Yolo County is home to many amateur wine makers and holds an annual amateur wine making contest at the Yolo County Fair with over 20 entries in 2012. Classes included: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Zinfandel, other white wines and other red wines. Awards include first, second and third places, honorable mention and “Best of Show.” As in years past, the majority of the entries were red wines, as white wines are more difficult to produce at home, taking into account temperature control. One year after the competition began a white wine won “Best of Show” – a chardonnay. The judges have noticed the quality of the wines getting much better over the years, which may be due to the crafters starting with better raw materials, or grapes, or perhaps taking more care in the sanitation process, which can affect oxidation. They also saw colors across the board were much improved, a lot less brown. Entries are accepted from Colusa, Solano, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba counties and an “amateur” is considered a person who does not work in, or own, a commercial winery. “This year, the quality of the wine is better than ever and we’re bigger than ever,” said Dirk Brazil, Amateur Wine Competition founder, of the number of entries received. “There’s a lot of talent out there and it takes a lot to put it out on the line like that (for professional feedback).” “The key is always balance; nothing should be out of whack,” said one of the wine judges. The judging panel uses the UC Davis 20-point scale, an industry standard, with categories for appearance, color, aroma and bouquet, total acid, sugar, body, flavor, astringency and general quality. What judges are especially looking for in the “amateur” bottles is, “is it drinkable?” Brazil, who is also Yolo County’s Assistant Administrator, began making his own small batches of wine, mostly zinfandel, 20 years ago. He founded the Yolo County Fair Amateur Wine Competition a decade ago to provide a venue for people who want to do something with their homemade wine, whether it be receiving feedback from professionals, or appealing to the competitive side. The home winemakers receive judging notes when they receive their ribbons.
The story of the wine industry in Yolo County revolves around growth and diversity. An early Yolo County crop report from the 1930’s recorded 1,342 acres of land devoted to wine grape production, with a value of $42,917. By the turn of the century, Yolo County boasted 9,496 acres of wine grape production, with a value of $40,873,000. Ten years later, in 2010, the wine grape acreage had increased to 11,407 acres, with a crop value of $45,649,602 . Wines produced from these grapes are winning awards at state, national and international competitions. Yolo County has three AVA’s, or American Viticultural Areas (also called appellations): Dunnigan Hills in the dry northwest part of the county; Capay Valley in central western Yolo County; and Clarksburg in the county’s San Francisco Bay Delta region. Whites, reds and dessert wines are produced from the many grape varieties grown in each of the AVA’s.