Lauren Katz, from Ashburn, VA., is the 2017 Sutter Home Build a Better Burger Contest Grand Prize Winner.

What Does It Take to Win the Sutter Home Build a Better Burger Recipe Contest?


There was much to savor at this year’s final Build a Better Burger Recipe Contest event, which took place at Sutter Home Inn, located against the shimmering, majestic backdrop of rolling hillsides and recently harvested vineyards of Napa Valley. That’s because this year we witnessed some of the most incredibly unique and memorable homemade recipes we’ve seen in years, from 5 national finalists who were all vying for the $25,000 grand prize.

Sutter Home supplied each of the 5 national finalists their own grilling station and all the recipe ingredients they would need to prepare their burgers at the event.

It was very exciting and inspiring to watch the 5 national finalists in action. Everyone could feel the heat coming from each finalist’s grilling station — as they were fired up — chopping, slicing, dicing, mincing, measuring, sautéing, tasting, refining, and pairing their unique homemade burger recipes with Sutter Home wine. The heat was definitely on!

All 5 national finalists had a burger recipe and Sutter Home wine pairing that was so delicious, it was challenging for the judges to pick just one $25,000 grand prize winner, but they did, and here she is!

Lauren Katz, Build A Better Burger - Grand Prize Winner

Lauren Katz, Build A Better Burger – Grand Prize Winner


That’s what Lauren Katz, from Ashburn, VA., said after her Scampi Prawn Sliders with Blistered Tomatoes and Lemon Pesto Aioli, paired with Sutter Home Pinot Grigio, won her the $25,000 grand prize from Sutter Home Winery. When we asked Lauren if she had any secrets to reveal that could help anyone entering the contest again, or for the first time next year, Lauren had this to share: “I’ve entered the Sutter Home Build a Better Burger Recipe Contest for over 6 years. Besides sending in at least 4 homemade recipes this year.”

“The one thing I did differently was to choose my favorite wine first, then build my burger recipe around the wine, which was Sutter Home Pinot Grigio.”

“In the past, I would build the burger recipe first, then tried to find just the right wine to pair it with. Not for nothing, but I believe starting with my wine first really helped. The other advice I’d give anyone entering next year would be to always be true to yourself. Create a recipe you believe in. I did, and finally won!”


We thought the next question would be harder to answer, yet Lauren was pretty matter of fact in her response. So, Lauren, what inspired you to come up with your $25,000 winning recipe? “Well, I just did I what I loved. One of our favorite meals I prepare at home is shrimp scampi, which I always pair with Sutter Home Pinot Grigio. It’s a favorite go-to dinner combination, so one evening while getting ready to serve it, it hit me, just transform my shrimp scampi recipe into a burger, seemed simple enough, and I already knew it paired deliciously with Sutter Home Pinot Grigio. Luckily, I did.”

How does it feel to be the $25,000 winner of this year’s Build a Better Burger Recipe Contest? Lauren smiled ear to ear and said, “It feels amazing! This has been a pipe dream of mine for a long time. I was so excited in the beginning, just to be one of 20 semi-finalists, and then to make it to the top 5 finalists was really incredible. I kept saying to myself, just making it to beautiful Napa would be so rewarding, and now to actually win the competition is unbelievable.  I’m usually a pretty low-key person, yet winning brought tears to my eyes. I put so much of myself into my recipe, like I know everyone else did, too, and for it to be the grand prize winner, is just icing on the cake. What’s really fun is my Scampi Prawn Sliders are just little burgers, yet they made me a big believer in never giving up.”

Just one last question we’d like to ask you, Lauren. Now that you’ve won the Sutter Home Build a Better Burger Recipe Contest, what will you do with your $25,000 prize?  Well, being a stay-at-home mom, there are a million ways to spend the money. But, although it’s not very romantic, I’m going to put some money aside and take my whole family on vacation, and also do some much-needed home renovations.


Congratulations Lauren, from our entire Sutter Home family to your family.

We’re so grateful that our Sutter Home Pinot Grigio inspired your winning recipe, which one judge called “adorable.” Your Scampi Prawn Sliders with Blistered Tomatoes and Lemon Pesto Aioli may be small, but they pack big flavor combinations that our judges just couldn’t get enough of.

We sure hope you never stop entering our Build a Better Burger Recipe Contest. After all, Sutter Home wine makes burgers taste better, and so do you!

Meet Our Remaining Finalists. They All Deserve a Well-Earned Honorable Mention.


Lu Holter, from Hudson, WI.

Also known as “The Duchess of Pork”

Lu Created the Crunchy Ramen Burger.

