Muse Vineyards 2009 “Clio” Red Blend Wins 2015 VA Governor’s Cup

Feb 25

On Tuesday, February 24th, at a gala reception at the John Marshall Ballroom in Richmond, the annual Virginia Governor’s Cup Awards ceremony took place. Governor Terry McAuliffe announced the winner from the gold medal wines that placed in the Governor’s Case, which was the red Bordeaux blend “Clio” vintage 2009, made by a vineyard turned winery, Muse Vineyards, near Woodstock in the Shenandoah Valley. Clio is a roughly equal blend of the four Bordeaux varietals, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The proportions vary according to the year; the 2009 vintage had an even 25% of each varietal.

The 2009 vintage was not a fruit-forward style, but had firm and even severe acid for the first few years. However, for both reds and white wines, it has proved a classic vintage for Virginia, producing Governor’s Cup winners four of the last five years.

The winery proprietor is Robert Muse whose wife Sally Cowal is co-proprietor and director of sales and marketing. Tim Rausse, son of longtime Virginia winemaker Gabrielle Rausse, is winemaker. “I have had a romantic conception of vineyards at least since I was thirty. As a lawyer, I have had probably too much involvement with Congress and the executive agencies in Washington, D.C. to be the sunniest of optimists,” admits Robert on their very detailed website. “The idea of agriculture, the rural life, frankly seemed a lot cleaner. As with all start-up endeavors, we have been through some frustrating times at Muse Vineyards, but at the same time I cannot imagine many activities as intensely satisfying as winemaking.”

The 2009 Clio has an intriguing aroma of ripe but fresh black fruits with exotic spices like cardamom and coriander. On the palate the wine is smooth but lively with fine fresh acid in the finish. It drinks more like a 2010 or 2012 than a 2009, which speaks well of its aging capacity.

As a judge in the Governor’s Cup Competition, I remember the red Bordeaux blend category as being very competitive with many fines wines of different styles. Some were rich and smooth, some oaky and punchy, some light and fresh, others earthy and dark. This was a wine of finesse that was fruit-driven and surprisingly young and fresh; I was surprised to learn that the alcohol level was 14.5% because the firm fresh acid on the finish made it seem much lighter.

Other Gold Medal Wines in the 2015 Governor’s Cup Competition

Barboursville Vineyards 2012 Octagon
Barren Ridge Vineyards 2010 Meritage
Bluestone Vineyard, Inc 2010 Meritage
Catoctin Creek Winery 2012 Meritage
Cross Keys Vineyards 2013 Touriga
Delfosse Vineyards & Winery 2013 Petit Verdot
Fabbioli Cellars 2012 Tannat
Granite Heights Winery 2012 Petit Manseng
Hiddencroft Vineyards 2012 Petit Verdot
Ingleside Vineyards 2014 Albarino
Jefferson Vineyards 2012 Meritage
Jefferson Vineyards 2010 Meritage
Keswick Vineyards 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Reserve
King Family Vineyards 2012 Meritage
King Family Vineyards 2012 Petit Verdot
Michael Shaps Wineworks 2012 Raisin d’Etre White
Michael Shaps Wineworks 2012 Petit Verdot
Michael Shaps Wineworks 2012 Tannat
Muse Vineyards 2009 Meritage (Cup Winner)
Naked Mountain Winery 2010 Tannat
Narmada Winery 2010 Yash-Vir (meritage blend)
Narmada Winery 2010 Melange (meritage blend)
North Gate Vineyard 2012 Meritage
Paradise Springs Winery 2013 Chardonnay
Paradise Springs Winery 2012 Meritage
Pearmund Cellars, LLC 2013 Petit Manseng
Pollak Vineyards 2012 Meritage
Rockbridge Vineyard 2010 V d’Or
Sunset Hills Vineyard 2012 Reserve Cabernet Franc
Vint Hill Craft Winery 2012 Petit Verdot

Other Awards in the 2015 Governor’s Cup

Aside from wines, awards are given to individuals who make outstanding contributions to the Virginia wine industry at each Governor’s Cup gala.

