumps out of the glass. It has what they call that pinocity — a pinot characteristic that is so vibrant,” Munsell said. “The mouthfeel was silky and smooth, with no rough edges.”
The majority of the 31 wines that made it into the final sweepstakes round were from Sonoma County, Groom said, reflecting the high percentage of wines entered from the diverse AVAs of the county.
Not surprisingly, the Kokomo 2016 Pinot Noir came from the Peters Vineyard in the Sebastopol Hills area, which is on the border of the cooler Sonoma Coast and Russian River AVAs. The former apple orchard off Elphick Road is low lying and is swept by cooling fog from the Two Rock Gap, which provides a longer hang time.
Kokomo Owner/Winemaker Erik Miller, who makes wine only from grapes grown by Kokomo owner and grower Randy Peters, said the two-man team works together to pick the single-vineyard grapes multiple times in order to blend different ripeness levels.
“We want the complex levels of flavors so that when we put them together, we can play music with them,” Miller said. “Our main objective is to show that purity of place that no one else gets ... that’s where we have to hang our hat.”
The award-winning Kokomo pinot noir costs $44, a relative bargain for a wine sourced from grapes from the Sonoma Coast. “I want to make affordable wines that people in Indiana want to buy,” said Miller, who hails from the Midwest.