Two out of the six Cal Poly wines entered won first place and both were from the first year of Cal Poly's winemaking program started in 2008. Stock photo.

Two Cal Poly wines won gold at the Orange County Commercial Wine Competition in Costa Mesa last month.

Cal Poly entered wines for all six categories: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Red Blend, White Blend and Port. The two winners were the 2008 Mustang Red and the 2008 Poly Royal red dessert wine. Both were made by Cal Poly wine and viticulture graduate, Michael Horton, in 2008. Orcutt Road Cellars also aided in the creation of the wines through a mentoring program.

The competition, established in 1977, is the biggest, most comprehensive tasting of commercial wines in California, said Adrienne Ferrara, manager of Cal Poly Wines.

The wines were judged by a panel composed of different people such as winemakers and media.

“The beauty of (the competition) is that it’s a blind testing done by industry peers,” Ferrara said. “It allows objectivity to a competition with a ton of producers. It doesn’t get any more pure than that.”

The Mustang Red is a medium-bodied wine with a more robust taste, Ferrara said as she tasted it.

“It’s a great food wine, with spicy and rich flavors of red and black fruits,” she said.

On the other hand, the Poly Royal red dessert wine is to be drunk at the end of the evening, Ferrara said, due to its rich, red fruits that are packed with flavor.

The wines were made during the first year of Cal Poly’s pilot winemaking program.

At first, the grapes weren’t the most ideal for dessert winemaking,  Horton said in a phone interview.

However, “Orcutt Road Cellars was really influential and beneficial in the making of the wines.”

Acclaimed winemaker Christian Roguenant was Horton’s mentor during his stint at Orcutt Road Cellars. Horton worked at Orcutt Road Cellars for the Northern Hemisphere Vintage in 2009. Vintage winemaking uses grapes that are grown in a specific year.

“Michael is a very smart guy with the right frame of mind for winemaking,” Roguenant said in a phone conference. “It was a very good experience. We made delicious wines together,” he said of working with Horton.

Roguenant and Orcutt Road Cellars gave Horton some stylistic freedom in the creation of the wines by allowing him to do what he wanted to do, Horton said, which helped him in his post-collegiate endeavors.

Recently, Horton worked the 2009 and 2010 Southern Hemisphere vintages as assistant winemaker for Montana Gisborne Winery in New Zealand. He will be working the 2010 Northern Hemisphere vintage as assistant winemaker for Frank Family Vineyards in Calistoga beginning Aug. 1.

With the success of Horton and other student winemakers, Cal Poly’s winemaking program hopes to focus on the best winemaking of the Central Coast, Ferrara said.

“We’re doing our best to harness this place in every bottle,” Ferrara said. “We have a lot of support from industry peers and local vineyards.”

Currently there are 80 students involved in the program.

“It’s a great place to be,” Ferrara said. “It’s a great time in the industry. We’re really fortunate to have such intelligent students.”

The wine and viticulture program at Cal Poly is comprehensively one of the largest in the United States, Ferrara said. Besides focusing on the making of wine, or enology, Cal Poly also focuses on the business aspect of it, from marketing to selling the final wine product.

Cal Poly Wines are currently sold at Cal Poly Downtown and served at Monterey St. Wines, Café Roma and Embassy Suites. Ferrara also said Embassy Suites is an exceptionally big supporter of the brand.

The wines are also available at the Cal Poly Wine website,

The money made from the wines goes back to the pilot winemaking program, Ferrara said.