With the Oscars this Sunday, the Virginia wine industry gave out its own top honors in Richmond tonight, with the Governor’s Cup for best wine going to a newcomer – Glen Manor Vineyards, for its 2009 Hodder Hill red blend.
The Governor’s Cup competition was revamped this year, with much fanfare, to give the competition more credibility and to attract wineries that had been reluctant to enter in the past.
The reorganized competition split the judging into two rounds, with only the best wines advancing to contention for the top prize. One requirement never enforced before was that all wines entered had to be made entirely from grapes grown in Virginia. In addition to the Governor’s Cup, this year the competition awarded the “Governor’s Case” of the top 12 wines in the competition. These wines will be sent to wine publications, writers and bloggers as a representation of the best Virginia has to offer. The winning wines were announced tonight in Richmond by Governor Bob McDonnell.
Jeff White, owner and winemaker at Glen Manor, about 12 miles south of Front Royal, was characteristically modest about winning the top prize. “I’m excited and a little intimidated,” he told me in a phone interview earlier this week. He sounded tired after a long day at the winery and a trip to the county dump. Celebrity doesn’t change everything when you’re a farmer.
This was the first year White had entered his wines in the Governor’s Cup competition. Glen Manor has earned a reputation for excellent reds and sauvignon blanc, and was clearly one of the wineries the Virginia Wineries Association was trying to attract when it revamped the competition.
The 2009 Hodder Hill is a blend of 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, and 6% each Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Ironically, those last two varieties are the grapes most people would argue perform best in Virginia.
“Cabernet Sauvignon can do well too, if you have a good site,” White said. Glen Manor’s densely spaced vineyards are on steep slopes on the western side of the Blue Ridge Mountains, nestled against the Skyline Drive. They were protected from the rains that hit vineyards on the east side of the mountains during harvest season in 2009, White said.
McDonnell called the Hodder Hill “a stunning representation of the best in Virginia wines. Just as Virginia wines have been gaining acclaim here and abroad, we have raised the bar on the competition,” he said in a press release issued by the Virginia Wine Board marketing office. “This, and the other 11 wines that make up the Governor’s Cup Case, will make a fine addition to wine cellars everywhere, further enhancing the growing reputation of Virginia Wines.”
The Virginia Wineries Association, which conducts the competition, also honored First Lady Maureen McDonnell tonight as “Wine Person of the Year” for her work promoting the Old Dominion’s vino. Mrs. McDonnell has actively campaigned with the state’s retailers and sommeliers to carry more Virginia wines.
The Governor’s Case was intended as an annual snapshot of the best of Virginia wine, and as such it is instructive. Some notable names – such as Barboursville, Linden – were missing. While Glen Manor took top prize, 9 of the 12 finalists were from the Charlottesville area. Of the 12 wines, five were Bordeaux-styled “meritage” red blends, including the Glen Manor. No Viogniers or Petit Verdots made the cut, and only one Cabernet Franc. Only three white wines were represented, including one sparkling.
The final round consisted of 136 wines of more than 400 entered. They were evaluated by 15 judges, including two Masters of Wine, a Master Sommelier, and several other representatives of the trade and media. (I was a judge in the final round, but not the preliminary tasting that selected the 136 wines to compete for the top prize.)
Here’s a list of the Governor’s Case wines:
- Glen Manor Vineyards, Hodder Hill 2009 (Meritage)
- Bluestone Vineyard 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon
- Delfosse Vineyards 2007 Meritage
- Jefferson Vineyards 2010 Cabernet Franc
- Keswick Vineyards 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve
- Keswick Vineyards 2010 Merlot
- King Family Vineyards 2008 Meritage
- Potomac Point Winery 2009 Heritage Reserve (Meritage)
- Tarara Winery 2010 Honah Lee (White Blend)
- Trump Winery 2008 Kluge SP Blanc de Blanc Sparkling Wine
- Veritas Vineyards 2010 Vintner’s Reserve Meritage
- White Hall Vineyards 2010 Gewurztraminer
Overall, there were only 13 Gold medals awarded, making the judging panel rather stingy. The other Gold went to Sunset Hills Vineyard of Loudoun County for its 2009 Cabernet Franc. (“Missed it by THAT much!”) The judges over the two stages awarded 137 Silvers and 215 Bronze medals, indicating overall high quality for the state’s wines.
Congratulations to Jeff and Kelly White, the Glen Manor team, and all the other medal winners!