Jeff White was cleaning the winery restrooms when he took the phone call from the Virginia Wineries Association. His Glen Manor Vineyards Hodder Hill 2009 red blend had won the 2012 Governor’s Cup, the state industry’s highest honor for one of its own. He was summoned to Richmond to pour his wines for admiring new fans at the Virginia Wine Expo and to receive the award from Gov. Robert F. McDonnell. White thanked the caller, whose name he doesn’t remember, and completed his chores.
Such is the vintner’s life when you’re chief cook, bottle washer and tile scrubber at a small regional winery.
White is exactly the type of vintner the VWA was trying to attract when it revamped the Governor’s Cup competition this year with an eye toward more rigorous standards and more stringent judging. The Front Royal vintner had participated in smaller wine-related events at a D.C. hotel and the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History and had sent his wines to a couple of minor competitions, but he hadn’t entered the Governor’s Cup or participated in a large festival.
This year’s state competition was organized by Jay Youmans, the Washington area’s only certified master of wine. The 15 final-round judges included two other MWs and a master sommelier, Kathryn Morgan. Such high-powered palates had never before been recruited to evaluate Virginia wine. The panel also included Patrick Comiskey, who is the lead wine writer for the Los Angeles Times and Wine & Spirits magazine, and two local writers: former Post columnist Michael Franz, who now edits WineReviewOnline.com, and myself. The contest was conducted in two rounds. The panel that whittled 420 entrants to 135 included several Washington-area sommeliers, the target audience Virginia wine wants to attract.
“I decided to enter because of the quality of the judging panel,” White said. “I did not care about getting a medal, which I thought was a long shot, but I wanted my wine in these judges’ mouths and in their minds.”
White is too modest to claim that his wine is the best in Virginia. Of the state’s 200-plus wineries, 109 entered a total of 420 wines. So nearly half of Virginia’s wineries sat this one out. Yet whether he wins or even enters another contest, White can use this award to build his market in Virginia and in the District, where his wines are distributed by Michael R. Downey Selections. And he has a short list of MWs and national wine writers who now regard Glen Manor as the cream of Virginia’s crop.
The new competition format will also help the state market its wine industry as a whole. Instead of just one winner, the judges selected a “Governor’s Case” comprising the Governor’s Cup winner and 11 other top wines, which will be used to promote Virginia’s best to various wine media. From this elite selection, it would seem Virginia’s strong suit is not viognier, cabernet franc or petit verdot but Bordeaux blends (called “meritage” for the wine competition). Those wines, blends of two or more Bordeaux varieties (cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, petit verdot and malbec), accounted for five of the 12 Governor’s Case wines. (The timing of the event might have favored red wines; whites tend to be released during the late spring and summer, one reason why previous Governor’s Cup competitions had been divided into a red-wine judging at the beginning of the year and a white-wine judging in the summer.)
And what are Virginia’s best vineyards? For the first time, wineries were required to attest that their entries were made from 100 percent Virginia grapes and to specify the vineyards where they were grown. By analyzing the medal results, the industry can tell which vineyards produced the most medal winners.
In all, the judges awarded 13 gold medals, 137 silvers and 215 bronze medals, indicating overall high quality for the state’s wines.
The results of the 2012 competition were announced last month, but they will resonate for some time to come.
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.