When we found out that this was Lu’s very first time entering our Sutter Home Build a Better Burger Recipe Contest, we just had to get to know this newcomer, what inspired her Crunchy Ramen Burger recipe, and the name of it. Lu’s answers were fun and original just like the recipe she entered and just like her.

This is how Lu tells it. “At one point, I was a poor college student, living on Ramen noodles, as did so many other people, so I knew it was a very familiar taste with a relatable flavor that I could elevate and put in and on an awesome burger, with fresh veggies and awesome sauce.”

“I’ve always loved coming up with recipes that are really familiar, and presenting them in a completely different way. I also wanted the name to be familiar and fun.”

“Since I knew it might be a recipe that was distributed to the public, I wanted people to look at it and say, hey, I can do that. I know crunchy, I know Ramen.  You know, maybe they’d like my recipe idea and tweak it to make it their own. How cool would it be if my Crunchy Ramen Burgers became like Sutter Home White Zinfandel, you know, being served in homes all across America.”


When we asked Lu how she chose which Sutter Home wine to pair her recipe with, her eyes lit up. “That was one of my favorite things to try and figure out. I tasted my Crunchy Ramen Burger and sipped many, many, many different wines. It soon became obvious that the Sutter Home Pinot Grigio pairing worked best. The spicy kick from the Ramen was like a rollercoaster going up, and the refreshing, fruity taste of Pinot Grigio would pull you right back down. Take a bite and go up, take a sip and smooth down.”

Lu entered her Crunchy Ramen Burger recipe this year as a first timer. We certainly hope she returns again every year with her super fun and imaginative recipes, ready to rock the judges.


Sherri Ricci From Mendon, NY.

She Won the Judges Over with her Lake-To-Lake Lamb Burger.

When Sherri was asked what inspired her homemade Lake-to-Lake Lamb Burger recipe, which she paired with Sutter Home Red Blend, Sherri said, “One afternoon we took a day trip to our friend’s Lamb and Beef farm, and the wheels just started turning. I got to thinking about how much I love garlic and herbs and goat cheese with lamb, so we headed out to a few local famer’s markets and creameries. The funny thing is, I almost didn’t enter it, yet it came out so good that I decided to submit it at the last minute. I was pleasantly surprised when they picked it. I have entered this contest 5 or 6 times over the years, and I have to say, I’m sure glad I never stopped trying.”

As for the wine Sherri chose to pair with her lamb burger recipe, she knew immediately she wanted to use the Sutter Home Red Blend.  It has such a smooth, rich, and juicy taste that I knew it would really compliment my recipe. I also added a splash to the Aioli, which I used to top off my burger. The story behind how Sherri came up with her Lake-to-Lake Lamb Burger recipe name was pretty simple.

“I live near the Finger Lakes in NY, and the places _I frequent for my farm fresh ingredients just so happen to be on the lakes.”


Sherri, we can’t wait to experience the homemade burger recipe you dream up, and the Sutter Home wine you choose to pair it with, for next year’s Build a Better Burger Recipe Contest.


Emily Falke, From Santa Barbara, CA

Her Mushroom and Fennel Ragout Burger

with Tomato Rouille.

Though Emily has entered the Build a Better Burger Recipe Contest before, this was the first time using a nice fatty beef. When asked what inspired this particular recipe, she enthusiastically said, “I was raised on Julia Child’s by my mother, who passed away a few years ago. So, as an ode to her, I wrote a little home cookbook that included many family recipes, printed it myself, and sent it to many friends and family members. When asked what inspired her recipe and love of cooking, Emily had this to share:

“My mother was always experimenting with things like ragout, rouille, sage butter, and so many other kinds of French ingredients, so I grew up on very French recipes. This one is very French-based.”


Why did Emily decide to pair her Mushroom and Fennel Ragout Burger with Tomato Rouille with the Sutter Home Zinfandel? She smiled with pride and said, “Well, what I did this year, which was not something I did in prior years, was to pick my wine first, which was the Sutter Home Zinfandel. It’s my favorite. So, I built my burger around it. I knew my recipe had to be bold, mighty, aromatic, and have strong components so it could to stand up to the Zinfandel. I even added some Zinfandel to the middle of my burger, so it was very winey – just the way I like it.  Since I am an artist and art curator, I approached my burger recipe and my wine pairing like I do my love of art. After all, cooking is an art form.”

Emily, we are so excited to see what kind of Build a Better Burger recipe masterpiece and Sutter Home wine pairing you put on exhibit for us next year.


Tom Doyle, from Pittsburgh, PA.
brought to us Bringin’ Da Heat.

