Written by David Castellon
When wine lovers go through the aisles of Fresno-area Costco and wine stores next month, they may come across bottles of Cardella Winery’s 2014 Barbera Reserve that look different from the other wines.
That’s because each bottle of the medium-bodied red wine will have a sticker noting that it won this year’s San Joaquin Valley California Wine Competition.
“It’s a humbling award,” said Joseph Maldonado, a winemaker for Cardella Winery southwest of Mendota.
The Barbera Reserve beat wines produced across the state, including from Napa Valley and the Central Coast — regions generally regarded as producing California’s best wines.
“I don’t think so, personally. But you hear that a lot,” said Maldonado, who noted that Cardella has won gold medals before, but this year is the first time its Barbera Reserve won the best in show, topping the tasting competition put on by the San Joaquin Valley Wine Growers Association.
“We only do about 3,000 cases [annually], but we are small compared to other guys,” he said, noting that having a small operation gives Cardella an advantage over some of the larger wineries.
He said it starts with the vineyard, where the Italian variety Barbera grapes are grown. The “reserve” product is made by aging wine in newer oak barrels to give the finished product more of an oak note.
“So we do that to make it have more ageability — give the wine more structure and just [make] an overall better wine,” Maldonado said.
“Everything we do, we do very hands on, with attention to detail,” he said, adding that when you pay attention to detail “you’re going to get something you’re very proud of.”
The San Joaquin Valley California Wine Competition was created to give all California wineries a “fair shot of having their wines judged without prejudice of location, price or persistent snobbery,” states a press release from the Kingsburg-based San Joaquin Valley Wine Growers Association.
California has more than 6,000 wineries, with the majority of the state’s wine being produced here in the Valley, said Peter Vallis, the association’s executive director.
He declined to say how many wines were entered in the competition, but he did say that it was open to any commercial wines made from grapes grown in California, regardless of retail cost.
Cardella’s Barbera red wine — which won a gold medal before winning best-in-show — retails for $32 a bottle, while the 19 others that won gold medals retail for as little as $6.99 up to $32 a bottle.
None of the 70 wines that received gold, silver and bronze medals retailed for more than $60, and 17 retailed for less than $10.
Among the gold medal winners is a 2016 Chardonnay put out by the Fresno State Winery — which trains students to work in the winery business. It also was awarded silver medals for its Merlot and Tempranillo entries.
Other Valley winery brands that won gold medals are Marmalade, Toca Madera Winery, Toschi Vineyards and Starboard, all out of Madera, along with Moravia out of Biola, My Italian Cousin out of Clovis and Petrucci’s Crush out of Fresno.
When asked to give his opinion on Cardella’s best-in-show wine, Vallis said simply, “It tastes good. That’s what an award-winning wine should be.”
Beside the best-in-show win, Cardella Winery won two other gold medals, a silver medal and two bronze medals for other entries in this year’s competition.
As Cardella Winery’s Maldonado sees it, the award is a clear sign that wine lovers are mistaken to assume Napa Valley or the Central Coast inherently have “higher-end” grape vines that produce better wines than other parts of the Golden State.
“The Valley is a place that produces good wine,” he said.