by Laura Ness
When winemaker Erik Miller got the call informing him that his 2016 Gopher Hill Pinot had just garnered a 100-point score, and oh, by the way, it took Best of Show at the 2018 North Coast Wine Challenge, he didn’t quite know what to expect.
“It’s been the craziest thing!” says Miller, who started the Kokomo brand in 2004 with Cabernet Sauvignon. “We got a good Wine Spectator score (for the Cab) in 2005, then again in 2006, and in 2007, Spectator wrote about us. This time last year, Parker wrote about 5 Sonoma Cabs that rival Napa Valley, and we got some good sales after that. But after the 100-point score for the Pinot, we were definitely on the radar.”
He observed an amazing spike in views of the video Kokomo has on Vimeo in conjunction with the win. “You can see a huge spike in April, right after the announcement.”
“The local relevance of this win has been amazing,” continues Miller. “We had a line of people out the door the next day when we opened! And we had more than 50 web orders for the wine! It was the craziest reaction ever. We sold out in two days.”
Miller was forced to release the 2016 Gopher Hill Pinot far earlier than he had planned, “We explained to people that this was the ‘big brother’ to the 2015, from my favorite barrels, with more oak aging. It wasn’t really ready, but we released it anyway and sold it out a month ago. Now we have the 2017 Gopher Hill on the bar.”
Because much of the 2016 Gopher Hill Pinot had already been allocated to Wine Club, it made fulfilling orders even more difficult. “You can really cause damage when you run out,” Miller observes. “My Hospitality Manager said to me, ‘Don’t make any more 100-point wines!! You’ve made my job so hard!’”
Miller says the reaction at the public event held to honor the winners of the North Coast Challenge was phenomenal. “I love the event. It’s really cool and draws a great young crowd. All the winners are acknowledged in the paper (The Press Democrat), which is great, and then again in Sonoma magazine. From a local perspective, it’s had a huge impact.”
A big win in a major competition goes a long way, though. He’s very fond of the North Coast Challenge, which he won in 2012 for his first rosé, garnering best rosé for the next two years. (His 2017 Grenache Rosé vied for best rosé in 2018 as well.) Miller also participates in the San Francisco Chronicle, and in the Indy International, held in his home state of Indiana. Kokomo is named for the blue-collar town where he grew up.
“The North Coast Wine Challenge is our favorite competition,” admits Miller. “It has diversity and attracts the biggest
number of entries from Lake, Mendocino and Sonoma counties. We love the judges, who are a combination of winemakers and sommeliers. It is very important to us.”
Miller isn’t letting any of this go to his head, however, “I took a lot of crap from my peers! They were all teasing me about a 100-point wine. I thought about making a t-shirt that says, ‘Touch me, I’m a 100-point winemaker!’ But really, all that aside, it’s been absolutely amazing. But we are still down to earth here at Kokomo. We have no chandeliers or extravagance. I want to maintain affordable wines the best I can, out of respect for where I grew up. I don’t want to be charging $70 a bottle!”