The ballroom at the swank Eden Roc Miami Beach resort was packed Monday night as the wine industry’s most influential movers and shakers gathered to celebrate Wine Enthusiast’s 24th annual Wine Star Awards. The mood was celebratory but determined: The evening’s unifying theme was the future and how the wine business should navigate it amidst changing drinking habits.
“I firmly believe that the generations coming of age—those 78 million millennials—will in time find pleasure in understanding and enjoying wine as part of their lifestyle, just as their 75 million baby boomer parents did,” said Wine Enthusiast Chairman and CEO Adam Strum in his opening remarks to the event’s several hundred attendees.
“As an industry, we have to continue to find ways to make the products—in terms of taste, packaging and brands—relevant to them. And that is our theme for this entire evening.”
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The gala’s awards portion kicked off with the recognition of Carolyn Wente of Wente Vineyards as an American Wine Legend. Wente is the first woman in Wine Stars’ history to receive the honor. Wine Enthusiast President, Editor and Publisher Jacqueline Strum noted Wente’s unique brand of perseverance and focus on building a robust business strong enough to pass on to the next generation of leaders.
“It’s that kind of courage that empowers and inspires women—like myself—to take a leap of faith in creating a legacy for future generations,” said Strum.
Wente paid homage to the generations that came before her as she looked toward the future. “As we celebrated our 140th year, I am reminded of the generations that have nurtured our company with passion and perseverance,” she said. “From the soil to the cellar, to the distributors and retailers and to everyone that has shared a bottle of Wente Vineyards—each one of you has played an indispensable role in our story.”
Other moving scenes included the moment Joseph E. Gallo of E. & J. Gallo Winery received the Lifetime Achievement Award. Gallo was unable to attend the ceremony, but his three children accepted the award on his behalf.
“When we learned that our father would be honored with this award, we imagined being in the audience with all of you and celebrating him up here,” said Stephanie Gallo. “If he were here tonight, he would tell you he always followed his father’s advice: ’Just do the obvious.’ But Dad, you always went beyond the obvious.”
Another powerful turn arrived when Social Visionary of the Year Carlton McCoy took the podium. McCoy won the award not only for his work as CEO of Lawrence Wine Estates and managing partner of Demeine Estates, but as co-founder of The Roots Fund, a non-profit organization focused on securing a pathway for the BIPOC community in wine. As he accepted the statue, he asked his co-founder Ikimi Dubose to stand.
“I asked her to stand so you know who to write the checks out to!” he said to a room full of laughing. “I’m not kidding,” he said with a smile.
Later in the evening, Writer-at-Large and reviewer for Piedmont and Northern Italy Jeff Porter awarded the honor of European Winery of the Year to Ca’ Del Bosco of Italy’s Franciacorta region. He painted a beautiful picture of the winery’s beginnings: “A small country house nestled amongst a forest of chestnut trees in an area of unimaginable beauty and unexplored possibility was the start,” Porter said. Ca’ Del Bosco Co-Owner Gaetano Marzotto, chairman of the board for Santa Margherita Gruppo Vinicolo, accepted the statue—and invited the entire audience to the winery’s grounds in the province of Brescia in Italy’s Lombardy area.
“The Zanella family arrived over fifty years ago in Franciacorta and set their sights in terms of size both in the vineyard and in the winery—now we have to work steadily to continue to deserve what we have achieved by always aiming for qualitative excellence,” he told the crowd. “Please come and visit us in Franciacorta!”
The evening concluded with honoring the Person of the Year, The Wine Group’s John Sutton. He left the audience with poignant thoughts to consider as the affair wrapped up.
“As we forge this future together, I’ll leave you with this question: Are we doing enough—as an industry—to attract the wine lovers of tomorrow?” he asked. “Most of all, are we meeting their needs for quality products at affordable price points? For accessible, great-tasting wine—whether that’s a $10 or $100 bottle of Cab—that will ultimately help them fall in love with this incredible industry like we all have?”
Attracting and fostering the next generation of wine enthusiasts is the shared task before us, he continued. “I have no doubt there will be many insightful conversations about this tonight, and well into the future.”
Published: February 6, 2024