And the 2023 Virginia Governor’s Cup Winner is…

And the 2023 Virginia Governor’s Cup goes to…

DelFosse Vineyards 2021 Screaming Hawk Meritage!

Owners Mike and Adrienne Albers and winemaker Andrew Bilenkij accepted the coveted award from Governor Glenn Youngkin during the annual Governor’s Gala at the historic Main Street Station in Richmond this evening.

The 2021 Screaming Hawk Meritage — a blend of 50% Petit Verdot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc and 10% Malbec — bested 613 other wines from 115 wineries, cideries and and meaderies entered in the competition this year.

Situated on 300 acres in the town of Faber, just south of Charlottesville, DelFosse Vineyards was established by the late Claude DelFosse in 2002 and purchased by Mike and Adrienne Albers in 2016.

Following a three decade career in the high tech industry, Mike was in search of a new challenge and direction for the next chapter of his and Adrienne’s life.  

As long-time wine lovers, the Albers considered winery ownership for the next chapter of their lives.

Romanticized notions of a leisurely life among the vines as a winery owner can be a strong lure for those in search of a career change or retirement hobby. It can also become a financial nightmare.  

Whether buying an established winery and vineyard or starting from scratch, entering the wine industry is costly!  Land, farm and cellar equipment, staff and other expenses, can cost millions.  And it can take years to turn a profit, if ever.

Rather than just jump into the industry by purchasing a winery, Albers took a more reasoned approach. 

“I decided the best way to learn was to volunteer at a winery to cut my teeth, so I contacted Sebastian Marquet who was the winemaker at Doukenie at the time and offered to work for free,” said Albers. “I was a cellar rat, I did it all while taking classes at Piedmont Virginia Community College and online at UC Davis.” 

Three years after purchasing the winery, they hired Andrew Bilenjki in 2019 as the head winemaker.  Before coming to Virginia in 2019, he worked in Burgundy and Bordeaux France as well as in Sonoma, California. 

“We’ve come a long way in just seven vintages,” said Albers.  “Winning the Governor’s Cup has been our goal since the beginning. It’s validation of the work our team does and for our mission to make great wine.”

The Albers are already planning the next phase of their wine business plan, which includes a rebrand.  Albers told me that DelFosse will always be part of the story there but they are changing the name of the winery to Mountain and Vine Vineyards and Winery to better reflect their appreciation of the beauty of the property. 

Parker Slaybaugh, Chief Deputy Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry, was also on hand to present the Best of Show cider award to the Albemarle Ciderworks team for their Orchard Blush.

“Orchard Blush is a pink-hued cider made from Geneva Crab, Dolgo Crab, Redfield and an anonymous red flesh crabapple that a neighboring orchard uses for pollinating,” said Charlotte Shelton.  

“The  stylish popularity of rose wines was one inspiration for exploring what we might do with a rose cider. Red-fleshed apples grown for cider are still quite rare, which is why most “’rose’ ciders are made with additions of other fruit to make the cider pink.  Our Orchard Blush is made from 100% apples which gives it a unique flavor and bracing acidity from the varieties of apples used.”

Competition was stiff this year!  In my 11 years judging the Virginia Governor’s Cup, I don’t recall a year where so many wines were worthy of winning the competition.

Although wines across the board were impressive this year, Bordeaux-style red blends and wines made from Petit Verdot were also big winners this year on my score sheets.   

Petit Verdot shined this year, in my opinion.  With four PVs in the Governor’s Case about two dozen gold medals, it’s clear the small-berried, thick-skinned grape has found a home in the Commonwealth.  

“One of the many things I like about Petit Verdot is the consistency in the vineyard and ability to grow in different areas,” said Matthew Mayer, winemaker at Williamsburg Winery, who’s 2019 Petit Verdot scored a spot in the Governor’s Case.  

“It’s really developing a wonderful personality in the New World and I’m sure it will continue to thrive and produce world-class wines here.  It is this personality that I believe helped me get into the Governors Case,  for which I am very humbled and proud.”

Kirk Wiles, Founder and CEO of Paradise Springs Winery, who earned a spot in the Case with his 2021 Petit Verdot, says, “Petit Verdot is a star in Virginia. I think it will follow the way Cabernet Franc has become the hottest trendy grape out of Napa recently.”

Perennial favorites Micheal Shaps, Luca Paschina and Matthieu Finot fared well in this year’s competition. 

Shaps scored eight gold medals under his Wineworks label, more than any other winery.  King Family Vineyards of Crozet scored seven golds, the second most.  Barboursville’s Vermentino Reserve earned a spot in the coveted Governor’s Case — a collection of the top 12 scoring wines — for the seventh year, a record.

Related, Tom Kelly, a longtime vineyard manager and consultant, as well as a former president of the Virginia Vineyards Association (VVA), has been named wine grape Grower of the Year by the VVA. The award was presented today by Beth Walker Green, Virginia Deputy Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry, at the VVA’s 2023 Technical Meeting in Charlottesville.

2023 Virginia Governor’s Cup Case:

  • Delfosse Vineyards and Winery, 2021 Screaming Hawk Meritage
  • 50 West Vineyards, 2020 Petit Manseng
  • Barboursville Vineyards, 2021 Vermentino Reserve
  • Barren Ridge Vineyards, 2019 Petit Verdot
  • Jefferson Vineyards, 2021 Petit Manseng
  • Jefferson Vineyards, 2019 Meritage
  • Mountain Run Winery, 2021 Petit Verdot
  • Paradise Springs Winery, 2021 Petit Verdot
  • Pollak Vineyards, 2017 Meritage
  • The Williamsburg Winery, 2019 Petit Verdot
  • Trump Winery, 2016 Blanc de Noir
  • Trump Winery, 2019 New World Reserve