The 38th Annual Sierra Foothills Wine Competition Judges Have Been Announced and Award Winning Wines Will Be Featured at the Calaveras County Fair May 16th – 19th


April 23, 2019 – Angels Camp, CA – The Calaveras Winegrape Alliance (CWA) in partnership with the Calaveras County Fairgrounds will be hosting the 38th annual wine judging on April 26th from 9:00 – 1:00 at the Calaveras County Fairgrounds in Angels Camp, CA. “Most of the judges consider the Sierra Foothills Wine Region one of their favorite areas to judge, because of the friendly atmosphere, the high quality of wines, and the family environment that still permeates our community. I have been involved in the wine and grape industry in Calaveras County since 1980 and have established long term friendships with most of the judges. We strive to bring new professionals to our area every year and maintain our old connections as well. These meaningful relationships with judges have formed a wine competition that is worthy of the quality that we are committed to in the Sierra Foothills,” shares Gay Callan.

Every year, a team of 25 esteemed wine experts from the Central Valley and Bay Area regions come to the Calaveras County Fairgrounds to judge in a blind tasting of professional wines submitted by winemakers from Calaveras County and the neighboring six counties that make up the Sierra Foothill wine appellation. Professional wine judges will taste through 230 wines across 48 categories using the “Danish System”, sometimes called the “Group Method”. Each wine is measured against standards and not ranked against competitors. Some of the returning judges to this year’s competition include Michael Dunn, freelance wine writer, former wine columnist and restaurant critic for the Sacramento Bee. Mark Chandler, chief judge for the California State Fair, also returns this year to provide his expert review. “One of my biggest takeaways from the Sierra Foothills Wine Competition judging is the departing remarks from a number of the professional judges who serve at the event. There are always comments about the friendly nature and warm hospitality of our wine region along with the ever increasing quality of the wines. A number of our judges participate in large, major competitions across the country and yet they are happy to take time out to join in our smaller wine competition,” shares Tom Bender.

Tom Bender has served as the Sierra Foothills Wine Competition organizer for over 35 years and is a contributor on food and wine to several foothill and valley magazines and newspapers. Tom also serves as a judge at the California State Fair Wine Competition. A team of 8 volunteers assist Tom and the judges with refreshment of dump buckets, waters and bread baskets all while keeping a low profile and quiet atmosphere so the judges have their full concentration on the wines. Bender shares with us how we got involved in this wine competition, “As manager of a nearby restaurant that featured a number of foothill wineries on our list, I was asked to expand the competition from the meager three participants in 1981. Looking back on my first year organizing the event, the 2nd annual wine competition judging took place in May of 1982, and surprisingly on the Friday of Fair weekend. The competition featured one winery from Calaveras County and that was Stevenot Winery, along with another dozen or so wineries from Amador and El Dorado counties. About 70 wines were entered and 19 of them were Zinfandels. The next most popular category was White Zinfandel with 10 entrees. Popular grapes at the time included Chenin Blanc and Ruby Cabernet which have disappeared from the current competition. The “Best of Show” winner that year was the 1979 Montevina Special Selection Zinfandel. I truly appreciate the Calaveras County Fairgrounds and Calaveras Winegrape Alliance for allowing me to be part of the event. It’s nice to see how far the Sierra Foothills Wine Region has come and I look forward to seeing many more terrific winery accomplishments in the future.”   

The Calaveras County best-in-show, double-gold and gold-medal winning wines will be on display at the Calaveras County Fair Wine Pavilion May 16th through 19th. The wine pavilion features an exhibit space that includes an interactive, self-guided experience showcasing sustainable practices in viticulture and winemaking throughout the days of the fair. There will be lectures on growing grapes sustainably and soil and microclimate impacts on wine. Special guests will include wildlife experts and their predatory birds, vineyard goats, a vermiculture display and live bugs used for sustainable practices. In addition, local agricultural experts and Master Gardeners will be hosting various workshops and lectures on topics such as holistic grazing, use of native plants, creating beneficial hedgerows and more.

“The Calaveras Winegrape Alliance is excited to partner with the Calaveras County Fairgrounds once again to showcase the best wines being produced in the Sierra Foothills region of Northern California. The Calaveras Winegrape Alliance was established in 1989 and is dedicated to increasing the awareness of all wines produced in Calaveras County and produced from Calaveras grapes. Calaveras county’s historical wine region has been an integral part of the California wine industry since 1851 and is now home to 30 wineries. Calaveras county is a perfect growing region for hearty Spanish and Italian varietals like Barbera, Tempranillo, Mourvedre, Nebbiolo, Grenache, Graciano, Toringa, Albarino, Marsanne, Verdelho and Symphony as well as old vine Zinfandels, hearty and robust Cabernet and Petite Syrah. We look forward to sharing the award-winning wines with visitors to the Calaveras Fair Wine Pavilion May 16th through 19th and appreciate all that the Fair CEO, Laurie Gianinni, does to make this annual event such a big success. Visitors to the Wine Pavilion will receive a Calaveras Wines Summer Explorer Tasting Card with VIP offers at tasting rooms throughout our beautiful Calaveras wine country.” shares Sandra Hess, Executive Director of the Calaveras Winegrape Alliance.

The Calaveras County Fairgrounds Wine Pavilion sponsored by the Calaveras Winegrape Alliance is located at 101 Frogtown Road in Angels Camp, CA. Those with questions may contact Sandra Hess at or (209) 728-9467.