From Bartender to chef, Tom Doyle is living the dream. Tom shared a nostalgic story about how his love of blackened, Cajun stuff and a coconut and marmalade recipe inspired the delicious Bringin’ Da Heat Burger recipe that made him a national finalist in our Sutter Home Build a Better Burger Recipe Content.

According to Tom, “30 years ago, I worked at different bars as a bartender at the Pittsburg airport. One of the bars had an appetizer that was shrimp drenched in coconut and dipped in hot orange sauce. I had completely forgotten about the recipe, and when it finally came to me, I made it for friends. When it was done, the shrimp was gone, but the sauce was left, so I covered a burger with it, it tasted great. A star was born.”

“I believe in this recipe so much, that for the last 4 years, every time I have entered the Build Better Burger Recipe Contest, I submitted this recipe. It finally paid off.”

Being from Pittsburgh, Tom is a big baseball fan, so he named his Build a Better Burger recipe Bringin’ Da Heat, which also means throwing a fastball in baseball. One thing is certain, Tom’s ​ one-of-a-kind burger recipe was absolutely Bringin’ Da Heat to the judges.


Tom mentioned that he chose Sutter Home Malbec as the go-to wine for his homemade Bringin’ Da Heat Burger. He felt the Malbec held up best to the heat and sweet of his recipe.Tom also happens to be a chef for a fraternity at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh. When asked what he loves most about his job, he said, “I feel lucky to have turned a hobby and passion, which is cooking, into a living.”

Tom, we also feel lucky that you were one of the national finalists, so we could see and taste your Bringin’ Da Heat Burger recipe, and your Sutter Home wine pairing.

Now, before introducing our distinguished panel of judges to all of you, we thought it best to wrap up this year’s _Build a Better Burger Recipe Contest by sharing one of the great sayings in the wine business, which Barry Wiss, _from our very own Trinchero Family Estates, shared with all who attended the event.

“A good wine tastes like a grape. A great wine tastes like a place. The same thing is true about food. So, to all of our national finalists here today, and to everyone who entered the Sutter Home Build a Better Burger Contest, you’ve all brought forth your own homemade burger recipes, which represent a place in your heart. Thank you for doing that.”

Determining the Grand-Prize Winner:

Though each judge shared their own opinion for what makes a winning burger recipe, they also had an official list of criteria that had to be used:

  1. Perceived Taste Appeal (40%) Does the recipe sound appealing?
  2. Creativity (25%) Is this recipe creative and one of a kind?
  3. Ease of Preparation (25%) Could anyone create this burger by following the recipe?
  4. Perceived Wine Pairing (10%) Does the wine complement and enhance the burger?

Meet Our Five Distinguished Judges Who Made the National Finalists All Feel Like Top Chefs.


Lars Kronmark

Lars Kronmark is a native of Denmark. He was educated in Denmark and is now the senior chef-instructor at _The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone. Besides conducting wine-related cooking classes, Lars also participates in events at local wineries and has been involved with the Napa Valley Wine Auction for the past 20 years. He was also voted Chef of the Year by Cordon d’Or-Gold Ribbon, Inc. Lars has so much local and international experience; we just had to know what he looks for in a winning recipe.

“The first thing I look for is balance. I want to taste the proper balance of flavors and seasoning, no one particular thing should be standing out.”

“The other thing I look for is cooking technique. You could have the best recipe, and the best intentions, yet if your cooking technique is off, the taste of your recipe will be off, too.”

When we asked Lars what advice he’d give anyone wanting to enter next year’s Build a Better Burger Recipe Contest, he said, “Make sure to add something crunchy in there, maybe a pickle or something pickled. Something sour that will still have a great, rich flavor background. Cook what you love, and have fun.”

Celeste Settrini

Celeste Settrini is 4th generation on her family’s red Angus cattle ranch, located in the foothills of the Salinas Valley on the Central Coast of California. A graduate of California Polytechnic State University, Celeste majored in agribusiness marketing. She is also a graduate of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Masters of Beef Advocacy and the American Agri-Women Masters of Agriculture programs, both for enriching agriculture knowledge and communication skills to better share information with consumers. She has also been appointed to the California Beef Council and was awarded the Outstanding Beef Promoter of the Year from the American National Cattle Women, both honors making her a gal that “knows her burgers.” Celeste is very excited to be at the Build a Better Burger Cook-Off representing the American Cattle Rancher. When we asked Celeste what she thought makes for a winning recipe, here’s what she shared:

“I just want something that tastes really good. For someone who doesn’t cook a lot at home, I always look for a recipe that’s really simple and easy to make.”

Even before we could ask Celeste what advice she’d give to someone wanting to enter next year’s Build a Better Burger Recipe Contest, she beat us to the punch by saying, “I believe everyone should bring their own personality and style to their recipe.”

