A closer look at the revamped Governor’s Cup and its prized dozen

First time's a charm. Glen Manor Vineyards took home the Governor's Cup in February, having never entered the competition before. (Courtesy Glen Manor Vineyards) First time’s a charm. Glen Manor Vineyards took home the Governor’s Cup in February, having never entered the competition before. (Courtesy Glen Manor Vineyards)

After 30 years, the annual Governor’s Cup competition, which pits Virginia wine against Virginia wine, got an overhaul, making it what the Virginia Wineries Association calls “one of the most stringent competitions in the U.S.” Improvements were made on every front—from the quality of the entries to the quality of the judges—and in February at the Virginia Wine Expo in Richmond, a caseful of gold medalists were chosen. First time enterer Glen Manor won the cup.

Leading the competition’s judging was Jay Youmans, a Master of Wine (one of only 31 in the nation) who owns a wine academy in the Washington, D.C. area. He recruited a panel of 30 other card-carrying wine professionals to blindly taste the hundreds of hopefuls in a two-day preliminary round. More than 400 wines were entered by 109 of our 210 wineries. Each entry had to come with an affidavit certifying that it was made with 100 percent Virginia fruit as well as information on vineyard specifics, grower names and locations, alcohol levels, pH (see Winespeak 101), and residual sugar. These are substantially stricter standards than in years past and may, perhaps, speak to why nearly half of our state’s producers sat this first year out.

Judges used a 100-point scale to score the 420 entries and 137 wines advanced to the final round—exceededing the organizers’ target of 120. Fifteen judges scored the 137, scribbling down notes on appearance, aroma, flavor, overall quality, and commercial suitability that would later get passed along to the wineries (a draw that encouraged participation in itself). At the end of three days (Youmans addressed the palate-fatigue flaw of wine competitions by spreading the tasting out so that no judge tasted more than 50 wines in a day), 13 won gold medals, 139 silver, and 215 bronze. So 87 percent of entries walked away with some bling. Youmans, who’s tasted and judged competitions around the globe for 30 years, said, “I can speak to quality on a global scale and this wine stacks up really well.”

What does a case of winners look like then? It’s more red than white (nine to three), more Monticello AVA than anywhere else (eight of 12), and more vintage 2010 than ’07, ’08, or ’09 (six of 12). Among the whites sits one sparkler, the 2008 Trump Winery/Kluge SP Blanc de Blanc, which one judge called a “dead ringer for champagne.” Surprisingly, it’s a white blend from Tarara Winery and a Gewürztraminer from White Hall that rep the whites, rather than Virginia’s recently-named state grape, Viognier. Virginia Tech enology professor Bruce Zoecklein, reckons 2010’s heat made for a bad Viognier year.

Similarly with the reds, Cabernet Franc, a grape so often favored for Virginia soils, only takes up one of the slots in the case—Jefferson Vineyards’ from 2010. Petit Verdot made a distinct impression on out-of-state judges who aren’t used to seeing the grape in a starring role. No single varietal of Petit Verdot won though. Rather, Meritage, America’s proprietary name for a Bordeaux-style blend, fills five holes, one of which belongs to the big winner. These blends from Delfosse Vineyards, Glen Manor Vineyards, King Family Vineyards, Potomac Point Winery, and Veritas Winery all contain varying proportions of the five allowable grapes (Cab Franc, Cab Sauv, Malbec, Merlot, and Petit Verdot). Cup winner Glen Manor’s is Cab Sauv heavy while the others are dominated by Merlot. Stephen Barnard, winemaker at Keswick Vineyards whose 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon from 2009 and 100 percent Merlot from 2010 both earned spots in the case, thinks that Virginia Merlot “will play a positive role in the future.”

This cream of Virginia’s crop will be sent to wine publications, wine journalists, and other wine competitions in an effort to create awareness, visibility, and credibility for our burgeoning brand. “This competition was a real eye-opener for everyone involved. It’s raised the bar for what’s going on in this state,” said Youmans. That’s one persuasive case.
Prices for the bottles in the case range from $19.99 to $75 with an average price of about $35. The winning wines from Keswick and Veritas have not yet been released, but the others can be found at the respective wineries or at your favorite local retailer.

Our colonial cradle
Virginia wines took a trip across the pond last month where two dozen award-winners from Central Virginia, Northern Virginia, and Hampton Roads were poured at the 2012 London International Wine Fair. Half of the wines showcased came from five of our own Monticello AVA wineries: Barboursville Vineyards, King Family Vineyards, Veritas Winery, Virginia Wineworks, and White Hall Vineyards. This year’s fair celebrated the 250th anniversary of the American Wine Industry, which took root in Virginian soils when Charles Carter of Philip Carter Winery received a gold medal for his wines from the Royal Society of Arts in 1762, thus making them the first internationally recognized wines of colonial America.

pH (n.): A chemical measurement of acidity or alkalinity; the lower the pH the higher the acid. In wine, pH ranges from 2.9 to 4.