IRVINE, Calif. /PRNewswire/ — SIP Awards has grown into a movement that is gaining traction across the spirits industry. The only competition with consumers as judges, the SIP Awards provides small and big brands — local and international — an opportunity to receive unbiased consumer feedback.
From its inception 12 years ago, the SIP Awards International Spirits Competition brought together consumers at local venues to taste and judge spirits and mixers. This year, in the wake of a global pandemic, SIP Awards had to quickly evolve and pivot their annual event into an at-home tasting experience. “At first we didn’t know how COVID-19 would impact our event but time was not on our side and we needed to find a way to have consumers evaluate spirits safely.” – SIP Awards Founder & CEO Pouya Hashemi
In comparison to last year’s event with 146 judges, the SIP Awards 2020 revolutionary digital experience hit a record-breaking 212 judges who evaluate spirits in the comfort and safety of their homes. With more judges providing feedback, this contributed to a more accurate and broader rating method for the spirit and mixer brands.
Breaking industry standards, the first of its kind, at-home tasting kit included a signature NEAT Tasting Glass and 12 curated samples ranging from a bargain $2 bottle to an ultra-premium $1,600 bottle. Judges are carefully vetted and extensively screened to ensure there is no affiliation with marketing, wholesalers, or distributors tied to the spirits industry. Utilizing innovative technology, SIP Awards integrated a unique barcoding system to identify the location of the brand samples. Leaving no room for error, this system tracks the sample from the kitting process and delivery to the evaluation provided by the consumer judges.
Despite the pandemic, the number of entrants for this year’s competition increased, keeping to the tradition of setting new records. Making history, a diverse combination of 981 spirits and mixer brands from around the world participated in the first ever at-home spirits tasting competition.
Winning a SIP Award is a milestone for brands that speak directly to their target audience, consumers. Awards include Bronze, Silver, Gold, Double Gold, Platinum, and Best of Class in over 100 categories. The most sought after, Consumers’ Choice Award, honors a brand’s unwavering commitment to their Legacy, Craft, and to the ever-important Consumer Palate, by placing in the SIP Awards two or more consecutive years.
“By having the ability to taste new products and brands, consumers are more open to purchasing those that they enjoyed most. As we continue to see more new products and brands, The Innovation Award was introduced as a way for our consumer judges to really honor and highlight brands that are doing something different and unique in the marketplace.” – SIP Awards Director, Cher Holmes
The SIP Awards have uniquely positioned themselves in an exploding spirits industry and yet again, introduced new standards that continue to revolutionize the spirits competition realm.
For a complete list of the SIP Awards categories, winners, photos, and info visit: https://sipawards.com
About the SIP Awards
The SIP Awards provides a unique competition for spirit brands to gain exposure, feedback, and recognition from unbiased consumers. As the only blind tasting competition of its kind, the SIP Awards offers a platform for brands to showcase their products to their most discerning audience. To learn more about the SIP Awards competition or for a complete list of this year’s winners, visit https://sipawards.com.
After a decade of working with Center of Effort Wine, time seems to have passed quickly. “As I think back, we have accomplished so much in that time. Our wines have found a rhythm, we understand the estate and the land, and we have begun to make adjustments based on deep knowledge of this place,” explains winemaker Nathan Carlson.
Carlson joined Center of Effort in late June of 2010, when the winery had been under the new ownership of Bill and Cheryl Swanson. At his previous job, he oversaw winemaking for multiple brands in multiple facilities, and sourced grapes from growers from Lake County to Santa Barbara.
Center of Effort presented an opportunity to get back into the Edna Valley, a place that Nathan knows well. This new opportunity gave me the chance to be involved nearly from the beginning with a new winery, owners who were committed to quality and to connecting with their customers. Most importantly, after years of working broadly with vineyards and growers across the state, this was clearly an opportunity to develop a deep understanding of one single estate location; maximizing quality and efficiency from the existing vines and implementing solutions that made sense in our circumstances.