Jonathan Melendez

Jonathan Melendez is a passionate food photographer, cookbook author, and recipe developer whose blog, The Candid Appetite, has appeared prominently on sites such as Bon Appetit, People, Today, Cosmopolitan, Better Homes and Gardens, Good Housekeeping, TheKitchn, and The Cooking Channel. He creates and photographs recipes for Idaho Potato Commission, Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, American Butter Institute, and Jones Dairy Farm, to name a few. He lives in Los Angeles, California. What does Jonathan believe makes for a winning recipe?

“To me, it’s easy to get lost in the concept that more is better in situations like this. So, I’d say to really just scale it down and keep in mind that less is sometimes more, so to speak.”

“I think that burgers always have to have a few factors to them that are necessary to make them really shine. They should always have a pickled component of some sort that cuts through the heaviness of the burger. They should also have a crunch factor, too. Above all, I’d also like say please always remember to have fun. It goes by so fast and if you have fun with it, then it won’t feel so nerve-wracking.”

What does Jonathan think about pairing Sutter Home wine and burgers? “I love a Pinot Grigio, and I guess the only way I know how to pair a wine with a certain burger is to drink a lot of different wines and eat a lot of different burgers. _It’s the only way.”

Erin Evenson

Erin Evenson is a passionate home cook and lauded recipe writer. She has placed in numerous local, national, and international cooking competitions. She was profiled in James Beard Award-winning Liza de Guia’s program “Food Curated” and is a KCBS Certified Barbeque Judge. She is also the first home cook to compete on Food Network’s “Cutthroat Kitchen.” In 2013, Erin was selected as the Grand Prize Winner of Sutter Home’s Build a Better Burger Contest for her “7 Train Burger,” inspired by the restaurants located along the 7-train line in Queens, NY and her childhood adventures in watercress foraging. In 2014, Erin returned to St. Helena as a judge for the Build a Better Burger Cook-Off. In 2015, Erin was honored by the James Beard Foundation to present her “7 Train Burger” to guests at a dinner at the prestigious James Beard House in Greenwich Village.

Here’s what Erin had to say when asked what she believes creates a winning recipe. “There are a variety of things. I love to hear the different back-stories from the national finalists and the inspiration behind their burger recipes. It brings a whole other level of meaning for me. But, of course, execution and caring for your ingredients are so important. You always want to be very proud of what you’re presenting.”

“Frankly, if you create and serve your food with confidence, it will taste better. If you put your love for great flavors and your love for people into your recipe, it will turn out great. It can be that simple.”

Since Erin has entered our Sutter Home Build a Better Burger Recipe Contest and won it in 2014, we thought she’d be great at giving advice to anyone wanting to enter their recipe next year. The following were Erin’s suggestions. “Frankly, if you create and serve your food with confidence, it will taste better. If you put your love for great flavors and your love for people into your recipe, it will turn out great. It can be that simple.”

Chad Newton

Chad Newton is a born and raised Bay Area native who has honed his skills in top ventures throughout Northern California. His career began at Wolfgang Pucks Postrio Restaurant, and he has been awarded “Best Cheeseburger” in San Francisco by 7×7 magazine. Chad is currently the Culinary Director, Co-Founder of local restaurant group FK Restaurants & Hospitality, and helps operate Asian Box with CEO and founder, Frank Klein. Since Chad’s very first restaurant served over 80 burgers a day, we figured he’d have a lot to say about what makes a winning burger recipe. _He did.

“The first thing I look for in a burger is a great bun and really great meat. Personally, I don’t like a lot of stuff in the meat, it just has to be the best meat possible.”

“It should be simply seasoned, with things like salt and pepper. It has to be prepared perfectly, which means seared on the outside and definitely medium or medium rare in the middle. That’s for the meat. I think a great burger should also have some kind of onion and pickle component, and lots of sauces.  I use mayonnaise based sauces or aioli.  The bun to meat ratio is really important, too. The bun should fit like a glove. Last but not least, the best burgers taste juicy. Really, really, really juicy.”

All of us at Sutter Home Winery couldn’t agree more. We knew this story would be real juicy.

We’d like to extend our gratitude to our distinguished panel of judges for helping make this year one of the most exciting Sutter Home Build a Better Burger Recipe Contests ever.

A heavenly holiday strawberry-apple-cranberry pie is paired with a cornucopia cobbler cocktail, made with Sutter Home Pinto Noir.

Wine and Food

This Strawberry-Apple-Cranberry Pie & Cornucopia Cobbler Cocktail is Heavenly for the Holidays!