Photo: Michael Short
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In 1982, two wine industry insiders sat down over a glass of Zinfandel and laid plans for the first Cloverdale Citrus Fair Wine Competition the following year.
At that time, Cloverdale Citrus Fair board members included Bob Del Sarto,who was the general manager of the historical Italian Swiss Colony winery in Asti, Calif., and Bob Bogner, who was general manager of one of the largest grape grower cooperatives of that day, Allied Grape Growers.
Together, they conceived the competition to fulfill the needs of the burgeoning wine industry in northern Sonoma and southern Mendocino counties.
The first competition was modest in size — 15 wineries entered 45 wines and a single panel of five judges awarded 30 medals. Invited judges included winemakers Dick Arrowood, John Parducci, Robert Keeble, Mike Lee, wine writer Millie Howie and wine marketer Joe Vercelli.
The first few competitions were primarily staffed with the Citrus Fair board members pouring wines to the judges out of paper bags. It was quite simple, yet with credible and fair wine award results.
The event was growing in size and scope, and the Citrus Fair Board in 1986 realized they needed professional help, so they created a new Citrus Fair staff member position, the Citrus Fair Wine Director.
They turned to Bob Fraser, at that time agriculture business director of Santa Rosa Junior College’s Agriculture and Natural Resources Department, who had joined the college staff in the early 1980s and resided in the community of Cloverdale.
Fraser implemented the “West Coast style” of professional wine judging used by his colleague Rich Thomas, at that time coordinator of the Sonoma County Harvest Fair, whom Fraser assisted for a few years.
The competition rapidly grew in the 1990s to more than 100 wineries. Eligibility was gradually increased to include all wineries in Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake counties. Consequently, it was renamed the Tri-County Wine Competition from 1996-99.
The competition expanded to the entire North Coast Appellation in 2000 as the California North Coast Wine Competition. This area included all wineries in the counties of Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino, Lake, Solano and Marin.
During this period of time, wineries and wine entries exploded and the Cloverdale Citrus Fair was now the dominant wine competition in Northern California, dwarfing even the prestigious Sonoma County Fair Wine Competition.
In 2000, the San Francisco Chronicle became the naming sponsor of the competition and the competition expanded to all American Viticulture Areas.
The public tasting shifted from Cloverdale to Fort Mason Center in San Francisco. San Francisco is one of the largest wine purchasing metropolitan regional demographics in the world.
From that point on, it was quite a ride. In 2019, there was more than 6,800 entries from more than 37 states and wine regions in the United States, Mexico and Canada. It also marked the 32nd year with Fraser’s association as staff wine director of the Cloverdale Citrus Fair’s San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.
The proceeds of the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition support the nonprofit Cloverdale Citrus Fair and also help support wine and food education at educational institutions and nonprofit organizations.
The San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition continues to grow in size and prestige every ear, and it continues to be recognized as the largest competition of North American wines in the world.
Buy your public tasting tickets today
Advanced tickets for the 2019 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition Public Tasting are for sale at winejudging.com.
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Celebrating-decades-of-history-at-wine-competition-13621019.php.