If you’re keeping a list of Virginia winemakers to watch, better make sure Tom Payette is on it.
Payette is a consulting winemaker and a regular contributor to Vineyard & Winery Management magazine. Though he’s been a fixture on the Virginia wine scene for years, his fame went public this year when two of his wines won the state’s prestigious Governor’s Cup competitions.
Virginia last year split the annual wine judging into two contests, one each for red and white wines, ostensibly to milk the extra publicity from two awards. This is working out really well for Payette, after the Governor’s Cup for white wines was presented last night in Richmond to New Kent Winery for its 2009 Reserve Chardonnay ($25). (See the full list of winners.)
In February, the award for best red wine in Virginia went to Fox Meadow Vineyards for its 2008 Meritage ($29), also made by Payette. Unlike many of his consulting clients, whether in Virginia or Spain, these wineries credit him as their primary winemaker.
Say what you want about competitions, but having two wines from separate wineries named best in the state in the same year is quite a feat.
Payette studied winemaking with famed Bordeaux enologist Jacques Boissenot, whose son, Eric , is a consultant with RdV Vineyards, the winery in Fauquier County that is reaching ambitiously for cult wine status. The Boissenot influence in Virginia runs deeper than we realized.
A familiar name was also engraved on Maryland’s Governor’s Cup this year: Black Ankle Vineyards took the award for the third time in four years, this time for its new red blend called Slate ($45). Slate is an unconventional, multi-vintage blend of cabernet sauvignon, syrah, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot. Ed Boyce, who owns and runs the winery with his wife, Sarah O’Herron, told me the wine was blended from barrels from the 2007 and 2008 vintages, with some juice from 2010 added to fill out the blend.
“We almost didn’t make this wine,” Boyce said. “These were barrels that seemed a little off or awkward when we blended our wines those years, so we put them aside in a little detention area and waited for them to behave.”
Slate may be an accidental wine, but it displays Black Ankle’s hallmark characteristics of dark fruit, soft acidity and sweet ripeness, with an elegant finish and impressive depth. Let’s hope some more barrels start misbehavin’.