The Tehachapi wine industry is coming of age. Recently recognized by the American Viticultural Association as a wine growing destination, Tehachapi continues to make a mark for itself as local grape growers brought home more awards from the 2021 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

The competition completed March 5 featured more than 48 judges representing various North American wine regions. The judges evaluated nearly 5,700 wines from more than 1,000 wineries, including three Tehachapi vineyards: Tehachapi Wine & Cattle Company, Triassic Vineyards and Rancho de los Viajeros Vineyards.

Winning Best of Class for luxury packaging was Tehachapi Wine & Cattle Company for the label on its 2017 Primitivo, which sells for $39 a bottle. In addition, the Primitivo received a Silver Award for the wine.

"It was a nice surprise," said Mike Van Atta, owner of Tehachapi Wine & Cattle Company along with his wife, Beth Hamilton. "We knew that we would probably get something because the wine is so good, but we were really surprised to get Best of Class for the label."

According to Hamilton, their Primitivo bottle design won because the labels are screenprinted and not paper. 

"It's really beautiful," Hamilton said of the cow skull design with gold horns. "It really stands out. People want to buy the wine just for the bottle."

For the past seven years, Jim and Sally Arnold, owners of Triassic Vineyards, have brought home medals for every wine they have submitted to the SFCWC.

This year, the Arnolds received an impressive seven awards for their wine, including two Gold Medals for their 2017 Syrah and Big Bang, three Silver Medals and two Bronze Medals.

"This is the most awards we have received in a year because we entered more wines," Jim Arnold said. "We are entering in the higher priced categories and are doing very well."

Asked why Tehachapi grapes continue to place in the largest wine competition in North America as a new wine growing destination, Jim Arnold said, "We have a unique climate. There are several characteristics to enhance our wine."

First, Tehachapi's elevation means the fruit grows closer to the sun and gets stronger ultraviolent rays, which thicken the skins of the grape. When the grapes through ferment with the skins intact, it brings out a darker color in the wine and tannins not found in lower elevations.

Also, Tehachapi has more sunshine to ripen its fruit, with warmer temperatures in the daytime during growing season and cooler nights.

"Nobody else can grow grapes at 4,000 feet because of frost because frost cuts down the growing season," Jim Arnold said.

He added that, from this point forward, all wines submitted to the competition will be categorized with the Tehachapi Mountains AVA accreditation. 

"They are giving us more recognition because of our continued success every year... This is a benefit to us," he said.

Taking home a Double Gold Medal for the first time was Ilda Vaja, owner of Rancho de los Viajeros Vineyards, for her $40 bottle of 2018 Malbec.

"I have won silvers before, but this is my first Double Gold," said Vaja. "I was very excited because this is good for me and good for Tehachapi."

Supporting all the local vineyards is Mary Beth Garrison, founder of Cheers to Charity.

"Tehachapi is truly coming of age with their wine. We all need to be proud of the hard work that our neighbors have done to create a wine region unlike any other," Garrison said.

In addition to the San Francisco Chronical awards, Mike Chan, owner of Tehachapi Winery, won two Gold Medals and one Bronze Medal at the San Francisco International Wine Competition held last October.

“The response from the wineries of North America at our 2021 competition was outstanding this year,” wrote Bob Fraser, executive director, on the SFCWC website.

For a complete list of winners in the 2021 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, visit winejudging.com.