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Success Built on a Bun

David Gadd

The Razzle Dazzle Burger is one of the ten finalists in this year's Build a Better Burger recipe contest.

Burger-flipping season is right around the corner, and in the heart of California's Napa Valley, one iconic winery is already firing up the grill. Finalists from the 2012 Sutter Home's Build a Better Burger recipe contest were announced in late January, and preparations are being made for the final cook-off on May 18, where they will prepare their burgers for the palates of a panel of judges at the historic Sutter Home Winery in St. Helena.

Sutter Home created its signature Build a Better Burger recipe contest in 1990 as a way to demystify the wine experience by pairing one of America's favorite everyday meals-the burger-with one of the country's favorite wine brands, Sutter Home. The stakes are high. The contest is currently the second largest cash-prize recipe contest in the nation, with a beefy $100,000 grand prize for the winning all-beef burger and an additional $15,000 prize for the winning alternative burger. Only non-professional "home cooks" are allowed to enter.

According to Wendy Nyberg, Sutter Home's Senior Director of Marketing, the contest is primarily promoted at retail through the use of branded point of sale materials.  Nyberg adds, "Build a Better Burger was featured on The Food Network for several years, and has continued to re-run on their challenge series. Now we have added a social media element and promote the recipe contest on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and our blog."

Entries in the thousands go through a rigorous elimination process-and, of course, a taste test. Throughout last summer, Sutter Home's culinary evaluation panel reviewed each burger recipe and narrowed the field down to the best recipes in each region. Then, working with Sutter Home's culinary team, the winery's preliminary evaluation judges cook, taste and score the top recipes in order to determine the ten finalists.

The judges look for highly creative recipes that, like Sutter Home's wines, over-deliver on flavor. Participants may choose to reinvent a favorite burger with palate-thrilling new toppings, transform the elements of a classic dish into a burger, show off a particular ethnic background or cultural heritage, highlight unique products from a particular region of the country, reflect their culinary travels-or create a completely new concept in burgers. Judges also love a great story behind the burger: What inspired the cook? Where was the burger recipe created? How has it been enjoyed by the contestant's family?

This year's judging panel includes Steven Raichlen , an expert on barbecue with best-selling Barbecue Bible cookbook and The Primal Grill and Barbecue University TV shows on PBS; Kevin Kolman, Weber Grills' Go-to-Grill Master; last year's $100,000 all-beef winner Jennifer Beckman; and author James McNair, Head Judge and Honorary Chairman of Sutter Home's Build a Better Burger.

When the flipping is over, the burgers are meant to showcase the versatility of Sutter Home's wines. "Wine doesn't have to be reserved for formal events," says Nyberg. "Sutter Home wine pairs perfectly with casual, fun get-togethers with friends-a backyard barbecue is a perfect example. The Sutter Home Build a Better Burger program is the perfect way for casual cooks to create recipes inspired by local cuisines, personal passions and food trends."

And Nyberg adds, "What is exciting is that this will be the first year that Californians are able to enter. Californians know their food and wine, so this should make it very exciting!" Stay tuned for coverage of the final cook-off in a summer issue of THE TASTING PANEL.  

Colorful in-store displays promote Sutter Home wines and the brand's Build a Better Burger contest.

The Sutter Home Story

Sutter Home Winery was originally established in Napa Valley in 1847 and shut down during Prohibition. It was resuscitated by Italian immigrant brothers John and Mario Trinchero in 1947, and under successive generations of the Trinchero family Sutter Home became a household name in American wine, known for its approachable, food-friendly varietals. The winery's many innovations include the creation of White Zinfandel, which became a sensation not long after its introduction in 1972.

Sutter Home was also producing Moscato long before it became trendy; today, the winery makes five versions of this lively, casual varietal, both still and bubbly. Popular Pinot Grigio, in both white and pink versions, is another Sutter Home star. The burger-friendly Sutter Home portfolio also includes reds Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel, and whites Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Gewürztraminer, White Merlot, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc, as well as Sweet White and Sweet Red blends.


The Finalists and Their Burgers


Erin Evenson, Brooklyn, New York

Train Caramelized Green Curry Burgers
with Crispy Watercress Salad, Roasted Cashews, and Minted Basil Aioli

Suggested Wine Pairing:
Sutter Home Gewürztraminer

  Janet Nowak, Spring, Texas

Razzle Dazzle Burgers
with Raspberry-Chipotle Spread, Cilantro-Pecan Pesto, Raspberry-Avocado Salsa and Salted Caramel Bacon

Suggested Wine Pairing:
Sutter Home White Merlot


Sharron Pinheiro, Macomb, Michigan

Kickin' Brunch Burgers
with Bloody Mary Sofrito and Roasted Jalapeño Honey Aioli

Suggested Wine Pairing:
Sutter Home Gewürztraminer


Mark Pyne, Troy, Alabama

Grilled Green Tomato Burgers
with Garlic Lemon Mayonnaise, Shoestring Fries, Smoked Bacon and Bad Boy's BBQ Sauce on Pretzel Buns

Suggested Wine Pairing:
Sutter Home Sauvignon Blanc


Katie Sherrill, Edmonds, Washington

Korean-Hawaiian Taco Truck Burgers

Suggested Wine Pairing:
Sutter Home Cabernet Sauvignon



Kim Jones, Bloomingdale, Illinois

Better than Breakfast in Bed Burgers

Suggested Wine Pairing:
Sutter Home Pinot Grigio


Kathy Keithline, Parker, Colorado

Smoky Sweet Salmon Sliders

Suggested Wine Pairing:
Sutter Home Gewürztraminer


Cheryl Lundquist, Wake Forest, North Carolina

Lamb Burgers
with Mango Chutney Mayo and Minted Romaine

Suggested Wine Pairing:
Sutter Home Moscato


Helen Mariscal, Artesia, New Mexico

Lemon-Scented "Salmon-icious" Burgers

Suggested Wine Pairing:
Sutter Home White Zinfandel


Mark Richardson, Snohomish, Washington

Indian Lamb Burgers

Suggested Wine Pairing:
Sutter Home Merlot



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