There were challenges ahead, and new wineries can be filled with uncertainty. “I had experience working with fruit from the established vines on this property. I knew that there was potential for excellence here, if the details were attended to carefully. And in particular I knew that there would be growth and learning for me by working for someone like Bill Swanson,” says Carlson.
Early meetings with Mr. Swanson made it clear that he was direct, fair and that he had vast experience managing tens of thousands of people as the President and CEO of Raytheon. He approached and thought about things on a different scale than most people.
While working with the vineyards and wines, Nathan tried to understand what exists naturally, and draw on that strength rather than imposing any particular style on the fruit. The existing vines were planted in 1997, according to production standards of that time. From that first summer, the company paid close attention to soil, aspect and growth patterns.
In 2012 we implemented a major replanting of 8 acres to very high-density, high quality planting of additional Pinot Noir clonal selections, increasing the diversity of fruit available to our winemaking program.
From 2011, they enrolled in an audited sustainability program (SIP) that has been a useful metric to measure our longer-term goals for the vineyard and the business. They use very safe methods of crop protection, plant cover crops to minimize erosion and to feed the soil, return compost to the vines each winter to build organic matter in the soil, and track water use. Canopy management is a major quality and vine health issue in a cool foggy region, and they retrofitted the vineyard to make shoot management and leaf pulling easier for the crews. It is amazing to watch the soil come back to life; where it was previously a lifeless crust directly under the vines it now holds water and earthworms and smells clean and earthy.
“Our wines have been fortunate to receive acclaim right from the beginning. Our inaugural release of the Estate Pinot Noir was rated 95 points by a major wine publication, and that praise has been a consistent part of our story ever since. We have always made our mailing list customer/members our main focus, and present offers of the wines to them upon release and prior to the winter holidays. When we began to sell the wines in distribution, it was initially through our neighbor Lorraine Alban’s wine company – she and her team have been wonderful stewards of our wines, sharing them with businesses in our region and being mindful of what is best for us in the longer term,” says Nathan.
Over the past decade, CEOE has been constantly building and developing. Wells, water infrastructure, vineyard redevelopment, a solar field to provide all winery power, upgrading facility and winery equipment, additional fermentation and storage tanks, all-new presses, and high-quality grape receiving equipment all happened largely in the background, but boosted the efficiency and quality of their wines and vineyards.
Since 2016, the company undertook a multi-million-dollar wholesale renovation of the winery and grounds.
Prior to launching this renovation, COE didn’t have a comfortable place to host visitors to the winery. “I want COE to have a place that matches the wine quality” Bill Swanson, Owner of COE said many times during meetings.
“We thought about the design of the public spaces from the desire to provide genuine hospitality and ease to our guests, with small semi-private spaces to sit comfortably, large outdoor patios and gardens for events and winery parties, and all of it open to our unmatched views of the Santa Lucia mountains. The open kitchen with Chef’s bar has been a wonderful way to share culinary experiences with small groups of our members. There truly is not another property like this in the region, and it is a special privilege to come to work here every morning,” adds Nathan.
COE is now an authentic ambassador for the Edna Valley. It is a magnificent place on the Pacific coast. Nathan started as the only employee of the business. “We had contractors and outside service providers, but it took time to assemble the right crew of people. And over time, we have had contributions from many amazing human beings who have built their experience with us at COE and eventually transitioned out into the larger world of our industry,” says Carlson.
COE’s close connection with California Polytechnic University and their Wine and Viticulture department has grown and bloomed to become a development ground for amazing talent that is moving into the industry.
“The Edna Valley AVA is a fairly small region; and because of that our voice may not have been as loud as others.
The wines from the Edna Valley tend toward elegance and longevity at their best, not bombast and hedonism, which tends to attract more attention. But members of our industry who have a broad understanding of the world of wine appreciate the quality potential and ascendency of the wines. I am ultimately looking forward to developing Center of Effort’s special strengths and to telling their unique story,” says Nathan.
Dinner at Opolo Vineyards after our first day learning and tasting at the Paso Robles Cab Collective Cabs of Distinction was a special treat booked for us by the public relations company marketing the event, Parker Sanpei. Starting with an after hours tasting in their tasting room – their Zin and Sangio stood out uppermost in my mind the next day – we also took a brief tour.
