Glen Manor “Hodder Hill” 2009 Red Wins 2012 Governor’s Cup, First Lady Maureen McDonnell Named Wine Person of the Year

Feb 23

Governor McDonnell, Jeff White and First Lady Maureen McDonnell

“Governor’s Case” Top 12 Winners from Governor’s Cup 2012 Also Announced in Richmond

At a gala event at the Marriott in downtown Richmond Thursday February 23rd, the top twelve winners of the 2012 Virginia Governor’s Cup Competition were announced. Presiding were Governor Bob McDonnell and First Lady Maureen McDonnell along with Agriculture Secretary Todd Haymore, Annette Boyd of the Virginia Wine Marketing Office, Competition Chair Jay Youmans MW, and the winery owners of some 20 Virginia wineries, including the top 12 winners which contained the finalist Cup winner.

Those finalists were:

Bluestone 2010 cabernet sauvignon

DelFosse 2007 Meritage

  Glen Manor 2009 Hodder Hill (red Bordeaux blend)

  Jefferson  2010 cabernet franc

  Keswick 2009 cabernet sauvignon reserve

  Keswick 2010 merlot

King Family 2008 meritage

  Potomac Point 2009 Heritage richland reserve (red Bordeaux blend)

  Tarara Winery 2010 Honah Lee white

Trump Winery 2008 SP Blanc de Blancs

 Veritas 2010 vintner’s reserve (red Bordeaux blend)

 White Hall 2010 gewurztraminer

The Virginia Governor’s Cup competition has undergone a significant metamorphosis this year under the chairmanship of Jay Youmans, a Master of Wine based in suburban Washington.

Youmans explains that the Virginia Wineries Association laid down its conditions for the event. There were two rounds; an intial elimination round, in which over 420 wines were tasted by six judges and given scores resulting in either no medal, bronze, silver or gold medals. The second round a week later took the top 120 wines determined by judge point scores, and eliminated 90%, resulting in the final 12 or “Governor’s Case.”

In the final round, some 15 esteemed judges, including two Masters of Wine, judged each wine and their marks were tabulated to determine the final 10%. For wineries to learn from the judges, the VWA decided to photocopy each judge score sheet where comments were encouraged, and give them back to the wineries (concealing the identities of the judges). Hopefully, this will give highly informed, blind and professional comments on quality that winemakers can learn from and improve in the future.

From the field of 12, the Glen Manor Hodder Hill edged out the others, based on total points awarded by the judges. Winemaker and proprietor Jeff White thanked the industry, his family and those who had built the industry paving the way for people today to learn from their example.

While 2009 was a challenging vintage for Virginia reds compared to 2007, 2008 or 2010, the finalist case showed several examples of exemplary red wines from that vintage, proving that in challenging conditions Virginia vintners could still make world-class red wines.

Jeff’s wife Kelly served me the winning Hodder Hill, a meritage-style blend. I was first struck by the color, very dark and dense for an ’09 red, which she explained was due to fruit concentration due to vineyard selection and dropping unripe fruit. The wine was young, but richly concentrated with damson plum and spice notes, firm acidity and a surprisingly long finish. Altogether it reminded me of a premier or grand cru Burgundy, due to its acidity, delicate but firm fruit, high acid and most of all, the length of the finish, more than of a Bordeaux-style wine. I trust the winemaker will take this as a compliment. This, along with the other top 2009 reds, will need at least 2 more years of aging to come together completely, and this one can last 15 years.

Aside from wines, people were also recognized at the awards ceremony. Chris Breiner, owner of Stone Mountain Vineyards and longtime official of the Virginia Wineries Association, was recognized in a moment of silence, having passed away on February 14th. The Wine Person of the Year Award was presented by Gordon Murchie to First Lady Maureen McDonnell in recognition of her personal dedication to the Virginia wine industry through her FLITE tours bringing restaurateurs and retailers to Virginia wineries to convince them to carry more of their products. She has also followed the lead of Acte Twelve of 1619 by the Jamestown Assembly that compelled male household heads to plant 20 grapevines apiece; last year she planted chambourcin vines at the Governor’s Mansion in Richmond.