Gordon Murchie Lifetime Achievement Award was presented by Murchie to Jim Law, winegrower of Linden Vineyards, now celebrating 30 years. In accepting the award, Law said, in his typically understated and modest way, “I consider this award an honor because it comes on the vineyard side. That’s where we need to focus as an industry.”

Virginia Wine Person of the Year Award was presented to Jay Youmans, MW who has coordinated the Virginia Governor’s Cup Wine Competition for the last few years and has raised the level of logistics and judging to make it a pre-eminent state wine competition featuring judges from across the country (including this writer) and Steven Spurrier, Decanter columnist and renowned wine taster. In accepting the award, Youmans thanked the volunteers and judges who had worked on the competition, as well as the VWA and Lindsey Parris, keeper of the database and confidentiality of results.

Legislator of the Year was John Watkins of Chesterfield.

In his brief remarks leading up to the presentation of the Governor’s Cup, Governor Terry McAuliffe pointed out that the U.S. Embassy in Beijing had served Barboursville’s Octagon during his trade visit there. “I need your help,” the Governor told the audience frankly. “We are tied with Texas for fifth place in American wine production.” [Boos from the audience] He proudly pointed out that for the first time, Virginia exports exceeded three billion dollars in 2014 and urged the planting of more vineyards in the Commonwealth.

 

Luca Paschina Receives High Italian Gov’t. Honor in Washington

Feb 17

Luca Paschina, General Manager of Barboursville Vineyards for the last quarter century, was formally presented with the honor of the Commendatore al Merito della Repubblica Italiana, by His Excellency The Italian Ambassador Claudio Bisogniero, with Virginia Governor Terry McAuliff attending, at 7pm Monday Feb. 16th, at the Hay Adams hotel in Washington, D.C.. Barboursville wines were served.

The formal presentation of this award (Order of Merit of the Italian Republic, with rank of Commander) this February follows the announcement last summer (7/31) that Paschina had been inducted into the Order. Originating in 1951, the Order of Merit is modern Italy’s recognition of the highest distinction in occupations which reflect honor upon the nation and the Italian people, in cultural pursuits, the economy, public service, the military, philanthropy or humanitarian activities.

Paschina’s longstanding work at Barboursville was cited for the impressive consistency of excellence in its wines, especially in the estate’s masterpiece, Octagon (the 2012 vintage was one of the 30 gold medal winners in the 2015 Governor’s Cup Competition); and being cited both by the James Beard Foundation and a leading industry periodical as one of the 25 most significant wine professionals in North America.

Paschina  credits his winemaker father and both sides of his family in his home province of Piemonte, his training at Italy’s leading wine academy, Istituto Umberto I, and the technical resources and passion of Italy’s largest family wine growing enterprise, Casa Vinicola Zonin, for their inspiration and support. “I am fortunate to have been chosen at exactly the right time in my career and in viticultural history, to pursue this endeavor in Virginia. Placed in a growing region with no precedents and no rules for success, beyond the traditions I inherited, my colleagues and I were free to create a new and exemplary image of our heritage.”

Interviewed by members of the Circle of Wine Writers when they visited Barboursville Vineyards in November 2014, Paschina was both forthright and modest about the long and continuing struggle to make quality wine in a new yet unpredictable wine region, and gives credit to estate vineyard manager Fernando Franco since he acknowledges that without quality fruit, quality wine is impossible. He also acknowledges, like Jim Law, another leading Virginia winegrower, that he is always learning and adjusting to what Virginia presents him to work with.

30 Virginia Wines Win Gold in 2014 Governor’s Cup

Feb 11

The Virginia Wineries Association has announced the identity and number of wines that were awarded gold medals at the Governor’s Cup Wine Competition which concluded in Richmond a week ago. Almost 10% of the entrants won gold medals, especially in dry reds with the meritage (red Bordeaux blend) taking 12 alone, by far the most of any one category. Four whites won medals and one white dessert wine.

