And the 2015 Virginia Governor’s Cup goes to… (and, Big Red Wines Dominate the Golds Again)

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And the winner is…

Muse Vineyards 2009 Clio (a blend of 25% Cab Sauv, 25% Cab Franc, 25% Merlot, and 25% Petit Verdot).

The 2015 Virginia Governor’s Cup trophy was presented to Robert Muse and Sandy Cowal, owners of Muse Vineyards, by Governor McAuliffe, First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe, and Secretary of Agriculture & Forestry Todd Haymore this evening during the Governor’s Cup Gala in Richmond.

Secretary Haymore, First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe, Governor McAuliffe, Sally Cowal, Robert Muse (photo credit: Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office)

Secretary Haymore, First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe, Governor McAuliffe, Sally Cowal, Robert Muse (photo credit: Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office)

Purchased in 2003 by Robert Muse and Sally Cowal, Muse Vineyards is situated alongside the North Fork of the Shenandoah River in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.  Muse Vineyards includes nearly 30 acres under vine, planted to 17 different grape varieties.

The 2015 competition marks the 33rd Vrginia Governor’s Cup competition and the fourth year of the revamped format under the leadership of head judge Jay Youmans, MW (see interview with Youmans about the new Governor’s Cup competition format, here).

There were 390 different wines entered from 94 Virginia wineries this year, down from 410 wines from 96 wineries last year.  Thirty gold medals were awarded in this year’s competition, up from 20 last year (and 20 golds in 2013, and 13 in 2012).

Consistent with prior year results, red blends and big red varietal wines like Tannat and Petite Verdot dominated the Governor’s Cup gold medal category this year.

Of the thirty gold medal wines this year, 24 (80%) of them were red wines, including 13 red blends, five varietal Petit Verdot wines, and three Tannats.  In terms of the gold medal-to-wines entered ratio, Tannat was the clear gold medal winner — three of the eight Tannats entered received gold medals (I suspect next year will see many more varietal Tannat wines entered).

The state’s official signature grape, Viognier, failed to place in the gold category this year.  Another white grape, Petit Manseng, did show well with three gold medals (two varietal and one blend).  As evidenced from the result of the competition, this small, thick-skinned grape most commonly associated with the Jurançon region of southwestern France is quickly becoming one of the state’s most promising white grape varieties.

White wines overall — especially lighter, subtle, elegant whites — are notably underrepresented again this year in the gold medal category.  About 40% of the wines entered in this year’s competition were white wines yet just 20% of the gold medal wines were for white wines.  Roughly the same is true of prior year results as well.

Even lighter red wines like Cabernet Franc were overshadowed this year.  Of the 46 varietal Cab Francs entered just one earned a gold.

Why?

“Outspoken and bold seem to be more important than subtle or pretty,” said Doug Fabbioli, owner and winemaker at Fabbioli Cellars in Loudoun County. “I hope it will not always be this way, but I see this in the tasting room as well to some degree.”

Are Virginia red wines — specifically the big red varietal wines like Tannat and Petit Verdot and bordeaux-style blends — really that much better than Virginia white wines?

Or, are the gold medal results a reflection of the judges preferences for bigger red wines?  Or, perhaps big reds dominate because the 2009 and 2010 vintages are showing beautifully right now.

“From the number of bigger wines like Tannat and Petit Verdot and the blends from 2010 [a hot year in Virginia] that won gold medals this year it seems the bigger the wines the better they score,” said noted Virginia and Burgundy winemaker and consultant, Michael Shaps, who scored three gold medals in this year’s competition, including two wines in the coveted Governor’s Case.  “It’s easy for the lighter, elegant wines to get overlooked in the competition.”

The reason big red wines continue to dominate the Governor’s Cup gold medal category and Governor’s Case is a hybrid of many factors including preferences, wines entered, vintage considerations, and a little bit of that lady luck.

Regardless, a number of the winemakers I spoke to about the results of the competition expressed some concern about the perception that lighter, subtle (more elegant?) wines seem to be relegated to the silver and bronze medal category.

Could the perception that big wines win Virginia Governor’s Cup golds (there is some truth to this way beyond Virginia of course) be the reason that only 94 of the state’s roughly 255 wineries entered the Governor’s Cup competition this year?

Recognizable wineries like Linden, RdV, Glen Manor (2012 Governor’s Cup winner), Tarara, Blenheim, and Ankida Ridge have not entered the competition in a couple of years.

Is this big-red-gold-medal-perception part of the reason? (or, just a figment of the author’s imagination?)

“Because our production is so small, we cannot enter the competition due to the requirement that a minimum of 50 cases be available at the time of the competition,” explained Christine Vrooman, owner of Ankida Ridge Vineyards in Amherst, about an hour southwest of Charlottesville.  “We typically sell out of our Pinot Noir and Chardonnay before the next vintage is released, so, truthfully, the exposure of the Governor’s Cup would sell out our wines even faster.”

Other winemakers like Tarara Winery’s Jordan Harris hold a different view of the competition.

“Other Virginia wines are not my competition nor do I think any quality Virginia winery needs to view other wineries in the state as competition,” said Harris of his decision not to enter since the 2012 competition (his Viognier-dominant white blend, scored a spot in the Governor’s Case that year). “The Governor’s Cup pits Virginia against Virginia but says nothing to the world about how we stack up on a national or international scale.”

Regardless of perceptions, reasons, or whether big, bold reds continue to dominate the gold medal category and Governor’s Case, the Virginia Governor’s Cup matters!

Since most major wine critics and publications do not regularly review more than the same handful of Virginian wines (Wine Enthusiast Magazine being the notable  exception), inclusion in the Governor’s Case (the top 12 scoring wines of the competition) does provide wineries the opportunity for more media exposure beyond Virginia.

“Having our Meritage recognized as one of the top wines in Virginia and included in the Governor’s Case for the fourth year in a row is a great honor for King Family Vineyards and for me as a winemaker,” said winemaker Matthieu Finot.  “Before helping promote King Family Vineyards or any one winery, the [Virginia] Governor’s Case helps raise awareness of the entire industry and gets people outside of the state talking about Virginia wine.”

The awareness impact can be even more important to the smaller, lesser-known wineries.

“Being recognized at the Governor’s Cup Competition is quite an honor,” said Sudha Patil, owner and winemaker at Narmada Winery, who earned her first two Governor’s Cup gold medals this year. “This is a giant step for us, and will hopefully get the word out that Narmada produces wines that can stand with the best in the Commonwealth.”

Virginia wine needs the Governor’s Cup and the competition needs all (ok, not all, but more) of Virginia wine.

While I am not qualified to second guess Jay Youmans, Director of the Virginia Governor’s Cup, or the competition format, it’s clear that a slight format tweak is needed.

My my personal favorite of the Governor’s gold medal winners poured at the Governor’s Cup gala – Keswick Vineyards 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon

Winemaker Stephen Barnard and Kat Barnard

Winemaker Stephen Barnard and Kat Barnard

 

Congratulations to all 2015 Governor’s Cup medalists!

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