Ann Heidig of Lake Anna Winery was awarded the Gordon Murchie Lifetime Achievement Award for her many years of service as president of the VA Wineries Association, but also for her many efforts with WineAmerica and the National Grape and Wine Initiative to lobby for inclusion of the grape and wine industry for federal agricultural support, which have now been realized in the Specialty Crop Research Initiative grants and Specialty Crop Block Grants.

Delegate T. Scott Garrett was presented with the Legislator of the Year Award for his support of the 2011 Governor’s Winery and Vineyard Expansion Tax Credit.

Complete results of the 2012 Governor’s Cup Competition can be found online at





Winery Profile: North Gate Vineyard, Purcelleville and 8 Chains North, Waterford

Feb 23

Saturday February 19th I visited the small but consistently impressive North Gate Vineyards in the heart of Loudoun County wine country, on Rt. 690 just south of Rt. 9.

The first thing you see driving into the winery is a south-facing roof completely lined with solar panels; the winery has a gold level LEED (leadership in environmental and energy design) certification. I was fortunate to be invited to attend a wine club event where members tasted the newly released 2010 cabernet franc and chambourcin wines; brilliantly matched with fine finger foods.

The chambourcin was much more forward and ready to drink.  Owner/winemaker Mark Fedor explained that when they made a rose from the chambourcin, they added the skins from which the wine was taken back into the chambourcin juice later pressed for red wine, concentrating color, aromatics and flavor. Opaque, the wine has a rich spicy fruitiness reminiscent of a Duoro still wine with port-like spiciness. The palate is deep with full, round, rich and firm fruitiness. Finished at 1.5% residual sugar, I would have preferred the wine dry, but you hardly notice the sweetness with the depth of fruit. An outstanding example of varietal chambourcin.

The cabernet franc, not quite as dark, was more closed at this point, with a subtle nose of plum, cherries and black raspberries. On the palate, it is smooth and plump with lots of cherries and plum with good fruit/acid balance. The wine has finesse but needs more time.

In the tasting room, the 2010 viognier which won a gold medal in the Governor’s Cup last year was gone, but I was pleasantly surprised by the 2010 barrel fermented chardonnay. It has aromas of bright lemon/citrus, with a juicy palate but with firm acidity balancing the forward fruit, oak and yeast elements; fresh and stylish.

Another surprise was the dry 2010 petit manseng. Due to its tropical fruit aromas and flavors, and high acid, most wineries finish it slightly sweet to dessert style; this is a rare exception (14.5% alc.) The nose was full of grapefruit and rind/zest aromas. On the palate, the wine was juicy, with alcohol clearly high, but finishing with firm acidity. As a dry, pungent wine, it’s most similar to a Marlborough style New Zealand sauvignon blanc, but with a twist all its own. It will be a fun, original and brilliant pairing with foods like Indian, Asian and fusion cuisine, especially with mango, cilantro or basil seasoning.

Although the 2010 cabernet franc is promising but young, the 2009 cabernet franc is a completely different style, but equally worthwhile. Despite a difficult vintage for red wines, this wine is clean and shows fine varietal character, but is mature now and ready to drink. The nose shows cherry, earth and vanilla/oak elements nicely balanced. On the palate, like flavors are well-integrated, and the wine has an elegant Right Bank Bordeaux style; enjoy while  you’re waiting for the 2010 to come around.

A fine complement to the ’09 franc was the 2009 merlot, also an elegant Right Bank style. Dark ruby in color, the nose reveals earth, crushed blackberries, sage and thyme. On the palate, the texture is deep and smooth with supple black fruits and fine tannins; drinking well now but will age a couple of years. Superior to most ’09 merlots.

The ’09 meritage (45% cabernet franc, 35% cabernet sauvignon, and 10% each petit verdot and merlot) is much like the ’09 merlot and cab franc but with more dimension and finesse. The nose reveals lively black fruits and some pepper. On the palate, the wine is juicy, supple and smooth, with lots of black cherry and a fine mocha finish. Very stylish, you could drink it now but it would be ideal from November on.

North Gate also makes an apple wine, which is nicely spicy in a natural way, with very good fruit/acid balance, and not too sweet.