As predicted in last week’s column here, petit verdot and tannat dominated red varietal gold medals with 8 between them. The 2010 Keswick Vineyards cabernet sauvignon estate reserve, the Cross Keys touriga, and the Sunset Hills 2012 cabernet franc reserve were the only other varietal reds winning gold medals in this year’s competition.

Several wineries had multiple gold medals. For the second time (first was in 2013), Michael Shaps Wines (formerly Virginia Wineworks) took three gold medals (2012 petit manseng/ viognier “Raisin d’Etre” white, 2012 tannat and 2012 petit verdot). Wineries with two gold medals included Jefferson (2010 and 2012 meritage), King Family 2012 meritage and petit verdot, Narmada with two versions of 2010 meritage, and Paradise Springs with 2013 chardonnay and 2012 meritage. Pearmund and Vint Hill gold medals were produced under the winemaking direction of Chris Pearmund who owns both wineries.

There was an impressive range of five vintages from 2009 to 2014 represented in the competition; dry whites placed in 2013 and 2014, but dry reds were in vintages 2009-2013, showing the diversity, aging capacity and versatility of the category across very different vintages. Although few wineries are making wines from albariño in Virginia, its potential was demonstrated by Ingleside Vineyards with the gold from their 2014 vintage.

Congratulations to Governor’s Cup Gold Medal first-time winners; Catoctin Creek in Loudoun County, Cross Keys in Rockingham County, Granite Heights Winery in Fauquier County, Hiddencroft in northern Loudoun County, and Muse Vineyards (Shenandoah County).

The Governor’s Cup and Governor’s Case (top 12 wines) will be announced at a gala event in Richmond at the John Marshall Ballroom in two weeks on Feb. 24th.

 

2015 Governor’s Cup Gold Medalists

Barboursville Vineyards 2012 Meritage Octagon

Barren Ridge Vineyards 2010 Meritage

Bluestone Vineyard 2010 Meritage

Catoctin Creek Winery 2012 Meritage

Cross Keys Vineyards 2013 Touriga

Delfosse Vineyards & Winery 2013 Petit Verdot

Fabbioli Cellars 2012 Tannat

Granite Heights Winery 2012 Petit Manseng

Hiddencroft Vineyards 2012 Petit Verdot

Ingleside Vineyards 2014 Albariño

Jefferson Vineyards 2012 Meritage

Jefferson Vineyards 2010 Meritage

Keswick Vineyards 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Reserve

King Family Vineyards 2012 Meritage

King Family Vineyards 2012 Petit Verdot

Michael Shaps Wines 2012 Petit Manseng/Viognier “Raisin d’Etre” White

Michael Shaps Wines 2012 Tannat

Michael Shaps Wines 2012 Petit Verdot

Muse Vineyards 2009 Meritage

Naked Mountain Winery 2010 Tannat

Narmada Winery 2010 Meritage Yash-Vir

Narmada Winery 2010 Meritage Melange

North Gate Vineyard 2012 Meritage

Paradise Springs Winery 2013 Chardonnay

Paradise Springs Winery 2012 Meritage

Pearmund Cellars 2013 Petit Manseng

Pollak Vineyards 2012 Meritage

Rockbridge Vineyard 2010  “V d’Or” cryo dessert white (Vidal Blanc,Vignoles, Riesling)

Sunset Hills Vineyard 2012 Cabernet Franc Reserve

Vint Hill Craft Winery 2012 Petit Verdot

 

Franco Named “Grower of the Year” by VA Vineyards Association

Feb 07

Fernando Franco, vineyard manager at Barboursville Vineyards and a thirty-year veteran of Virginia vineyard management, was honored by the Virginia Vineyards Association as “Grower of the Year” at their annual meeting February 6th at the Charlottesville Omni.

