The Woodinville Winers attend the Golden Grape Awards

  • Written by Mike McClure and Terry Morse
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The six winners of the 2012 Golden Grape Awards, pictured from left to right, are Chris Sparkman of Sparkman Cellars, Jody Elsom of Elsom Winery, Sean Boyd of Woodinville Wine Cellars, David Lawson of Covington Cellars, Alicia Hanson of Page Cellars and Darby English of Darby Winery. Courtesy photo.
Two weeks ago, we sat in a conference room at the Willows Lodge and watched some of the best Woodinville winemakers spit out multiple tastes of outstanding Woodinville wine. What was going on? Don’t winemakers like their own wines?  It was the second annual Golden Grape Awards. If you are not familiar with the Golden Grape Awards, don’t feel bad.  It is a relatively new event sponsored by the Willows Lodge in search of the best Woodinville wines and winemakers.  Matt Davis & Jennifer Schmitt ran the show and did an outstanding job.

Any area winemaker can submit their wine in one of six categories, namely Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Rhone style varietals/blends and Bordeaux style blends. The catch is, if you submit a wine, you have to be a judge in one of the blind tasting panels.  (Try doing a blind wine tasting with your friends – it’s really a lot of fun).

We heard about this event through Mike Sharadin, of Northwest Totem Cellars, who during the Syrah blind tasting exclaimed, “I have just tasted the best Syrah of my life, and I know it wasn’t mine!” That caused much speculation over the last two weeks about who made this incredible Syrah (keep reading).  The next week, we attended “blend night” and watched 25 winemakers blind taste about 30 wines.  That explains all the spitting going on.  You can’t taste that much wine in one sitting without influencing your palette. Luckily, we weren’t among the judges, so we were allowed to swallow.

In all, 33 wineries participated in the contest and submitted 92 wines in the six categories.  The blind tastings were held over three nights – about 30 per night.  Each wine was ranked on a rating card by each winemaker on six different scales – Color/Clarity, Bouquet/Aroma, Flavors/Taste, Body/Texture, Balance/Finish, and Overall Impression. Nobody knew which wine they were tasting at any time, as the glasses were simply labeled with numbers. A perfect score was 25 points. In all, 919 rating cards were collected and tabulated.  We still don’t know how Matt and Jennifer kept track of it all.

Without further ado, here are the winners:

1) Sauvignon Blanc – Pearl, Sparkman Cellars ( – This is the second year in a row that Sparkman has won this category. Congratulations to Chris Sparkman, dad, winemaker and head janitor, who spent a couple of decades as sommelier and wine buyer before starting Sparkman Cellars.

2) Chardonnay – Autumn Chase, Page Cellars ( – Congratulations to Jim Page who started Page Cellars in 2000.  Jim is also a corporate pilot who balances both full time jobs.

3)  Syrah – Aunt Lee, Darby Winery ( – Congratulations to Darby English, a former professional golfer, who launched his winery in 2005.  This was the 3rd vintage of this wine and the second Golden Grape award that Darby has taken home.  Darby mentioned that Syrah is really his winemaking passion.

4)  Cabernet Sauvignon – Indomitable – Woodinville Wine Cellars ( – Congratulations to Sean Boyd, who we have been following since he joined Woodinville Wine Cellars in 2002.

5)  Rhone Varietals/Blends – Ma Belle – Covington Cellars ( – Congratulations to David and Cindy Lawson, who we wrote about in a previous column. Cindy came up with this blend. Covington has now won three Golden Grape awards in just two years – keep your eye on this winery.

6)  Bordeaux Blends – Isabella – Elsom Cellars ( – Congratulations to Jody Elsom on her first year entering. This wine is named after her six-year-old daughter.

And now for the grand winner – the wine of the year as rated by the winemakers themselves.  This is arguably the most prestigious local award you can win – as it comes directly from Woodinville winemakers.  Turns out, it WAS that Syrah that we were trying to figure out for the last couple of weeks. The winner of the King’s Cup was Darby’s Aunt Lee Syrah. This wine is named after Darby’s aunt, who passed away seven years ago. So here’s to Aunt Lee and all of the winners of the 2012 Golden Grape awards.

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