The medal-winning wines weren’t the only ones to snag top honors last Saturday night.

Guests feasting on lamb and polenta watched on as a line-up of Sonoma County’s finest took the stage — vintner Clay Mauritson, celebrity chef John Ash, grower Mark Sanchietti, Art Ibleto of Pasta King fame, and vintner Lou Foppiano Jr., among others.

Each of the winners has an interesting story to tell, particularly Clay Mauritson of Healdsburg’s Mauritson Wines because his father won a similar award nearly 30 years ago.

What follows is a Q&A with Mauritson.

Q: What’s your reaction to following in your father’s footsteps?

A: My dad won the Outstanding Young Farmer award about 30 years ago. We
couldn’t confirm the exact year. I remember seeing my dad’s picture in the
newspaper and thinking that it was the coolest thing ever! I had no idea
what the award was about. I was only five or six at the time, but I thought
my dad was pretty cool. It’s very rewarding to have won an award that your
dad won before you, but at the same time I am especially proud of the fact
that I chose my own path. Some would say that I am the black sheep of the
family, and I take that as a compliment. This serves as (proof) that I’m not

completely crazy.”

Q: What don’t the uninitiated know about Wine Country and what it’s like to

work in the wine industry

A: My immediate response to that question is that it’s not all it’s
cracked up to be. I think the industry has been glamorized by Hollywood
and most people only see/enjoy the finished product. They have no idea how
difficult farming and winemaking can be. All of that being said, I cannot
think of anything in the world I would rather be doing. (I gave up my
dreams of playing professional sports long ago!) Working in the wine
business we have the opportunity to live in the most beautiful place in
the world. Growing something and then being able to make an amazing
finished product is one of the most gratifying accomplishments.”

Q: What makes Sonoma County unique from your perspective?
A: “…We have the ability to grow so many different varietals
exceptionally well. You’ve got everything from the cool climate AVA’s for
pinot and chardonnay, great benchland soils for Bordeaux varieties, and
the ideal grape growing region for zinfandel in Dry Creek Valley and
Rockpile. I love the fact that some of the finest restaurants and chefs in
the United States are in our backyard, and everything you consume during
the meal: veggies, proteins, starch, dairy, and of course the wine were grown and made in Sonoma County. We are truly blessed.”