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Major Changes to the Virginia Governor’s Cup – An Interview with New Head Judge Jay Youmans

In my non-wine, 9-to-5 world I am well known by colleagues for my aversion to social events and the great lengths I go to avoid them.  Though I’m not a fan of the standard ‘how about this crazy weather‘ corporate grip-and-grin events, I’ve come to appreciate, and even look forward to social events in the wine world.

In late October I attended one such wine event in Washington, D.C. hosted by the Virginia Tourism office and the Virginia Wine Marketing Office to celebrate Virginia Wine Month and to highlight Virginia’s wine travel experiences.  The event featured wines from five of Virginia’s top wineries and was attended by Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, Secretary of Agriculture Todd Haymore, along with a host of other industry professionals and media. (Paul and Warren of Virginia Wine Time have a great recap of the event posted here.)

Not only did the reception provide an opportunity taste some nice wines and catch up with friends that I see too little of, the event also provided a great forum to pick up a few nuggets of inside information as well.

While waiting for the event to begin, I happened to meet up with Dave McIntyre and Jay Youmans, Washington DC’s only Master of Wine.  During our conversation Jay mentioned his proposal to the State to revamp the Virginia Governor’s Cup Competition.  Having more than a passing interest and curiosity in stories related to the Virginia wine industry, I kept this item on my radar.  I heard last week that an announcement was imminent…

And today, Governor McDonnell officially announced revamped and enhanced Governor’s Cup Competition, lead by new head judge Jay Youmans.  To reestablish credibility of the Governor’s Cup competition, this is a much-needed change.

Jay Youmans (photo credit: Capital Wine School)

As an adjunct to the official announcement from the Governor’s office, I asked Jay Youmans to share his thoughts about his role as new head judge of the revamped Virginia Governor’s Cup Wine Competition.

DWYL:  According to Governor McDonnell’s press release, only Virginia wines made from 100% Virginia fruit will be eligible for the Governor’s Cup. This is a significant change in entry criteria for the competition.  What were your reasons for adding the 100% Virginia fruit requirement?    

To be fair, this change had been proposed before I became involved. It was an agreement reached between the  Virginia Wineries Association (VWA), Virginia Vineyard Association (VVA), and the Virginia Wine Board (VWB). Governor McDonnell and Secretary of Agriculture Todd Haymore felt strongly that this competition should showcase wines produced from 100% Virginia grapes. Wine quality starts with the grapes and our job as judges is to assess the quality of grapes and the winemaking in Virginia.

Do you see the demographic of wineries entering the competition changing as a result?

The demographic of wineries will change slightly, however, I believe the total number of wines entered will remain the same. While some wines will no longer eligible for the competition, there will be some new entries. A number of wineries that have not participated in the past will submit wines in support of the new changes.

Editorial Note:  Aside from bringing an overall rejuvenated tone to what is supposed to be Virginia’s flagship wine competition, raising the bar to accept only wines made from 100% Virginia grown grapes is the single most significant improvement to the Governor’s Cup.  Requiring a 100% Virginia fruit commitment is a big deal and I applaud all of the decision makers!

DWYL:  In years past, some of Virginia’s most notable wineries have not entered the Governor’s Cup Competition — do you expect the revised format to bring some of these wineries back to the competition?

In the past, some wineries felt they had nothing to gain by participating. I would argue that they now have everything to gain by submitting their wines. With the changes in the Methodology, and the talent that has been assembled to judge, each wine will be carefully assessed. In addition, the main objective of Virginia Governor’s Cup Competition will be to recognize the 12 best wines rather than just singling out one wine. The top 12 scoring wines will comprise the “Governor’s case”. These wines will be sent to publications, writers, educators, and other wine competitions around the country. These wines will be presented as Virginia’s best. Any wine wishing to compete commercially on a national or international level will benefit greatly from this exposure.

Editorial Note:  Based on conversations I’ve had with several winemakers about the enhancements to the Governor’s Cup, it’s clear these changes are viewed as the beginning of a new era of credibility for this competition. I believe we will see several notable wineries enter that competition that have, in years past, avoided the Cup.

DWYL: Virginia ciders will also have their own category in the new Governor’s Cup format. As the number of Virginia cideries grows, this will become an important category important in future years.  Can you tell us about the driver behind including ciders in the Governor’s Cup?

This is new. Ciders are a rapidly growing segment of the Beverage Industry today and Virginia has a long history of producing apples. We expect the number of entries to soar in the coming years.

DWYL:  The educational component of the new format is an excellent idea — can you expand on what you hope this adds to the Governor’s Cup?

The educational component is intended to give critical feedback to the wineries. Each winery will receive tasting notes and a score on the wines they submit (based on the 100 point rating system). These notes will detail how the judges determined their scores.
There will be four regional forums where we will taste the top 12 Virginia wines. We will refer to these wines as the “Governor’s case”. These forums are intended to identify the characteristics and qualities that set the wines apart. It will help to establish benchmarks for the industry.

DWYL:   For the past several years, the Governor’s Cup has been conducted in two separate competitions — one for reds and one for whites.  Under the new format, you’ve made this ‘one’ competition again.  What are your reasons for making this a single event?

The principal reason behind two separate competition’s was to show the white wines at their peak. The problem with this approach is it diluted the promotional impact of the competition. It also makes it more challenging to attract judges. Consolidating the whites and reds will simply make the competition more meaningful.

The Virginia Governor’s Cup Wine Competition “will become the benchmark with which all other wine shows will be measured, not simply because of the quality of the judges, or the rigorous selection process, but because of the critical feedback given to each participating winery.  The competition will serve notice to the industry that Virginia is serious about producing high quality wines.”  ~ Jay Youmans

Thank you Jay for your time and for sharing your insights in to the future direction of the Virginia Governor’s Cup.  These are exciting times for Virginia wine, and for the Virginia Governor’s Cup.

About our guest:  Jay Youmans has been tasting wine professionally for nearly 30 years. He is the Educational Director and owner of the Capital Wine School, and the owner of Rock Creek Wine Merchants, a sales and marketing consultancy. Jay is an Advanced Level Sommelier, a Certified Wine Educator (CWE), and Washington, DC’s only Master of Wine (MW).  Bio excerpted from Capital Wine School.

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