The Golden Grape Awards

Santa Barbara County Winemakers Honored by the California Wine Club

Sunstone Vineyards & Winery (Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara County)
Courtesy Photo

Your last wine shopping experience most likely involved you staring blankly at the green-glass-laden racks as the bottles of wine dauntingly glared back. There’s more to picking a bottle of wine than the enticing labels – the region, the price, the year, the list goes on. It is no simple feat for many, and even after the final decisions are made, a lot of finger-crossing is involved once the bottle is uncorked. Not all of us have time to pursue our dreams of becoming sommeliers. Until then, wine club recommendations will have to suffice. But even picking one of those may seem more difficult than just picking up a bottle from Trader Joe’s.

Thankfully, the California Wine Club does all the work for you. Help them help you with your wine woes. On February 2, they held their first regional vineyard contest based on 10 wineries featured in the largest of their wine-of-the-month clubs, their Premier Club. The Golden Grape Awards were awarded to small vineyards across the state, handpicked as the “best of the best” boutique wineries of 2008. Four of the 11 come from yours truly, Santa Barbara County.

The California Wine Club is as refined as each bottle they select. Established in 1990 by Bruce and Pam Boring, the club has become one of the leading organizations in the wine industry. What makes this wine-of-the-month club stand out from the pack? It could be the fact that Bruce and Pam do the dirty work; that is, they personally stop in, slurp, and sieve through California’s choice boutique wineries for what they believe ought to be delivered to the doorsteps of their 12,000 members. The Borings pride themselves as being “like a friend making a recommendation to another friend.”

After putting 18 years behind the name, the California Wine Club launched itsfirst vineyard competition. “The relationships we have with the wineries we feature are part of our success,” said Bruce. “We felt the Golden Grape Awards would be a fun way to foster our ongoing relationship with each one and to acknowledge each winery we feature, in a way that is unique to them and their strengths.”

The first annual Golden Grape Awards had 11 categories ranging from “Best Cheese and Wine Pairing” to “Best Family Enterprise” and even “Best ‘Sideways’ Entry” featuring Mosby Winery, which is located near Buellton. Another Santa Barbara winery to make it on the list was Sunstone Vineyards & Winery, noted as the “Best Romantic Getaway.”

Sunstone Winery, located in the Santa Ynez Valley, was recognized as being one of the most picturesque vineyards, giving you a feel of the French countryside. Reserve not just a table but a seat in their “cuvee cave,” which can be left open to wine and dine that special someone under the stars beside a wood burning oven. Brittany Rice, daughter of the owners, spoke on behalf of the family, stating that there’s more to them than just the beautiful winding vineyard. “I think people come here because of the ambiance,” she said, “but we also really want to infuse the quality of food and wine, entertainment, and educating people on wine of the future.”

Less of a romantic and more of an environmentalist? Free yourself of guilt and drink some eco-friendly wine. Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyards, also located in the Santa Ynez Valley, scored the “Best Sustainable Farm Experience” award. “We have a diverse agricultural profile, whereas most vineyards are just vineyards. We practice sustainability in everything that we do here,” said Sherril O’Neal, Buttonwood’s sales and marketing manager. Of the 106-acre farm, 39 are vineyard. And the rest? “We also have other fruit crops: peach orchards, pomegranate trees, almond trees, pear trees, tomatoes, persimmons. We have goats, chickens, and row crop vegetables.”

Buttonwood, like the rest of the winners, has worked with the California Wine Club for years now and can agree to its prestige as a wine club, as well as its good taste in wines. “CWC is a great organization,” said O’Neal. “They take great care in choosing their product and they are a good company to do business with. Their integrity is very high and it’s always a win-win situation when we do business with them.”

The 2008 Golden Grape winners were as follows:

  • 1. Best Sustainable Farm Experience: Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyards (Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara County)
  • 2. Best Cheese and Wine Pairing: Sylvester Vineyards & Winery (Paso Robles wine region)
  • 3. Best Romantic Getaway: Sunstone Vineyards & Winery (Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara County)
  • 4. Best Wine Innovator: Daniel Gehrs Wines (Los Olivos, Santa Barbara County)
  • 5. Best Family Enterprise: Century Oak Winery (Northern California, north of Lodi)
  • 6. Best Napa Valley History: Ballentine Vineyards & Winery (St. Helena, Napa Valley)
  • 7. Best Multi-Generation Winery: Pedroncelli Winery (Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma)
  • 8. Best New Entry from Temecula Valley: Thornton Winery (Temecula)
  • 9. Best Mountain Winery: Madrona Winery & Vineyards (El Dorado County)
  • 10. Best Monterey Pioneer: Ventana Vineyards (Monterey County)
  • 11. Best “Sideways” Entry: Mosby Winery & Vineyards (Santa Barbara County)