VVA President Tom Kelly noted that wines made from fruit that Franco had managed since joining Barboursville Vineyards in 1998 was in three gold medal wines in the Governor’s Cup competition this year, and had produced two Governor’s Cup winners in the past.

Kelly noted that Franco had been active in the VVA, having been past president and also led a technical meeting at Barboursville Vineyards demonstrating their increased mechanization of vineyard management.

The award was presented to Franco by Secretary of Agriculture Todd Haymore. In accepting the award, Franco gave an emotional tribute to his mentor, the late Joachim Hollerith, who had taken him on as vineyard manager when he became winemaker at Rapidan River Vineyards in 1982, and later brought him with him to be vineyard manager at Prince Michel Vineyards, before Franco went to Barboursville Vineyards.

Also honored at the event was the late Jim McKenzie, in whose name a scholarship fund was established. Five thousand dollars raised for the fun was even split and awarded to two Virginia Tech graduate students of viticulture working for state viticulturist Tony Wolf, James Russell Moss and Kayne Hickey.

The annual VVA meeting had a capacity registration of over 200, and featured a variety of sessions both for new growers and veterans. The varietal focus was viognier, with sessions on vineyard  issues and comparative wine tasting with viogniers from Virginia and other regions. Twenty-five exhibitors offered a range of vineyard equipment and services, and a New Grower social hour on Thursday was added to the usual tasting and hors d’oeuvres of Friday night.

Judging the 2015 Virginia Governor’s Cup Competition

Feb 04

Under the direction of Jay Youmans, MW, the 2015 Governor’s Cup wine competition, final round began Sunday and finished this afternoon. Entries followed last year’s pattern; about 440 wines entered and about 130 making the elimination round to proceed to this final round.

We were only given numbers to identify individual wines; all data entry and wine bottles were kept from the judges so the competition was truly blind, and none except competition organizers and Virginia Wineries Association staff will know the identity and scores of the wines until wineries are notified. The public (including judges) won’t know the results until the gala in Richmond Tues. Feb. 24th.

Sunday started with an assortment of whites including a Prosecco-like chardonnay which was fun and original. A flight of cabernet franc pretty good; a surprise was an older wine with beautiful dried rose petal and cherry nose, pure fruit. The best flight this short day was merlot; some really Bordeaux-like world-class wines driven by fruit and herbal/spice notes, very smooth tannins. A meritage flight was up and down; too much oak for me in some of them.

Monday:  a flight of viognier mixed bag, but all in the 80s (we grade on the 100 point scale) except a delicate fresh one with fun spice notes I judged a 94.  Most balanced, but some were harsh because of high alcohol or clumsy oak treatment.  One was cheesy w. low acid.

The big pleasant surprise of the morning was a flight of BFC (barrel fermented chardonnay). I remember last year I was also pleasantly surprised by the complexity, restraint and balance of wines in this class. My favorites had fresh bright fruit, neutral oak, and not too cheesy, great integration and finesse on the palate. It was hard to find any Virginia wines in this class that I liked in the past, now producers have finally seen the light and figured out what to do and what to avoid doing.

A flight of cabernet franc was even better than yesterdays. Three were tops for me, with scores from 89-95. Some of these were huge, but fruit-driven, and one had enchanting rose petal and red fruits, but 3 others were fruit-driven and lacking clumsy oak. The one low score was dried out like it had been in oak too long and oxidized and lost fruit.

Some of the best and most expensive red blends in Virginia were in flight 12, a much better (I thought) meritage flight than yesterday’s. The flight was characterized by fine, subtle fruit and oak integration, gorgeously plush textures, and a lot of finesse. I only gave 2 scores in the 80s I think, the rest ranging from 90 to 96. Beyond starting with clean well-ripened fruit, texture and integration are the keys to a successful high-end meritage blend and this flight had plenty of that. Of my 3 favorites one was very Old World, one seemed very New World, but they were all brilliant and could go up against meritage blends from anywhere. I suspect that merlot, petit verdot and cabernet franc (in that order) were the dominant grapes in this flight.