The winery now houses not one but two copper stills in which chief distiller and vineyard manager Paul Quinn has been making a freaking outstanding grappa, and just that day, had completed distilling a pear brandy. Come to find that several Paso wineries are getting their license to distill alcohol from fruit and sell from their tasting rooms. I told Paul that since Opolo is SIP certified this is a natural following, to use up every scrap…for our pleasure.
We then toured the grounds. We visited a large welcoming grassy area that is used for the 8,000-strong club member parties, the rooms for overnight guests and a main house with plenty of windows for vineyard views set up for our dinner.
Starting with a lovely fruit-forward Roussanne we dined on a spinach salad with dried cranberries, apple slices, walnuts and then buttery scallops over Parmesan risotto. The owner, Rick Quinn, who had already wowed us with his smoked pork salami and smoked pork loin as appetizers, had created a meaty Goulash with grilled artichoke which I believe they served with their reserve Zinfandel. For dessert, our only store bought item, was a light cheesecake covered in berries and compote.
If you haven’t been to Opolo and like big friendly wines paired with friendly people, don’t miss them on your next trip to Paso.
The Quaff Report Panel Discussion
On day two of our visit we were invited back to the Paso Robles Inn Ballroom for a sommelier led seminar.
While the panelists got ready Meredith May, publisher of Tasting Panel and SOMM Journal, announced that she will soon be unveiling a chef-focused cannabis magazine coming in the fall, contact info@TheCleverRoot.com if you want to learn more. This was news!
Then it was time for the panel.
Okay, right off the bat, this is my first experience watching others – as the audience wasn’t participating – taste and comment on wine. One thing I did learn came from sommelier Mike Madrigale, the moderator, who discussed helping restaurant staffs by blind tasting wines and discussing them on their merits.
Then he asked his fellow panelists to taste and only comment on any remarkable attributes found in the wines poured out in front of them.
Like a silent movie, with no music as an accompaniment, we waited for what seemed like several minutes for ANYTHING to happen. May took the opportunity to talk about the reach, 90k readers, of the Tasting Panel. She then explained that she had offered to take over the Sommelier Journal when it was about to fold, revamped it as the Somm Journal and offered it up for free to trade – and now up to 60k are reading it.
That time spent allowed our panel of Somms and wine directors to come up with some ideas of what was in their glasses. Savory, dusty, no oak…was it a Cabernet Franc or straight Cab? Across the board they had differing opinions other than what we already knew: all are Bordeaux, the only questions is new or old world?
The MS at Giada at the Cromwell Hotel, Darius Allyn said for us, as he believed that many lay people were in he audience, that they have to look at cost and how the wines offered up to pair with their cuisine.
Madrigale commented that the first wine, once revealed was a $200ish Bordeaux, wholesale would be about $125 and then about $300 on a wine list – for a wine that needs age, he wouldn’t buy this for a restaurant. He gets better deals looking for this and others at auction.
Allyn mentioned that he is given a budget by the restaurant, and he can’t speed up time on a bottle that needs age.
Both commented that Burgundy may triple in value with time, while current Bordeaux would not, and the price of Bordeaux is somewhat inflated. Which was another reason they routinely chose not to invest money in them for their wine lists.
As they worked their way through the remaining wines, we tweeted along with them, but there was more discussion about if the blind wines were new or old world and less about things I could get into, like what their customers would think, what would they pay, if it was unexpected would a customer send it back. In conclusion: if you want us to watch while you drink you better engage us. Oh well.
Eve Bushman has been reading, writing, taking coursework and tasting wine for over 20 years. She has obtained a Level Two Intermediate Certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust, has been the subject of a 60-minute Wine Immersion video, authored “Wine Etiquette for Everyone” and recently served as a guest judge for the L.A. International Wine Competition. You can email Eve@EveWine101.com to ask a question about wine or spirits that may be answered in a future column. You can also seek her marketing advice via Eve@EveBushmanConsulting.com
Though there are a variety of sustainability options available to vineyard growers, SIP Certified is the most rigorous program of its kind. To achieve SIP Certified for a vineyard, growers must farm in a way that protects both natural and human resources. Their third-party evaluation process assesses a variety of items that go beyond organics to include (but not limited to) biodiversity and habitat, farm management, soil conservation, integrated pest management along with water conservation and quality, energy conservation, air quality, fruit quality, continuing education and social and community responsibility. Visit the SIP Certified website to learn more.
