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Yonah Mountain Vineyards takes home double gold in ‘Super Bowl’ of wine competitions
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During the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, Yonah Mountain Vineyards took home a double gold medal with its Genesis X Classic, which means all judges deemed it a gold medal winner. The winery also won five silver medals and two bronze medals. Photo courtesy Yonah Mountain Vineyards

Not every winemaker can turn spoiled wine into gold. 

But Tristen Vanhoff of Yonah Mountain Vineyards did just that when he crafted Genesis X Classic, a red blend that recently won double gold in the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, the largest wine contest in North America. 

The event included 48 judges who evaluated around 5,700 wines from over 1,000 wineries. 

Bob Miller, owner of Yonah Mountain Vineyards, said the competition is considered the “Super Bowl of wine contests,” and is the only one his winery participates in each year. 

Genesis X Classic was entered in the red blend category for wines over $60. In order to receive double gold, Miller said a wine must receive gold from the five judges in its division. 

“I think the Classic is extremely well balanced, not one of the varietals overrides the other,” Miller said. “It goes down smooth like velvet.”

Yonah Mountain Vineyards also took home five silver medals and two bronze, earning the most awards among Georgia participants.

Vanhoff said the Genesis X Classic is a red blend of 50% cabernet sauvignon, 30% merlot and 20% malbec. Unlike the other versions of Genesis he has made, which offer a fruit-forward nature, he said this one introduced a bit of “the old world” to the mix. 

By old world, he means the earthy notes that come from brettanomyces — also called brett — a yeast that can thrive in vineyards and cellars. Miller said European wines typically have distinctive notes that come from brett. However, if too much of it is introduced, he said it can bring an unwanted funk that spoils the wine.

When Miller noticed three of his barrels were contaminated with this yeast, he told Vanhoff, the winery’s winemaker, to throw them out. 

“Then Tristen said, ‘Wait, let me see if I can refine it and bring it down to where it’s a really nice wine,’” Miller recounted. “The proof is in the results.”

In addition to taking a risk with the yeast, Vanhoff said he underwent a long process of blending different barrels of wine to find the right combination for Genesis X Classic. After 40 different trials, he took the best five to Miller and a few others to help pick the winner. 

“I went down to watch the blending trials, and he had 80 different tastes on the table,” Miller said. “The skill level in which Tristen and his team has to taste different wines and put together what is the best, not everybody has that skill.”

The birth of the winery’s 2019 Stone-Ages Estate Chardonnay, which earned a silver medal in the competition, is also an experiment that paid off.

Vanhoff explained that all of Yonah Mountain Vineyards’ barrels were full, and he didn’t have any place to ferment the chardonnay. Getting creative, he put it inside concrete fermenters, something he had never done before. The result — a crisp and bright wine. 

The other silver medal winners include the 2019 Late Harvest Chardonnay, 2019 Cabernet Franc Rose and 2019 Petit Manseng. Bronze medals went to the winery’s 2019 Sauvignon Blanc and the label design for Genesis X Classic.

For more information about Yonah Mountain Vineyards, visit The winery is located at 1717 Highway 255 S, Cleveland and is open noon to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday; noon to 6 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Saturday; and 12:30-6 p.m. Sunday. 

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