I was pleased to see North Gate offers reasonably priced foods (especially local cheeses and hot baguettes) to fortify the intrepid wine taster on the trail, and I enjoyed their cheese sampler of four different cheeses with a baguette, chatting with Debbie, a wine club member who is a regular. I arrived about 1:30 when the winery was almost empty; I left at 4 p.m. when it was full of smiling people and the sounds of many people enjoying themselves.

Leaving North Gate, I drove north on Rt. 690 then turned right on Rt. 9 which is becoming a small-scale Virginia version of Rt. 29 in Napa Valley; every hundred yards or so you see a different winery.

A couple of miles down the road I turned right and drove through a farm to reach 8 Chains North, a new winery that like North Gate was doing a brisk business with affluent Northern Virginians happy to enjoy themselves away (but not too far) from suburbia.

8 Chains North does a better job making reds than whites at this time. The reds are very good however, and malbec plays an important role as a blending grape in their red Bordeaux varietals and blends.

Right now, tasters have a rare opportunity to have a vertical comparison tasting of merlot (’08 vs. ’09) and their Furnace Mountain Red (meritage-style blend) in ’08 vs. ’09 vs. reserve ’09, and these comparisons are worth the visit alone. You get a good sense of wine quality and how the vintage influences the flavor and style of the wine.

The 2008 merlot (80% merlot, 10% malbec, 5% petit verdot and cabernet sauvignon) has a nose that is earthy, robust and rustic but clean (no funk/brett). On the palate, the wine is lively and rich, with some spice, and a bit of bittersweet chocolate on the finish. It is more full-bodied than most merlots thanks to the other grapes. A complex wine with some fine minerality, it is a fine example of the 2008 vintage. While drinking well, it’s still evolving and is worth buying if you’re out of 2008 Virginia reds.

The 2009 merlot (90% merlot, 10% malbec) is very different, with a light, lively and vibrant nose with raspberry and mineral notes. On the palate, it is smooth and juicy but with lively red cherry/berry fruit, round mid-palate but firm acid. Still young, it needs two more years to mature completely but will make a fine warmer weather red wine.

A departure from the red Bordeaux theme is their ’09 Otium dornfelder. The grapes were purchased from a neighboring vineyard specializing in German varieties; this was blended with 10% malbec and 15% merlot. Very dark purple in color, the nose is thick and earthy with some boysenberry fruit. On the palate, it is round and smooth but a bit funky.

I loved the three way comparison of the Furnace Mountain Red blends. The first, 2008 vintage, is a blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, petit verdot, malbec and syrah. The nose is an intriguing blend of meat, minerals, black cherry and roasted plums. On the palate, there is rich chocolate-cherry and mineral/slate with fine acidity. Drinking well, it will improve another two years.

The 2009 Furnace Mountain Red is very different, with a delicate but nervy nose like a fine pinot noir; black raspberries and violets. On the palate, it has loads of berry/cherry fruit and is clean and vibrant. A lightet red, fine for warmer weather drinking but worth laying down for 2+ years.

The 2009 reserve was the same blended base wine aged another year in barrel. The nose was much less forwardly fruity than the regular ’09, with a hint of clean earth. On the palate, the wine is round, rich and layered, a very different texture from the crisp ’09 regular. The acidity comes through in the finish, but the oak adds more depth without obnoxious vanilla flavors or tongue-coating lactones. This is a fine wine for meat or dark chocolate, and is mellow and rich enough to sip on its own.

Usually it’s not hard for me to prefer one of two wines. I couldn’t call a favorite in either of these two vertical tastings; all the wines were excellent examples of their style and vintage, and I can only urge fans of fine Virginia reds to try these comparative tastings at 8 Chains North for themselves.

Two Virginians Win Top AWS Awards

Feb 23

Gordon Murchie and Dave Barber, both Virginians, won two of the top awards from the American Wine Society in their annual awards ceremony at their annual convention in Rochester.

Gordon Murchie, long of the Vinifera Winegrowers Association, head of the Atlantic Seaboard Wine Association, and wine writer and lecturer, was given the annual Award of Merit, the society’s highest honor. Murchie was presented the award at the annual meeting of the AWS last November for his decades of work improving the regulatory environment for the wine industry and protecting public access to wine. He helped lay the groundwork for the bipartisan U.S. Congressional Wine Caucus, and was head of the Virginia Wineries Association and the National Wine Coalition.

