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30 Palomino Ct.,
CA, 94954
United States
Debra Del Fiorentino

Premier wine competition judging Northern California's Best of the Best! We judge North Coast AVAs including Lake, Mendocino, Sonoma, Napa, Marin, and parts of Solano County.

News Archive

Soda Rock Wins Best of Mendocino in Press Democrat North Coast Wine Challenge for Chardonnay From Hopland Vineyard
18 December, 2018

Isabelle Adams of Soda Rock Winery chooses her wine competitions very carefully. The 8-year-old winery produces about 6k cases yearly, and relies on direct to consumer sales for most of the production. Although they’ve tried other competitions over the years, Adams divides her entries equally between international and local competitions, including the North Coast Wine Challenge (NCWC).

“It is very important to us to have local wins and medals that we can promote. We use the awards and scores in the tasting room, and in our emails and our advertising. It definitely influences people’s decisions when they are able to taste the wine before purchasing, and it also is very rewarding for the winemaker!” she says.

Although Soda Rock, in the heart of Alexander Valley, is primarily a Cabernet house, they offer 20 different reds and blends, including an increasing number of Zinfandels. Being part of the Wilson Artisan winery stable gives them access to fruit from a variety of AVAs.

The Soda Rock property is a magnificent historic structure that dates back to 1869. In 2000, Ken and Diane Wilson acquired the run down and neglected property, pouring ample resources into making it the beautiful and welcoming spot it is today.

Adams admits the win for the 2016 Soda Rock Mendocino Chardonnay was unexpected and quite welcomed. It was the first-time winemaker Antoine Favero had made Chardonnay from the Jaxon Keys Vineyard in Hopland into a wine under the Soda Rock label.

Favero was born in the Champagne region of France, but his French mother and Italian father moved the family to a Peruvian coastal fishing village when he was a little boy. At age nine, the family relocated to Northern California’s wine country, where Favero discovered his passion. After attending UC Davis, Antoine worked at Mazzocco, where he created many award-winning Zinfandels before coming to Soda Rock.

Favero fermented the hand-harvested fruit in 40% new French oak for 22 months, using sur lees stirring to impart a creamy texture that carries the pear, guava, white nectarine and tropical fruit flavors in a mouth-flooding wave. Only one-third of the wine went through malolactic, preserving the essence of citrus through the mid-palate.

The Wilson Artisan wineries are opening a new joint tasting room in downtown Healdsburg, where wines from their entire portfolio will be available. Called Coyote Sonoma, the concept will offer bar bites to enjoy, along with beer and wine on tap. The site was previously Sonoma Cider, which shuttered earlier this year. Should be another winning concept from the Wilson’s who see — and seize — an opportunity at every turn.

Sadly, though, you won’t be able to taste any of the award-winning 2016 Mendocino Chardonnay, though, as it sold out within two months of winning the honors. Isabelle hopes to have more of it from this year’s harvest.

Can You Beat This? Kokomo’s 100-Point Score in the North Coast Wine Challenge a Game-Changer
06 November, 2018

When winemaker Erik Miller got the call informing him that his 2015 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 2015 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!”


By Laura Ness