“WaterFire Winery in Michigan was on the hunt for a certification program that would verify their efforts to both their peers and consumers,” notes Beth Vukmanic Lopez, SIP Certified Manager. “We were thrilled to work with them to ensure their practices were in-line with the Standards set into practice by SIP Certified.”
Launched in 2008, SIP Certified is a sustainability program for vineyards and wineries throughout the United States. Today, with over 2.6 million SIP Certified wines shipped internationally wine drinkers have quite the selection of earth-friendly wines to choose from. By selecting wines with the SIP Certified seal, buyers are assured they are enjoying wines whose makers and growers have committed to standards that make sustainably the key ingredient in every bottle.
“Before launching WaterFire in 2008, I had over a decade of experience in environmental science collecting information and making observations on the different ways water gets polluted,” explains Chantal Lefebvre, WaterFire’s co-owner and manager. “Farming was and still is the number one culprit, so finding a sustainable way to farm to minimize pollution was a natural extension of who I was. SIP Certified not only authenticates our experience but goes above and beyond what we were looking for here in Michigan to help us differentiate our wines from other wineries.”
By obtaining the SIP Certified vineyard seal, WaterFire will continue to undergo regular inspections to ensure their certification stay current with all SIP Certified standards. In addition, the winery will be able to share their achievement with their current and potential buyers through their own marketing communications, furthering the education and importance of sustainability.
About SIP Certified
Sustainability in Practice (SIP) Certified provides a way for vineyards and wineries to verify their attention to sustainability through a commitment to environmental stewardship, equitable treatment of employees, and economic viability. Developed by the Vineyard Team, a 501(c)3 non-profit dedicated to sustainable winegrowing since 1994, this program represents one extension of the group’s many innovative programs. To learn more about SIP Certified, please visit the website www.sipcertified.org. For more information about the Vineyard Team, please visit www.vineyardteam.org.
Established in 2008 by Chantal Lefebvre and Mike Newman, WaterFire was the first vineyard in Antrim County, Michigan, and now the first vineyard outside of California to achieve SIP Certified status. WaterFire crafts white wines from estate-grown fruit and focuses on varieties that are underrepresented in Michigan. Their wines follow sustainable growing standards aimed at building biodiversity and drawing out that distinct sense-of-place from their surrounding hills and lakes. WaterFire’s wine tasting room, in Kewadin, MI, celebrated its grand opening in May 2017. To learn more, visit www.waterfirewine.com.
Halter Ranch Vineyard, a historic property on the west side of Paso Robles, draws on both innovation and rich tradition in crafting world-class wines. Located in the heart of California’s Central Coast, the winery specializes in estate-grown Bordeaux and Rhône Valley varietals and blends. It has earned California’s prestigious SIP certification (Sustainability in Practice) for its environmentally responsible viticulture and winemaking practices. Their primary wines include Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, CDP (a Rhône style blend), Grenache Blanc, Rosé and the Estate Reserve, Ancestor (Bordeaux-style blend). To learn more about the winery and vineyard, please visit www.halterranch.com.
Pop Up Goes the Winemaker!
Sooooo, there’s a cool little thing we’ve dubbed the “SIP Pop Up Bar” that will be springing up at this year’s Earth Day Food & Wine. No, it’s not an environmentally friendly version of Whack-a-Mole … though that gives us some ideas.
This kind of pop up involves some very special winemakers popping corks on some of their extremely limited production wines, but you’ve got to PAY ATTENTION, PEOPLE. Every hour, only one winemaker at a time will be featured at the SIP Pop Up Bar, and when their wine is gone, it’s gone!
Gone. Period. No do-overs. No finding their event booths because they don’t have one. These winemakers are only going to be pouring at the SIP Pop Up Bar.
