Virginia’s New “Commonwealth Quality Alliance” Evident in Governor’s Cup Results

Apr 29

There has been discussion in the Virginia wine industry for some years about implementing a quality alliance which would give wines passing an objective set of quality criteria the right to use a sticker to distinguish them in the marketplace from others. The goal would be to have those producers who want to associate themselves and Virginia wines with quality, pressure others in the industry to adopt the same standards, and collectively raise the quality of Virginia wine, while branding it with the concept of quality with consumers.

Last November the Virginia Wineries Association unveiled the “Commonwealth Quality Alliance” program at Veritas Vineyard & Winery. The CQA program – established to both reward and raise awareness of Virginia-grown wines – is now accepting all 100% Virginia-grown wines to be analyzed in an effort to raise the bar of Virginia wine quality and highlight the state’s elite wines.

“Despite being the oldest grape-growing region in the United States, the modern-day wine industry in Virginia still has a lot of growing to do,” says Laurie Aldrich, Director of the Virginia Wineries Association. “The Commonwealth Quality Alliance is the VWA’s way to help increase Virginia wine production and consumption, enhance its national and international reputation, and perhaps most importantly, to continue to improve the overall quality of Virginia wines.”

Self-regulated quality alliances are models for how the setting of minimal objective quality standards, and a branding of local wine industries with quality, can improve the public image of these regions as well as average wine quality. Examples include Washington, Oregon, New York, Canada, Argentina, Ohio and South Africa. Accordingly, following their successful examples, the Virginia wine industry has implemented the Commonwealth Quality Alliance.

In order to obtain approval by the Commonwealth Quality Alliance program, a Virginia wine must undergo the following steps of analysis:

A juice sample that will analyze the Brix of grapes

  • A laboratory analysis of the ready-to-bottle or bottled wine
  • A sensory panel evaluation of the ready-to-bottle of bottled wine

Currently, 19 Virginia wineries have produced wines that have been analyzed and approved by the Commonwealth Quality Alliance. To view a list of these approved wines and to learn more about how to become a part of the CQA, visit

“The Proof is in the Pudding”: CQA Wines Win Medals at Governor’s Cup

Commonwealth Quality Alliance (CQA) certified wines won 14 silver and bronze medals (seven of each) this past February at the Virginia Wineries Association’s Annual Governor’s Cup Gala. All 14 of the competition’s CQA-approved wines that were entered took home medals. The Governor’s Cup is judged each year by fifteen of the industry’s leading sommeliers, wine educators and wine experts, all of whom judge the Virginia wines on appearance, aroma, flavor, overall quality and commercial suitability. The average wine score, which ranks the wine on the 0-100 Wine Spectator scale, is used to then determine if the given wine qualifies for a medal.

The 14 CQA-approved wines that were awarded medals at the 2013 Governor’s Cup Gala had already undergone a strict quality test and approval process as part of the CQA membership. The CQA, which was unveiled last November by the Virginia Wineries Association, was established to reward and promote awareness for Virginia-grown wines. The program aims to continue the advancement of Virginia wines so as to meet international standards, increase production and consumption, and improve the overall reputation and quality of Virginia wine. With the medals that were received by all 14 CQA-approved wines at this year’s Governor’s Cup, it’s clear that the program is headed in the right direction.

Winning CQA-Approved Wines – Governor’s Cup Gala 2013

Chatham Vineyards Church Creek Vintners Blend      Bronze

Fox Meadow Winery – 2009 Le Renard Rouge             Bronze

Fox Meadow Winery – 2009 Cabernet Franc Reserve Bronze

Molliver Vineyards & Winery – Vidal Blanc                   Bronze

Rockbridge Vineyards – V’dOr 2010                                Bronze

Rockbridge Vineyards – 2008 Meritage                          Silver

Rockbridge Vineyards – 2008 Merlot                              Silver

Narmada 2010 Tannat:                                                     Silver

Narmada 2009 Cabernet Franc Reserve                        Silver

Narmada 2011 Viognier                                                    Bronze

Narmada 2010 Yash-Vir                                                   Bronze

Rosemont of Virginia 2010 Merlot                                  Silver

Rosemont of Virginia 2010 Cabernet Franc                  Silver

Rosemont of Virginia 2010 Kilravock                            Silver


To submit a wine or learn more about becoming a member of the CQA, visit


About The Virginia Wineries Association

The Virginia Wineries Association has served Virginia Farm Wineries since 1983. VWA is a non-profit trade association that acts on the behalf of the wine industry. The VWA promotes viticulture and vintner practices, provides a multitude of wine resources and benefits to its members. The wineries association hosts Vintage Virginia and supports the Virginia Wine Expo and other wine tasting events. In addition, VWA hosts wines awards such as the Governor’s cup.