Fellow judge and wine writer Barbara Ensrud (NC) and I disagreed on a number of red wine flights but we both agreed on how much we liked the four varietal tannat wines (last flight before lunch). Interestingly, half of them were more fruit-forward and half were big, oak and fruit wines, but they were all clean, showing the potential for this grape at giving loads of ripe black fruits with a panolply of baking spices and white pepper, and an ability to handle a lot of oak. There’s huge potential for wines with tannat in the Mid-Atlantic (if the vines survive the winter; in 2014 there was no commercial tannat crop in Virginia due to primary bud loss due to winter kill a year ago).

The first two flights after lunch were varietal petit verdot; an intense way to start an afternoon of wine judging! Like the flight of tannat, these wines showed the potential of this grape for high quality in Virginia. I’m a big fan of cabernet franc but in this competition have been more impressed as a whole by the quality of petit verdot and tannat; black color, deep black fruits, complex aromatics, and either fruit-forward or oak style can be equally impressive.  My favorites in the first flight of PV had lots of rich black fruits, spice and oak to handle the rich fruit. Who needs West Coast petit sirah when you have really good Virginia petit verdot, or tannat?

A flight of five cabernet sauvignons demonstrated why this variety is unreliable, and unsustainable as an economic crop in Virginia for the long term. Two wines were lovely, well-balanced examples of fruit and oak and tannin integration. The other three were either flawed from bad fruit, unhygienic wine cellars, or poor winemaking.

The next flight of three tannats showed the consistency and high quality this grape achieves in Virginia. Even the rustic styles were inoffensive and would have fans, where the really elegant ones with finesse and balance would satisfy fine wine drinkers like me.

A final flight of meritage was largely rewarding; lots of time in oak but richly balanced fruit, oak and spice elements; smooth silky texture, and a style that reminded me as much of Reserva and Gran Reserva styles from Rioja as anything else. A couple of wines were laughably clumsy, esp. a 15.5% alc. Blend which should have stayed even longer in oak to run up those flavors and raise the alcohol so it could be labeled and marketed as a fortified wine instead of a table wine.

On Tuesday, three fine petit mansengs (2 dry, one semi-dry) showed both ripe pineapple fruit and good fruit/acid balance; this may be the future white grape of Virginia.  A flight of BFC was lighter than yesterday’s, but by and large, very successful with lots of finesse.

A flight of cabernet francs had a couple of stars but was uneven, with the same for a meritage flight; some amazingly complex yet smooth and integrated wines, but some disappointments. Between flights of meritage, three fresh and elegant dry ciders, showing great potential for this beverage in Virginia.

A final flight of four dessert style wines showed richness and skillful fruit/acid balance.

I think there were a few more white wines in the competition this year which was welcome. Chardonnay seems more consistent than viognier, and petit manseng is promising, either dry or semi-dry and in dessert wines too. Unfortunately there were no sparkling wines that made it to the final round. Most sparkling wine production in Virginia is quite small and competition rules state that 50 cases of the wine have to be commercially available at the time of the competition to be eligible. For the same reason white wines are under-represented; most wineries have sold through their 2013 and earlier vintage whites and the 2014 whites haven’t been bottled yet.

Cabernet franc was generally consistent with a few shining stars but too many of them spent too long in the barrel or bottle, or both. For people who like sexy reds full of well-balanced fruit, oak, spice and silky texture, there are lots of Virginia meritage wines to provide these things. For those who like chewy, gutsy reds, petit verdot and tannat in this competition were the most impressive and consistent varietal reds, although a few merlots were also stunning in the Bordeaux style.

There will be lots of stylish, complex reds in the Governor’s Case (top twelve wines), and thanks to the rise of petit verdot and tannat, they won’t all be red Bordeaux-based.

 

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