Friday, April 15, 2016

Virginia Winemakers Discuss the 2016 Governor's Cup Case Wines

With the conclusion of the 2016 Governor’s Cup® competition, the Virginia Wine Board and Virginia Vineyards Association have organized four regional Governor's Cup Case educational series. These forums are designed to introduce the dozen wines in the Governor's Cup Case as well as to allow the winemakers and vineyard managers to discuss their practices that lead to their specific award winning wine. At the first forum this week hosted by Stone Tower Winery there was plenty of vineyard and winery conversations regarding trellis systems, cold soaking, yeast strains, pH, and racking.  And as Doug Fabbioli commented, "it was nice to see open secrets being shared" among the wine makers.

Only wines made from 100% grown Virginia fruit are eligible for the Virginia's Governor's Cup and at the 2016 competition 38 of these wines were awarded Gold medals (they scored an average of 90-100 points). The twelve wines with the highest average score were identified as the "Governor's Cup Case". The wine with the highest overall score is the Governor's Cup Winner and in 2016 that honor went to the Keswick Vineyards 2014 Cabernet Franc Estate Reserve. Congratulations to winemaker Stephen Barnard and the Schornberg family.

Master of Wine Jay Youmans directed the competition judging and will present the wines during these educational forums.  What is readily apparent in both the case wines as well as the list of gold winning wines was the dominance of Cabernet Franc, the ascendancy of Petit Manseng, and the absence of Viognier -- the commonwealth's allegedly signature grape. Cabernet Franc is well suited to the Virginia environment, from it's clay soils, early ripening, and loose clusters and Youmans noted that almost all the case club reds were either 100% Cab Franc or included some percentage of the grape if a blended wine.

The winemakers who attended the forum were very enthusiastic about Petit Manseng. Like Cab Franc, the grape grows in loose clusters allowing moisture to evaporate before inducing rot. The small, thick skins also protect from our summer humidity. The downside is these small grapes produce small yields - although it appears Horton Vineyards coaxes a larger yield than other vineyards. Neil Glaser of Horton also recounted how their winery was the first in the United States to sell Petit Manseng in 1999 when the grape variety was not registered with the TTB as a grape name. Thus the winery labelled the wine as a place name until the following year when Jenny McCloud of Chrysalis Vineyards petitioned to have the grape name added to the official registrar.

Since Petit Manseng can be produced in a range of styles from dry to semi-dry to a dessert wine, the winemakers discussed the difficulty in marketing the wine. For instance, the Michael Shaps 2014 Petit Manseng is completely dry whereas the Horton Vineyards 2014 Petit Manseng is made off dry, the more traditional style for this highly acidic grape. Youmans commented that unless Virginia winemaker's devise a labeling scheme the wine may encounter the same consumer confusion as Alsatian wines where the consumer has no idea of the wine's sweetness until the cork is pulled.

Virginia wine on theCompass
After tasting the dozen wines I was impressed with the breadth of quality from the older, more established wineries to the smaller or younger establishments. Stone Tower's first estate wine was impressive and a visit to relative newcomer Granite Heights must be planned. Bluestone has landed in the case club a couple times recently and demonstrates that as consumers we should not ignore the Shenandoah Valley. Also geographically, Loudoun County provided three of these wines and the Monticello region five. But cheers to all Virginia wine and the winemakers and vineyard workers who are making the industry successful.

Virginia's 2016 Governor's Cup Case Wines
Future Governor's Cup Case Educational Series

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