Boxwood Estate Winery Featured in Jancis Robinson’s “American Wine”

Apr 24

Jancis Robinson is the world-renown British wine critic, journalist and editor of wine literature describes in her book American Wine: The Ultimate Companion to the Wines and Wineries of the United States, Boxwood Estate Winery is a “Superstar in the Northern Virginia Region Snapshot…With Bordeaux consultant Stéphane Derenoncourt advising, Boxwood produces two exceptional red wines: Boxwood, a Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant blend, and Topiary, a Cabernet Franc-Merlot wine.”

She also writes about the only current Northern Virginia AVA; Middleburg, VA AVA.  “In 2009, Boxwood Estate Winery in Middleburg did just that, proposing a Middleburg AVA that would comprise 198 square miles in and around the towns of Middleburg, Purcellville, and Delaplane in Loudoun and Fauquier counties, known for horse husbandry, fox hunts, and high-level equestrian training. Boxwood’s marketing-savvy executive vice president, Rachel Martin, submitted the AVA petition” At the time of printing, the Middleburg AVA had not yet been approved; however this was accomplished in September 2012.

For more information on Boxwood Winery, visit

Michael Shaps Double Header, Ingleside’s Barrel Tasting on 4/20

Apr 22

I had the pleasure of tasting through the product lines of the esteemed and well-established Ingleside Plantation Vineyards in Oak Grove on the Northern Neck AVA, and the Virginia Wineworks (home of Michael Shaps wines), the latter in the company of the distinguished Lindsey Parris of Alexandria, he having recently earned a Diploma in the advanced WSET program.

There were two sets of wines that stood out for me at Virginia Wineworks, despite the merits of the others. The first two were both of the top Michael Shaps label, both of the fine 2010 vintage, and both having earned high marks in the 2013 Virginia Governor’s Cup wine competition. These were the Michael Shaps Chardonnay Wild Meadow Vineyard, and the Michael Shaps Cabernet Franc Red Hill Vineyard.

The Wild Meadow Vineyard chardonnay (in Loudoun County) consistently produces a high-acid, green apple Burgundian style, accentuated by lots of lees stirring and native yeast fermentation. Despite the fact that chardonnay is Virginia’s most planted commercial grape, there were very few top awards for that grape in the 2013 Governor’s Cup, but this wine shows what it takes to earn that accolade. Flinty, smoky, loads of minerality and rich mouthfeel without any new oak, the viscosity is balanced by lively long lingering citrus and green apple acidity. Eat your heart out, California. Even at two and a half years, it has the rest of the decade ahead of it; a classic.

The Red Hill Vineyard cabernet franc (Albemarle County) is an amazing concentration of the best varietal components of Virginia cabernet franc; black cherry and pencil lead, and vibrant acidity uncluttered by new oak. This wine is only just coming into its own and can last until 2020. For anyone who is either a fan of fine Loire Valley Chinon or Virginia cabernet franc, this is the model by which they should both be judged. Powerful but not heavy. And for those who gave up Virginia cabernet franc a couple of decades ago, this will change your mind!


To be fair to Virginia Wineworks, I was equally impressed with their new box wines, for the quality they deliver at (substantially less) in price. The Bag-in-the-box format (Wineworks was the first Virginia winery to adopt the format) is a win/win: it costs much less in packaging for the winery, when you open it, no oxygen penetrates the bag and it remains in a vacuum seal; it saves space in the fridge, and the kicker is, per ounce, the wine is half what it would be in a standard glass bottle.

I had already tasted the 2009 viognier and cabernet franc that Wineworks had released in this format two years ago, and was impressed for the price ($39 for a 3 L box, or four 750 ml bottles). The new box wines are a spring green labeled white wine (which actually tastes like the color green), a 2011 red blend (hey, it’s actually good!) and a 2011 rose (untasted).

The new 2012 white is a fun blend of petit manseng, viognier, chardonnay, and traminette. It’s fresh, fruity (but not too much) with lively acidity, tastes like spring green, and reminds me most of semi-dry Austrian white blends. Great for spring and summer, solo or with food.

The 2011 red was MUCH better than I expected from the crummy quality of that vintage. It smelled and tasted like fresh raspberries, bright and lively and clean, much like a Beaujolais, and considering we’re coming back into warm weather, this is the PERFECT red for summertime, esp. chilled or served with a little soda water in late afternoon.

I admire an operation that gives you great wines for the money both at the top and at the entry level of their product line.

Going back to Ingleside’s barrel tasting Saturday:

Driving east on Rt. 3 into King George County east of Fredericksburg on down the Northern Neck, is a lot like driving on the Eastern Shore, only sideways (east/west). You rapidly leave I-95 and over-developed Fredericksburg behind, and after about 20 or 30 miles, wonder why you haven’t driven into the Potomac yet, but then are grateful to find someplace so close to No.VA and yet so far away….

The two whites at the barrel tasting were both 2012 tank samples: the viognier and the chardonnay. Apparently rot has been a problem with the viognier, and after a hard hit in the vineyard and a re-planting, this is the first varietal release in at least half a decade.

Ingleside Vineyards 2012 Viognier (not yet bottled): Great nose of citrus, orange blossom, vibrant peach. On the palate: rich, round, fine peach and red apple, ripe orange flavors, solid and plump mid-palate, but with balanced acidity.

