2023 Virginia Governor’s Cup Recap

At the conclusion of a packed gala, Governor Glen Youngkin awarded Delfosse Vineyards and Winery the 2023 Virginia Governor’s Cup for its 2021 Screaming Hawk Meritage (50% Petit Verdot/30% Cabernet Sauvignon/10% Cabernet Franc/10% Malbec).

Located in the town of Faber, Delfosse (aka Mountain & Vine) is a good 30-minute drive from Charlottesville and part of the Nelson 29 Wine Trail. It’s a beautiful location, and I’ve long thought Delfosse has done an especially great job with their red blends.

The Screaming Hawk’s dominant component is Petit Verdot. While this grape does great in Virginia as a single-varietal wine, it’s becoming just as popular as the star component of red blends instead of its traditional place as a blending background singer. Over the past decade PV has largely supplanted Cabernet Sauvignon as the variety winemakers rely upon to contribute tannin and body.

2023 Virginia Governor’s Case

  1. Delfosse Vineyards and Winery, 2021 Screaming Hawk Meritage (Cup Winner) (50% Petit Verdot/30% Cab Sauv/10% Cab Franc/10% Malbec)
  2. 50 West Vineyards, 2020 Petit Manseng
  3. Barboursville Vineyards, 2021 Vermentino Reserve
  4. Barren Ridge Vineyards, 2017 Petit Verdot
  5. Jefferson Vineyards, 2021 Petit Manseng
  6. Jefferson Vineyards, 2019 Meritage (45% Merlot/40% Petit Verdot/12% Cab Franc/3% Malbec)
  7. Mountain Run Winery, 2021 Petit Verdot
  8. Paradise Springs Winery, 2021 Petit Verdot
  9. Pollak Vineyards, 2017 Meritage (60% Cabernet Franc/24% Merlot/16% Petit Verdot)
  10. Trump Winery, 2019 New World Reserve (45% Merlot/30% Cabernet Franc/15% Petit Verdot/10% Malbec)
  11. Trump Winery, 2016 Blanc de Noir
  12. Williamsburg Winery, 2019 Petit Verdot Reserve

Albemarle CiderWork’s Orchard Blush, their first cider rosé, took the prize for top cider.

This year’s Governor’s Case focused on varieties which perform exceptionally well in Virginia, especially Petit Verdot (4 entries) and Petit Manseng (2 entries). Around the world these grapes barely get noticed, but they are leaders in Virginia. Notably, all four of the Case’s red blends (from Delfosse, Jefferson, Pollock, and Trump) have at least some PV.

In fact, only 2 wines in the Case didn’t use a grape named ‘Petit’: Barboursville’s Vermentino Reserve and Trump Winery’s Blanc de Noir. The Vermentino made its sixth entry into the Case over the past seven years. Trump winemaker Jonathan Wheeler contributed his third consecutive sparking to the Case in as many years.

Looking outside the Case, this year saw a record 142 Gold Medals spread amongst 614 entries. Half the medals went to red blends (29), Petit Verdot (24), Cabernet Franc (17) and Petit Manseng (11).

Initial Take-Aways

1. Hidden Gems Win Big – Delfosse, Mountain Run, and Altillo: I’m happy to see smaller, sometimes more out-of-the-way wineries get recognized for the great things they do.

Delfosse scored their first Governor’s Cup win. It shouldn’t be a surprise; they’ve earned 6 Gold medals at the Cup in 3 years; 3 of them in 2023 alone. It’s the definition of an ‘underrated’ winery.

Mountain Run also had a big night. Located just outside Culpeper, I believe this was their first-time submitting wines in the Cup. They did fantastic for their first Cup rodeo, scoring 3 Golds and a place in the Governor’s Case for their Petit Verdot.

While the wine is under Mountain Run’s label, the PV that went into the Case was actually produced by Eric Schenkel of Altillo Vineyards in southern Virginia.

Altillo sells fruit and makes many of Mountain Run’s wines (as well as other wineries), in addition to their own estate wine. Few wineries are as off the ‘beaten path’ as this one is.

If there’s a “Lesson Learned” here its winery-lovers need to explore more, or they’ll miss great wineries like these three. It’s all too easy to stick to better known wine trails in Charlottesville and Loudoun or stick with famous producers like Michael Shaps or Mattieu Finot.

But for all their fame, few ‘big names’ wineries that are perineal contenders got into the Governor’s Case. So take a chance to get out to smaller places; Virginia is full of ‘hidden gems’ like these.

2. Petit Verdot For the Win: If there’s a grape that dominated this year’s competition, it’s Petit Verdot. Full Petit Verdot wines took 24 Golds this year, almost as many (25) as the past 4 Governor’s Cup competitions combined. 4 of these wines went into the Case; another record high.

PV was a component of the Case’s 4 red blends as well. The winning Delfosse 2021 Screaming Hawk was made with 50% PV. The other three bottles contained anywhere from 15%-40% PV.

This grape’s popularity has exploded over the past decade. In 2021 Virginia had 173 acres in the ground, but as of 2021 with 445 acres it is now easily the 3rd most planted grape in the state (after Cab Franc and Chardonnay).

3. Petit Manseng is the Cup’s ‘Runner Up’ Grape: 11 PMs took Gold; 2 of these went on to places in the Case. Both were new records.

Much like Petit Verdot, Petit Manseng is a grape that thrives in Virginia’s terroir. With thick skin and loose clusters, Petit Manseng don’t mind the state’s humid weather. A decade ago there was only 68 acres in the state. But as of 2021 that number grew a whopping 161%, making it the 9th most planted variety in Virginia.

Honorable Mentions:

1. Hybrid Grapes: No case entries (yet), but table wines made with hybrid grapes had a banner year.

Chambourcin and Vidal earned three Golds each, and Chardonel took home another Gold. The count is higher if you include dessert and sparkling wines made with hybrid grapes.

Hybrids rarely get a lot of love in major competitions, but I’m hopeful this will change over time. Not only are wine drinkers becoming more accepting of hybrid grapes, but winemakers are also willing to treat them with the same dedication they show vinifera.

2. Diversity of Grapes & Styles: Rosemont Vineyards & Walsh Family: I was really happy to see some favorites of mine get recognized, especially for wines/styles that are new to the Cup.

Walsh’s Chenin Blanc is the first wine of this variety to earn Gold at the Cup. Rosemont’s Chambourcin-based Sparking Extra Brut Sparkling Rosé also took Gold.

I mention these wineries not just because they are great, but they demonstrate the breadth of grapes and styles Virginia has the capacity to produce. I’d never heard of Chenin in Virginia until a few years ago. Now, 5-6 wineries offer one.

Sparkling wine has likewise taken off in the state. While producers including Trump, Veritas, and Thibaut-Janisson produce excellent Methode Champenoise-style wines, the ease of producing Pét-nat and Charmat-style wines has made these styles popular with smaller producers.

3. Cabernet Franc: No Case entries, but 17 Golds isn’t bad. It’s the most planted grape in Virginia for a reason.

4. Gold…Lots of Gold: 142 Gold Medals was a new record. Judges emphasized how every year the quality of the entries has improved.

King Family rocked with 7 Gold medals, Paradise Springs took home 6 Gold (and winemaker Rob Cox made 2 Gold-winning wines for Williams Gap), Pollock and Trump both earned 5 (and spots in the Governor’s Case), and Michael Shaps won a boatload of Golds.

Just as importantly, smaller wineries also got due recognition, including (but not limited to) Narmada (4), Bluestone (3), Delfosse (3), and Mountain Run (3) bringing home major hauls.

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