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By now Virginia wine enthusiasts and industry followers know that Luca Paschina and team Barboursville (on Twitter: @OctagonVA) took possession of the Governor’s Cup on Thursday evening at the ‘Cup Gala with the announcement by Governor Bob McDonnell that the 2009 Octagon won the 2013 Virginia Wineries Association Governor’s Cup competition.  This win marks the fourth time Barboursville has scored top honors since this competition began in the early 1980’s.

Congratulations Luca and the entire Barboursville team for your 4th Governor's Cup!

Congratulations Luca and the entire Barboursville team for your 4th Governor’s Cup!

Octagon bested over 375 other Virginia wines to win the competition year.  There were a total of 377 entries* from 93 Virginia wineries in this year’s Governor’s Cup, resulting in 20 gold medals (scored 90-100 points), 178 silver medals (85-89 points), 165 bronze medals (80-84 points), with 14 wines receiving scores below the 80 points required for a bronze medal.  (* – Data based on Virginia Wineries Association Press Release, February 14, 2013.)

Of the 20 gold medals awarded in this year’s competition, Bordeaux styled red blends dominated with ten golds, followed by eight Meritages, five Cabernet Francs, two Petit Verdots, and one Cabernet Sauvignon.  Just one white wine managed to break the 90-point barrier for a gold medal — the Michael Shaps 2010 Wild Meadow Chardonnay was the lone white wine to win a gold medal this year.

Though Octagon is certainly (and deservedly) the talk of the town, the lack of white wines  — in particular Virginia’s Signature Grape, Viognier — receiving a 90+ point score needed for a gold medal has occupied much of the Virginia wine narrative in the last week.

Since 2013 marks just the second year since the Governor’s Cup format was overhauled and the competition’s brand reenergized by Jay Youmans, MW, at the request of Governor McDonnell, it’s way too early to draw definitive conclusions about which Virginia wines hold the most future potential.   However, Bordeaux-style red wines have certainly made a big statement based on results of the last two Governor’s Cup competitions.

Since white wines were awarded just two of the 12 gold medals in the 2012 Governor’s Cup, and just one of the 20 golds this year, one can’t help but wonder why the white wines are not scoring/showing better?  Perhaps, as suggested in the VWA press release that announced the 2013 medalists, timing could be one of the reasons — one theory is because of the timing of the competition, when few whites are available.

A friend who works at one of Virginia’s most established wineries emailed me to say that his winery would not enter their Viognier in the Governor’s Cup because of this very reason, “our 2012 Viognier was not bottled until early February and we’ll sell through it before the next Governor’s Cup.

I’m sure there other wineries facing this same timing issue however, there has to be more to this story than just timing.  Rather than kneading this subject too much, I went right to the source — I asked Virginia Governor’s Cup competition head judge, Jay Youmans, MW, about the lack of white wines awarded gold medals. 

In general, judges tend to reward high quality reds wines more generously than high quality white wines,” Youmans told me.

Since Virginia’s Signature grape, Viognier, has been noticeably absent from the gold medal podium in the last two years, I also asked Jay specifically about why he thinks Viognier has not received top scores.  Youmans noted, “It is not that Viognier has performed poorly; it has more to do with the fact that many of the reds simply reflect the strength of the 2007, 2009, and 2010 vintages.  While Viognier may perform well in Virginia, it is not as commercially important in the global market as full-bodied red blends.  We asked the judges to assess the quality of these wines from an international perspective, not a Virginia perspective. The majority of the judges buy, sell, and write about wines from around the world. I believe Virginia’s Viogniers will fare better in future competitions, as we judge wines from more ‘typical’ vintages.”

I agree with Jay that Viognier may not be as commercially important in the global market as full-bodied reds; however, I still do believe that Viognier can be Virginia’s differentiator in a crowded global market (though many of my wine friends disagree with me on this).  My opinion, at least in part, is supported by Virginia Viognier’s success in the UK market place, thanks to Chris Parker of New Horizon Wines.

Since Viognier wines (excluding blends) garnered 11 silver (~ 6% of all silvers) and 11 bronze medals (~ 7% of all bronzes) this year, Viognier hasn’t performed poorly per se.  Instead, I hold the opinion that the Governor’s Cup results demonstrate that Virginia wineries are producing some seriously good red blends that are showing much better than whites.

Youmans concluded by telling me, “I suspect we will see a different result in next year’s competition as we begin to get red wines submitted from the difficult 2011 vintage.”

As a big fan and consumer of Virginia Viognier, I hope we do see more whites and Viogniers on the gold medal podium next year.

Regardless of how many reds or whites win medals, one fact is undeniable, Jay and everyone associated with the newly revamped Governor’s Cup has done an amazing job of putting a rigorous judging process in place that has reestablished the credibility of the annual Governor’s Cup competition.   Hat tip to all of you!

UPDATE 24FEB2013, 8:23am ET:  How does the gold, silver, bronze medals awarded (as a % of total entries) stack up against other competitions?  See comparison in ‘Comments.’

Congratulations to all 2013 gold, silver and bronze medalists!

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