Great Wines, Good Friends, Big Benefits and Blaring Horns

The Grand Award Banquet closed the 34th Wine Experience with recognition of greats and the bold brass of Chicago
Oct 23, 2014

During the band's long, storied career, jazz-rock great Chicago has played some all-star concerts, including a legendary weeklong gig at Carnegie Hall. But how often have band members taken the stage for a black-tie crowd fueled by some of the world's finest Champagnes?

The Grand Award Banquet is the closing night of the Wine Experience, a last chance to talk to friends, old and new, and a chance to recognize great achievements in wine. The event starts with a Champagne reception featuring top bottlings from eight prestigious houses: Bollinger, Charles Heidsieck, Dom Pérignon, Henriot, Krug, Louis Roederer, Perrier Jouët and Taittinger. As attendees sipped bubbly and enjoyed hors d'oeuvres, many chatted about their favorite wines of the weekend.

During the banquet, Wine Spectator executive editor Thomas Matthews explained how the weekend's fun helps the wine industry. The Wine Experience is held for the benefit of the Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation, which has raised more than $20 million to support wine-and-food education and scholarship programs over 30 years. Foundation beneficiaries have included students at the University of California at Davis' Department of Viticulture & Enology, the Culinary Institute of America and Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration.

In the past year, the Foundation has given $1 million to Florida International University's Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management, a leading institution for food-and-beverage education, and a $3 million gift to Sonoma State University and its Wine Business Institute.

Vintner Peter Michael, who made his fortune in Silicon Valley before moving to Sonoma County's Knights Valley to found his winery, has raised more than $15 million over the years to fight prostate cancer through the Peter Michael Foundation. Recognizing his outstanding work in wine and his charitable efforts, Wine Spectator awarded Michael the Distinguished Service Award for 2014. As banquet guests enjoyed three of Michael's wines, including the gorgeous 2008 Les Pavots Cabernet blend, he looked back at how much fun he's had in wine.

Six restaurants were recognized for excellence in their wine programs, each winning the Grand Award, the highest honor of Wine Spectator's Restaurant Awards program, now held by 74 dining spots around the world. Winners this year were London's Clos Maggiore, New York's Nice Matin, Napa's La Toque, San Francisco's Saison, the Stonehouse in Santa Barbara and Studio in Laguna Beach. "For a restaurateur and a sommelier," said Saison wine director Mark Bright, "I believe the Grand Award is the highest honor you can get. Thank you."

For Victor Urrutia, the young CEO and fifth generation of his family to work at Spain's Cune, accepting the award for 2013 Wine of the Year was not just recognition of the Imperial Gran Reserva Rioja 2004, it was recognition of all Spanish wine, both its traditions and its recent dynamism. Visibly moved as he paid tribute to his family's many years of work in the vineyards and cellars, Urrutia asked the crowd to join him in a toast: "I would like you to raise a glass to Spain, to Rioja and to Imperial Gran Reserva."

Before the evening could wind down, horns blared and Chicago took the floor to serenade the crowd with some of their legendary hits, including "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?" and "If You Leave Me Now." Attendees packed the dance floor as the music played—and none of them seemed particularly concerned about the time. Why not stretch a great night out longer?

Photograph by Shannon Sturgis Photograph by Shannon Sturgis Photograph by Shannon Sturgis Photograph by Shannon Sturgis Photograph by Shannon Sturgis Photograph by Shannon Sturgis Photograph by Shannon Sturgis Photograph by Shannon Sturgis Photograph by Shannon Sturgis Photograph by Shannon Sturgis Photograph by Shannon Sturgis Photograph by Shannon Sturgis
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