You can thank John Kinney of Occasio Winery for three things: 1.) for having a relentless commitment to perfection, 2.) for hiring young winemaking talent, Dave Hendrickson and 3.) for knowing when to be out of town so Dave can do his own thing.

The resulting 2016 Occasio Grenache Rosé, a thing of beauty in the way a spring day after many cold dreary weeks appears like a vision of shimmering glory, made history by taking Best of Show in a squeaker of an Livermore Uncorked! competition. It was the first year Rosé had its own category, and there were five entrants, far more than the Chardonnay category’s paltry two.

Before we get to the rest of the awards, it is important to give a shout out to Kristan Shamus, Event Coordinator, in her debut event with the Tri-Valley Conservancy (TVC). She ran an expertly organized and smooth competition. Credit goes both to her personal organizational and management skills, derived from years of wedding and event planning, and also to the experienced backroom crew, who have worked this competition for long enough now that they are functioning like a well-oiled machine.

Top honors for Best White went to the 2016 LOLA from The Steven Kent Winery, an assertive and sassy blend of 70% Sauvignon Blanc and 30% Semillon that precisely defined the kind of wine Livermore has had great success with for over a century. Nick Liang of Uncle Yu’s thought this wine was exactly the template other wineries should follow in presenting Sauv Blanc, noting that its great acidity and wonderful depth secured it a place in the cellar.

Top Honors for Best Red this year went to the 2014 Cuda Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon, and Top Dessert Wine was a very fetching 2010 Zinfandel Reserve tawny style port from Rios Lovell. Much argument ensued over this one, as the second place finisher, a sassy and spicy Syrah port, was equally beguiling and caused an even split that was hard to break. If you love tawny style ports, the Zin is a winner. If you prefer something bigger, spicier and bolder, with fresher fruit, go for the Syrah port.

Best of Class winners include: Best Other White: 2016 Lola, The Steven Kent Winery; Best Chardonnay: 2015 Morning Fog, Wente Vineyards; Best Sauvignon Blanc: 2016 Peyton Paige, McGrail Vineyards; Best Cabernet Franc: 2014 Cuda Ridge; Best Cabernet Sauvignon: 2014 Cuda Ridge; Best Merlot: 2014 Page Mill Winery; Best Other Red: 2014 Vasco Urbano “Norm” (Grenache); Best Petite Sirah: 2014 Wood Family; Best Red Blend: 2013 Meritage, Las Positas Vineyards; Best Syrah: 2012 Fenestra Winery, Estate; Best Zinfandel: 2014 Old Vines, The Singing Winemaker

This year, the Uncorked Competition welcomed a new format for judging, with many new judges and a new energy. Panels had discussions about each wine and came to a table consensus for scoring each wine. The experienced backroom crew was on top of everything, serving with precision and speed, and should be applauded for keeping the pace a rapid and Swiss-like one.

TVC Executive Director, Laura Mercier, timed each flight, encouraging the judges to stay focused on the task at hand. There were six panels of four judges each, with mostly two men and two women on each panel, and a panel coordinator at each table.

Each judge went through the flight, making notes and coming up with a score of Gold, Silver or Bronze - or in some cases, no award - for each wine. Then, the panel coordinators went around the table asking for scores and comments, deriving, in some cases with lively discussion, a final score for each wine. With an even number of tables, the potential for a tie was great. Several of them occurred, which speaks both to the quality of the wines and the diversity of opinions and palates among the judges, many of whom came from extensive judging and professional tasting backgrounds.

All polled judges reacted favorably to the new format, saying it gave them a far better understanding of the wines and how to rate them. Plus, they all felt the wines this year showed better quality across the board.

Thanks once again to the Tri-Valley Conservancy for putting on this competition and the public celebration that followed the next evening. It is a testament to their commitment to the continuing elevation of quality and the reputation of Livermore wines that they hold this competition each year. The untold hours of labor and planning that go into this reflect the enthusiasm and support of all the volunteers and TVC staff, whether they were uncorking, pouring, tallying, collecting scoresheets, emptying dump buckets or making sure judges had water, crackers and napkins. As in winemaking, every little thing makes a marked difference.

We wish to recognize the following Uncorked Competition event staff for their efforts this year: Beryl Andreson (*), Leona Bingaman, Richard Deets, Tanya Garcia, Anne Gates, Jane Goodwin, Russ Goodwin, Barbara Graham (*), Bill Graham, Kellie Hayes (*), Roseanne Hoffman, Vernie Laube, Cathy Lipman, Tanya Ludden, Anne McDowell, Mary Mele, Howard Mendenhall, Laura Mercier (*), JC Moody, Carolyn Newton (*), Jo Anne Revelli, Mike Revelli, Kristan Shamus (*), KC Sharp and Roger Skowlund. Apologies to anyone inadvertenly omitted from the list. (*) TVC Staff

Finally, a huge thank you to all the wineries that submitted their three best wines and for all the effort and thought they put into these creations. It’s not easy for many to select just three.