Ingleside Vineyards 2012 Chardonnay (not yet bottled): served from a carboy, cloudy as with apple cider from lees (yeast cells). Was aged for a time in neutral oak, a hint of butterscotch confirms this. Nicely balanced between fruit, lees, and acidity.

Ingleside Vineyards Petit Verdot 2010: (not yet bottled)a spicy oak nose (blend of U.S., Hungarian and French cooperage). Nose is still closed, but POW! on the palate, a huge punchy hit of spice, rich black fruits and long tannins. Fine, subtle flavors, fresh finish. AVailable soon.

Ingleside Vineyards Petit Verdot 2012: (not yet bottled): Forward, fresh boysenberry/blueberry fruit, lots of unintegrated oak in the background. Great purity of fruit, needs time but very promising.

Grace Estate Winery (Mt. Juliet Farm) Opens to Public Today near White Hall

Apr 18

Grace Estate Winery, formerly Mt. Juliet Vineyards which sold high quality fruit to wineries around the state, will open today as a bonded Virginia winery. Under the direction of Jake Busching, formerly of Pollak Vineyards in nearby Afton, the winery will offer 100% estate-grown wines.

Located on Rt. 810 just south of White Hall on the road towards Crozet, Grace Estate Winery had under previous management built a reputation for its high-quality fruit from the 60-acre Mt. Juliet Vineyard which was sold state-wide and which was often referenced as the vineyard source on various winery labels.

Busching says he is proud of having built his professional reputation in the Monticello AVA and wants to support his colleagues in the area by dedicating whatever fruit he does not use for Grace Estate wines to be made available exclusively to other wineries in the Monticello AVA.

Wines on offer at the opening will include a 2012 viognier, the white “Three” blend, a collaborative effort with colleagues Matthieu Finot and Emily Pelton, featuring a blend of petit manseng, chardonnay and viognier; a 2011 tannat, a 2010 cabernet sauvignon, and a fun white blend called “Le Gras Cuvee”, 2010.

The tasting room is in an enclosed extension off the winery, a converted barn, keeping the atmosphere understated. Aside from the breathtaking views of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the north and the vineyards below, the winery boasts the most unique design feature I’ve seen yet: an empty dairy farm silo with gravel on the floor, three benches, and open sky at the top, a very relaxing zen atmosphere of empty/full.

The estate has a Tuscan villa where private events and weddings will be held. The tasting room will be open Thursday-Sunday from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. For more information, visit or call 434-823-5014.

Tasting Notes: Grace Estate Winery 4/18/13 (incomplete). All wines estate bottled.

2012 Viognier, Monticello

Nose: orange blossom, with solid orange/citrus fruits on the palate: orange, tangerine, kumquat. Bright, fresh, long finish with clean minerality. Not too heavy on the palate or perfumed on the nose, and with crisp acidity; a real winner.

2012 “3” (white) petit manseng, viognier, chardonnay.

A collaborative blend between three Monticello winemakers (Emily Pelton, Matthieu Finot and Jake Busching), this is the second year of a white version of the meritage blend they started in the 2009 vintage. The wine is complex and elegant, still young and evolving. There is impressive balance of fruit and texture, medium weight, good depth of flavor and texture and a fine fresh finish. Stylish, this wine will come together and really rock by late summer.

Le Gras Cuvee 2010

An eclectic blend begun by previous winemakers and finished by Busching, this is a big, fun and juicy wine with lots of fruit, moderate oak and a hefty palate weight from lees stirring. It is also a blend of chardonnay, viognier and petit manseng. On the palate, it is round, smooth, juicy and easy to quaff; a great sipping wine but versatile for a lot of foods as well.

Tannat 2011:for the lousy quality of the vintage, an impressive red wine. Attractive dark ruby color followed by intriguing aromas; clean earth, black fruits and toasty oak. On the palate, dark and earthy but surprisingly light tannins, drinks more like a cabernet franc. No green veggies, a great warm weather red.

Cabernet Sauvignon 2010: Nose: smoky/oaky, but palate is very different, much fruitier and fresher. Ripe cassis fruit, juicy, lively and clean fresh finish, fun and quaffable.

Richard Leahy Interviewed for Television on “The Bookman’s Corner” by Lois Lindstrom

Apr 17

On April 16th, Arlington Independent Media (Channel 69) aired this week’s edition of “The Bookman’s Corner”, with current host Lois Lindstrom, interviewing this author, Richard Leahy, about his new book on Virginia wine, Beyond Jefferson’s Vines.

Lindstrom, who co-hosted a cable TV show, “Metropolitan Magazine” on Channel 10, a public affairs program reaching viewers in Fairfax County, Virginia, in the early 1990’s.  She wrote a book titled: “Memoirs of a Swedish Nurse: A Life of Adventure, A Journey to Spirituality” and she is currently a freelance writer in Virginia.

To see the interview live on Channel 69’s website, click on