“Being recognized for something I love doing, promoting the appreciation, history and culture of American wine, is truly an honor,” Murchie said.

At the National Conference, Dave Barber was named the AWS 2011 Outstanding Member. According to the AWS, Dave joined the AWS in 1979 and has served as Chapter Chair of the Philadelphia and Northern Virginia groups. He coordinated the 1989 Amateur Wine Competition and served as Virginia Regional Vice President for eight years. He graduated from the Wine Judge Certification Program (WJCP) in 1988 and has been an instructor in the program since 1990. He chaired the WJCP for 10 years, raising the program standards
and maintaining a rigorous curriculum. Because of his efforts, the AWS achieved a reputation for qualified wine judges and reputable wine competitions.

“One thing that I really admire in the American Wine Society is that we are a volunteer organization. In order for this type of organization to be successful in its operations, it is essential to use its core volunteers to their fullest. But then, the AWS doesn’t just work with a core of volunteers…. It requires all of its members to step up and help out where necessary. Think about this as you return to your home chapters, and even come back to future Conferences. Don’t just sit there and wait for someone else to do what needs to be done…stand up, pitch in and help the cause,” said Barber at his acceptance speech.

For more information on the American Wine Society, visit

VWG-Online© Goes Independent On March 1

Feb 22

Amissville, VA: VWG-Online, the online wine magazine formerly affiliated with the Virginia Wine Gazette, becomes
independent as of March 1, 2012. With a new name, VIRGINIA WINE GUIDE Online, the e-zine will continue to cover a full
range of stories on Virginia wines and wineries. The website address remains

Content strategist Mary Ann Dancisin says, “Weʼre planning an ambitious campaign to reach more Virginia wine fans in 2012. New social media strategy, more interactive romotions, a visible presence at key wine festivals and trade shows – these are some of the elements weʼll employ to become the go-to source for the latest news on wine and winery-related tourism in the Commonwealth.” VWG-Online is published by Effective Communication Solutions, LLC, Dancisinʼs wine marketing firm located in Rappahannock County.

The focus of the revamped online magazine will be “to match [the consumerʼs] own preferences with the group of wineries most likely to please,” as stated in the new entityʼs Facebook profile. VWG-Onlineʼs objective is to cover all segments of Virginiaʼs wine scene: the e-zine will provide readers a clear path to finding and enjoying the wines they will love most.

For more information, contact Mary Ann Dancisin at or 540.937.2804.

Stone Mountain’s Chris Breiner Dies; Praised by Colleagues and Customers

Feb 15

Chris BreinerDYKE, VA – Chris Breiner, Winemaker and Managing Partner at Stone Mountain Vineyards, died on February 14th, 2012. In addition to his work at the winery, he also managed the family law practice in Alexandria. An innovative winemaker with a wry wit, his tireless promotion of quality Virginia Wine led his peers to elect him as Vice President of the Virginia Wineries Association and as past Chairman of the Jeffersonian Grape Growing Society/Monticello Wine Trail. Well respected throughout the wine community, in 2009 he was selected as a Knight in the Brotherhood of the Knights of the Vine.

Dennis Horton, founder of Horton Vineyards and a long time friend said, “Chris was one of the good guys in the Virginia Wine industry. You knew where you stood with Chris and he always, always, did exactly what he said he would do. I will miss him tremendously.”

In a statement the Breiner family said, “Stone Mountain Vineyards is truly a testament to the vision and hard work Chris, and our late father Al, put into their collective dream. Both men had an abundant love of agriculture and of the land. They saw the vineyards and winery as a perfect vehicle to keep the rural mountain land preserved in productive agricultural production. The family remains committed to this shared family vision. The tasting room will reopen, as scheduled, on March 2nd and regular winery operations will continue; Chris would have wanted it no other way”.

Services and interment will be private.

As evidenced in the reader comments below, Breiner made a lasting personal impact on those who remember him and his wines and the contribution he made to the Virginia wine industry.