In addition to sipping wines made from SIP® Certified vineyards, you’ll also get the chance to talk with the winemakers themselves. You can geek out all you want and ask about their cover cropping, use of owls in the vineyard, barrel programs, punch down schedules, cool climate Pinot versus warm climate Pinot – you name it.
So, who are the winemakers who will be popping up at Earth Day Food & Wine? Well, get ready for some selfies with none other than Matt Brain of Baker & Brain, Colby Parker-Garcia of El Lugar Wines, and Luciana Souza Alves of J. Wilkes.
Yup. Brain, Parker-Garcia, and Alves in da Earth Day Food & Wine House!
So whatya waiting for? BUY TICKETS NOW!
About Earth Day Food & Wine
Nestled under the oaks at Castoro Cellars in Paso Robles, California on April 23, premiere entry begins at 1pm, with general admission at 2pm. Wear your boots, wear your flip-flops. Relax at VIP tables, or enjoy yourself picnic style. Event proceeds benefit educational scholarships for relatives of farmworkers and Spanish education programs of the Vineyard Team.
This year’s celebration will be the best (and tastiest) yet; proceeds fund scholarships for relatives of Central Coast farmworkers.
Paso Robles, CA — Earth Day Food & Wine invites guests to the Central Coast for its 10th anniversary on Saturday, April 23. Nestled under the oaks at the Castoro Cellars meadow, top-quality food, paired with amazing beer, wine and the coolest vibe – this year is set to impress, and of course, give back.
For a decade, Earth Day Food & Wine’s annual wine country throw-down spotlights how sustainably produced foods and wines are both delicious and environmentally responsible.
“It seems strange, but 10 years ago, many people asked me why we were doing a food & wine event for Earth Day. People didn’t get the connections between their food and wine choices and the environment,” says Kris Beal, Executive Director of the Vineyard Team, which founded the event and oversees the growing Sustainability in Practice (SIP) Certified program.
Earth Day Food & Wine was the first event to provide an opportunity for attendees to connect directly with local farmers, winemakers, and chefs in this unique format. The casual, low-key atmosphere has set this event apart from the start – and now 10 years later, the event has stayed true to its mission – sharing sustainable wine and food with hungry eaters and caring connoisseurs.
This year’s festival – held “Under the Oaks” on the green grounds of Castoro Cellars in Paso Robles – is a culmination of 10 years of honing this gathering of savvy eaters and drinkers and will be the best event yet.
In addition to a growing list of top chefs, farmers, food purveyors, wineries and brewers, Earth Day Food & Wine will feature a Tesla auto exhibition, the Guerrilla Gardening Club, a SIP Pop-Up Bar where guests can enjoy SIP Certified wines, the KRUSH radio Beer Garden, and so much more. However, the event doesn’t just celebrate sustainability, but also the next generation of passionate people. Event proceeds benefit the Vineyard Team’s Spanish education programs and scholarships for relatives of farmworkers.
For more information on the history of Earth Day Food & Wine, ticket sales and partnership opportunities, please visit EarthDayFoodAndWine.org.
About Earth Day Food & Wine
Since 2007, Earth Day Food & Wine has celebrated the delectable flavors of the sustainable wine and food culture. Born from a desire to share with hungry foodies and caring connoisseurs, Earth Day Food & Wine has become the acclaimed culinary experience of the season. Farmers, food purveyors, winemakers and chefs who are passionate about sustainability come together in a casual atmosphere where attendees can relax anywhere from VIP tables to a picnic blanket on the grass. Event proceeds benefit the Vineyard Team’s Spanish education programs and scholarships for relatives of farmworkers.
About SIP Certified
Sustainability in Practice (SIP) Certified is a rigorous sustainable vineyard and wine certification with strict, non-negotiable standards based on science and expert input, independent verification, transparency and absence of conflict of interest. The SIP Certified seal helps growers and vintners measure their environmental, social and community impact while also assuring consumers that the product in their bottle was made with conscience and care. For more information, please visit SIPcertified.org or call 805.466.2288.