2017 American AgCredit Sweepstake Winemaker Award Winners

American AgCredit Sweepstake Winemaker Award Winners

The American AgCredit Sweepstake Winemaker Award is awarded to the winemaker that produces a sweepstake wine award at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.


Sparkling Sweepstake

Paul AhvenainenPaul Ahvenainen
Korbel Champagne Cellars, Russian River Valley
2013 Brut Natural’ Methode Champenoise, $15.99

Paul began his career at Korbel Champagne Cellars in 1985, shortly after his graduation from the University of California at Davis with a degree in Enology, and two years of experience working as a distiller for a subsidiary of French Cognac producer Remy Martin. Having gained extensive experience working in the laboratory, cellar, with grower relations, and as a winemaker, he was eventually named Director of Winemaking in 2003. In 2010, Paul added the management of Grower Relations to his responsibilities. He works with the Grower Relations team to ensure that the Korbel winemakers have the best quality grapes for each of the wines and brandies. Paul is very privileged to have the opportunity to work with an incredibly talented, creative and quality oriented team, all working together on these great products.

“The winemaking and vineyard teams at Korbel are thrilled that the SF Chronicle Wine Competition has selected Korbel Natural as its 2017 sparking sweepstakes winner. Korbel Natural is made from Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grown by our own vineyard crew on our estate vineyards. In the winery, we do everything we can to ensure that the fruit is allowed to showcase its brightness and delicacy in the bottle. This is the Korbel cuvee that we like to take into our homes, so we are honored to have the Chronicle judges appreciate it too.”


White Sweepstake

Jeff HinchliffeJeff Hinchliffe
Hanna Winery & Vineyards, Russian River Valley
2016 Sauvignon Blanc, $20.99

After graduating from the brewing program at UC Davis, a lack of brewing jobs permanently and serendipitously detoured him into the wine world and an enologist position at Christian Brothers in Napa Valley, where under Tom Eddy and Derek Holstein, he helped develop their Oxygen control program. “At Christian Brothers I lost my disdain for wine and learned that wine captured the drama of farming. I realized that in grape growing there was a Venn overlap of the intellectual and of nature. Then I tasted the 1981 Dry Creek Fume Blanc–and the hook was set.” From CB he returned home to Mendocino County to become winemaker for Dennis Patton at Hidden Cellars. Later, Jeff along with college friend Sam Gabrielli, founded Gabrielli Winery and Vineyards. Jeff finally joined family owned Hanna Winery & Vineyards in 1998 where he currently directs winemaking for Christine Hanna at their two Sonoma County wineries.

“Our reaction to the sweepstakes win was joy, gratitude, and relief. Marti (Assistant Winemaker) and I put in NFL coaches’ hours choreographing this vintage, and the ensemble popped out of bed in full stride.”


White Sweepstake

Brooks PainterBrooks Painter
Castello di Amorosa, Anderson Valley
2015 Gewurztraminer, $25.00

Brooks Painter has been called “the winemaker’s winemaker” because of his extensive expertise and prominence as a wine industry leader among his peers. He has been the Director of Winemaking at Castello di Amorosa since 2005 and is responsible for the winery’s portfolio of more than 60 different wines. He also oversees viticultural and grape growing operations, supervising nearly 300 acres of estate vineyards as well as relationships with outside growers. Born in San Francisco, Brooks grew up in northern California. He graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz with a double major in Chemistry and Biology, and he went on to complete additional coursework in seminars in viticulture and winemaking. Before coming to Castello di Amorosa, Brooks was a winemaker at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Robert Mondavi Winery, Leeward Winery, and Felton-Empire Vineyards. Castello di Amorosa’s steady stream of accolades substantiates his expertise with awards including “Winemaker of the Year 2015” from the American Fine Wine Competition and “Winemaker of the Year 2013” at the San Francisco International Wine Competition.

“The grapes for this wine were grown in the Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. We pick after the grapes have developed a pink to reddish hue, and the aromas are effuse with rose petals, cinnamon spice and exotic lychee fruit. We handle the fruit very carefully, avoiding as much as possible some of the more bitter tannins found in the skins. It is cold fermented in stainless steel and bottled in the spring. Gewurztraminer is a grape I am familiar with, as it was one of the first white grapes I made into wine when I started in the wine business 38 years ago. It is delightful with strong cheeses, spicy Asian dishes and sauced white meats.”


