On Tuesday February 25, 2020, the Virginia Wineries Association announced the 12 wines that comprised the Virginia Governor’s Cup Case from their annual competition, which represent the highest scoring wines. The top wine in the case is the Virginia Governor’s Cup winner. For 2020, the Virginia Governor’s Cup was presented by Governor Ralph Northam to winemaker Carl DiManno from 868 Estate Vineyards in Purcellville, Virginia, for their 2017 Vidal Blanc Passito. This is the first time a winery located in Loudoun County, and the first wine made from hybrid (non-vinifera) grapes, has earned the trophy.
Vidal Blanc is a hybrid grape that was developed in the 1930s by Jean Louis Vidal. It is a crossing of the Vitis vinifera variety Ugni Blanc, and a hybrid grape called “Rayon d’Or.” Ugni Blanc is often used in France to produce Cognac, and is known as “Trebbiano Toscano” in Italy, where it is made into white wines. Rayon d’Or is one of a large group of grapes known as the “Seibel Grapes,” which were originated by Albert Seibel to produce grapes that had increased disease resistance. Rayon d’Or is also one of the “parents” of Serval Blanc.
The Passito in the name of the 868 Estate Vineyards winning wine represents the winemaking technique used to make the wine. Passisto, appassimento, straw, or raisin wine all represent terms describing wines made from grapes that are partially dried before being fermented. The water evaporates from the grape, concentrating the sugars to high levels, which allows for production of a rich, sweet wine. 868 Estate Vineyard’s 2017 Vidal Blanc Passito has seven percent residual sugar, which balances with the high acidity of the wine. The wine has 13.2 percent alcohol, and was aged for 17 months in French Oak barrels. Only 107 cases were produced, in 375 ml bottles.
For the 2020 Virginia Governor’s Cup, there were 532 wines made from 100 percent Virginia grapes submitted, representing 102 wineries across the state. A judging panel of nineteen judges rated the wines under stringent guidelines, resulting in the award of 64 gold medals. The highest scoring 12 of these gold medal wines went on to become the wines in the case. In addition to the cup-winning wine, the other 11 wines in the case are: Afton Mountain Vineyards Tradition (2017), Barboursville Vineyards Octagon (2014), Barboursville Vineyards Vermentino Reserve (2018), Delaplane Cellars Williams Gap (2017), Lake Anna Winery Tannat (2017), Michael Shaps Wineworks Meritage (2016), Pippin Hill Vineyards Petit Verdot (2017), Pollak Vineyards Cabernet Franc Reserve (2017), Pollak Vineyards Smuggler (2017), Rockbridge Vineyard V d’Or (2017) and Shenandoah Vineyards Shenandoah Reserve Red (2017).
A list of all the medal winners from this year’s competition can be viewed here at 2020 Virginia Governor's Cup award winners.