Pink Sweepstake

Miro TcholakovMiro Tcholakov
Trentadue Winery, Alexander Valley
2015 Rosato di Sangiovese Estate, $20.00

Miro Tcholakov is Trentadue Winery’s Vice President and Director of Winemaking Operations, overseeing all aspects of winemaking, including custom crush and bottling. Chiefly responsible for reinvigorating the Trentadue brand when he came aboard in 1999, Miro has worked tirelessly to take Trentadue’s wines to a new level of quality and prestige. Miro completed his studies in 1990 at the higher Institute of Agriculture in Bulgaria in Agronomy/Viticulture, and then traveled to California on an exchange program in wine business. He continued his education by attending Santa Rosa Junior College and UC Davis, focusing on specific courses in Winemaking and management. His internship started at Dry Creek Vineyards in the summer of 1990, and over nine years of employment, he transitioned through the ranks of Cellar Master and Assistant Winemaker. He then decided to move on and start his career as a head winemaker, accepting an offer form Trentadue Winery in 1999 to take over their winemaking operation. The combination of Miro’s early exposure to winemaking in Bulgaria, his years of study and experience, and his passion for the art make him a vital part of the Trentadue Winery family.

“The SFCWC is a phenomenal, in-our-backyard event with a global significance! As a member of the judging panel I really enjoy and appreciate the diversity and magnitude of wines produced in our country.”


Red Sweepstake

Agostino GambaAgostino Gamba
Tonti Family Wines, Russian River Valley, CA
2013 Old Vine Zinfandel Artisan Series, $60.00

Agostino Gamba’s journey as a winemaker was shaped by a carefully guided apprenticeship with his father at an early age. The sixth generation wine grape grower was raised in the family’s over century old, organically farmed Gamba Estate Vineyards in the Russian River Valley. Today, the family vineyards, among other sites, continue to thrive under the careful stewardship of Gamba, allowing him to produce celebrated wines for the Gamba and Etrusca brands, and as a consultant for select clients. In 2000, Gamba founded the highly acclaimed Gamba Vineyards and Winery. Gamba majored in Business Economics at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He later enrolled in Viticulture and Enology programs at University of California, Davis. With over 70 years of wine grape growing experience in the Russian River Valley, and six generations of winemaking behind them, the Gamba family’s story truly embodies the history of wine grape growing and fine winemaking in Sonoma County, California.

“Receiving the results of the 2017 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition was a thrill. It was my pleasure to create the special limited release wines for the Tonti Artisan Series and Tonti Family Reserve wines. I would like to thank my good friend, Peter Tonti, his passion for wine, and the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition for the 2017 Red Wine Sweepstakes Award. It is truly a great honor.”


Dessert/Specialty Sweepstake Winner

Robert WarrenRobert Warren
Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurants, American, IL
Icewine, Vidal Blanc, $27.99

Rob Warren, Director of Winemaking, has earned a reputation for his winemaking artistry and commitment to crafting wines that embody the unique philosophy of Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants. Warren’s career began in 1997 at Malivoire Wine Company, a venerable Canadian winery that, at the time, produced 5,000 cases of wine per year. During his time at Malivoire, Warren learned how to make great wine for a range of palates and went on to become Winemaker and Vineyard Manager at Tarara Winery in Leesburg, Virginia. After joining Cooper’s Hawk in 2007, Warren was promoted to Director of Winemaking in 2014, and now oversees production of the company’s estimated 600k cases of wine and 50+ varietals at their winery in Countryside, Illinois. In keeping with the Cooper’s Hawk philosophy, creating wine for every stage of the wine lover’s journey, Warren blends a variety of grapes to craft a product that is approachable, yet structured to age exceptionally well.

“We are truly honored to have been awarded the Sweepstakes award for our Icewine from the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. We are also honored by the recognition that many of our other wines received at this competition. We’ve always believed that great wines can be made in the Midwest, and these awards prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that it can be done!”


Wine Label Sweepstake Winner

Tish LoosleyTish Loosley
Tolosa Winery, Edna Valley, CA
2000 Primera, $120.00

Tish Loosley has always been passionate about art and design. After receiving her degree in Applied Art and Design from Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo, she launched her career as a packaging graphic designer at Landor Associates, in San Francisco, CA. There, wine label design became her dream. She followed that dream to Tolosa, located in the Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo, where she is creating and producing labels for some of the finest wines in California. Inspired by the quote, “Design is intelligence made visible,” Tish combines form, function, and meaning to her creative pursuits.

“It is a true honor to be recognized by the SF Chronicle. It was a thrill to create packaging for Tolosa’s Primera that matches winemaker Jim Kress’s wine inside: balanced, nuanced, and elegant. It is a wonderful showcase for what the Edna Valley can produce.”