The Virginia Governor’s Cup has a rich history. It began in 1982 as a statewide competition to promote and encourage quality winemaking in our budding young wine industry. From that very first year, which was little more than 50 people celebrating in a field after a wine festival, the competition has grown exponentially. In 2012 they reformatted it as a professionally judged competition and gala event. The 2024 competition was the largest yet, with more than 750 Virginia-grown and -made wines submitted by wineries around the Commonwealth.

The 2024 Governor’s Cup Gala

Love was in the air at Richmond Main Street Station on Thursday, March 7th. The annual Virginia Governor’s Cup gala was well underway, displaying the best of the best of Virginia wines. In 2024, a panel of professional judges awarded 138 gold medals across 79 different wineries. 77 of the wineries were present, pouring their gold-winning wines for guests and colleagues. Virginia food vendors set up cooking stations to accompany the delicious wines.

Photo of the lighted up LOVE sign at the 2024 Virginia Governor's Cup Gala.
The 2024 Virginia Governor's Cup Gala, Image © R.L. Johnson for Virginia Wine & Country Life

Winemakers and vineyard owners ranged from veterans in the industry to exciting new wineries. Barboursville Vineyards (below, top right) had their team on hand with their four gold winners from 2024, including their 2019 Nascent, 2020 Octagon, 2022 Vermentino and their Paxxito dessert wine, which also won a coveted spot on the Governor’s Cup Case. From left to right, Assistant Winemaker Daniele Tessaro, viticulturist Fernando Franco, Head Winemaker Luca Paschina and Sommelier Alessandro Gallo toasted their success.

Veritas Vineyards (above, bottom left) was also well represented. The Veritas team included Assistant Winemaker and the head of the Veritas sparkling wine program, Elliott Watkins (second from the right) and General Manager George Hodson (far right) representing the family alongside the rest of the team. They were pouring their three Gold medal wines, the 2021 Momentarius Collection White Blend, 2021 Reserve and 2022 Sauvignon Blanc. Southwest Mountains Vineyards (above, bottom right), which opened its tasting room in 2023, had winemaker Boela Gerber (left) and General Manager Jodi Mills (right) there to pour their two gold winners, their 2021 Cabernet Franc and 2021 Petit Manseng.

Seven regions from around the Commonwealth were well represented throughout the room. Wineries from North to South, East to West and everywhere in between poured their award-winning wines for eager participants. Below left, co-founder and COO Hannah Velie of Eastwood Farm and Winery poured glasses of their Merlot and Rosé.

Below at top left, Early Mountain Vineyards‘ general manager Dave Kostelnik displays a bottle of their Petit Verdot. Chestnut Oak Vineyards‘ award-winning Petit Verdot and Chestnut One paired beautifully with the charcuterie on display. While guests were mingling and wineries were pouring, a silent auction benefiting the Virginia Wine Research Institute was set up at the center of the event space for people to visit and bid on a variety of donated items.

Winemakers and enthusiasts were hardly the only people making the rounds, however. This year’s competition hosted an esteemed panel of 24 judges, all of whom are well versed in Virginia terroir and wine history. This idea came from Frank Morgan, a long-time wine writer and judge of Virginia wine. Morgan became the new Director of Judging this year and implemented several changes to the judging techniques, adding more people to the panel and spreading out the tasting days to avoid palate fatigue. Above at bottom right, wine judge and sommelier Titus Green greeted winemakers and spoke with colleagues.

Winning Wines of the Shenandoah Valley

The Shenandoah Valley had a particularly triumphant night at the Gala. Of the 15 gold-winning wines from the Shenandoah Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA) three made it into the Cup Case. Bluestone Vineyard, CrossKeys Vineyards and Cave Ridge Vineyard all gained a spot in the Case. Below at top right, winemaker Lee Hartman of Bluestone Vineyard (far left), owner Bob Bakhtiar of CrossKeys Vineyards (center) and owner and winemaker Randy Philips of Cave Ridge Vineyard celebrated the Shenandoah Valley’s triumphs.

The gala is not only a celebration of wine and industry but an excellent moment to renew acquaintanceships and see old friends. Above at bottom left, the members of the team at CrossKeys Vineyards including owners Bob and Nikoo Bakhtiar (center and fourth from the right) and their sons, the director of operations Saam Bakhtiar (third from right) and director of marketing Babak Bakhtiar (far right) reunited with former winemaker Steve Monson (second from the left.) Monson, who transitioned to another winery in 2023, was the winemaker who originally worked on CrossKeys’ gold-winning Blanc de Noir. The reunion of old friends on this happy occasion was highlighted by that wine ending up in the Cup Case, showcasing it as one of Virginia’s premiere wines.

Above at bottom right, Lance Lemon, a partner at the trendy Richmond Wine Bar and Penny’s Bottle Shop, enjoyed his Shenandoah Valley wine and talked about a project he’s currently working on with Reggie Leonard of Oenoverse. The two are using the incubator winemaking space at Waynesboro’s exciting new Commonwealth Crush Co. to collaborate on making their own wine.

The Best Hard Cider in Virginia in 2024

Buskey Cider had their first win for the Best in Show Cider at the 2024 Virginia Governor’s Cup Awards. For the last two years the title has gone to Albemarle CiderWorks. This is the third year the Best in Show Cider has been a category at the Governor’s Cup and the title is coveted by cideries around Virginia.

Photo of Buskey Cider's Ruby Red Crab Apple Hard Cider won Best in Show Cider at the 2024 Virginia Governor's Cup Gala.

Cidermaker Allen Crump believes in using local apples for terroir-driven ciders and fruit wines. Their winning cider, the 2022 Ruby Red Crab Apple hard cider is made from 100% Crab Apples and  is a refreshing cider with hints of grapefruit. Crump thanked his whole team for their efforts in helping him develop and distribute his beloved cider.

The 2024 Governor’s Cup Winner

Before announcing the Governor’s Cup Case and Best in Show Cider—and, of course, the Governor’s Cup Winner—several VIPs took the stage to laud the Virginia Wine Industry and its history and benefits. The Governor’s Cup, a beloved tradition for 42 years, celebrates both the artistic and fiscal importance of the industry.

The third annual iteration of Virginia’s official state wine, Cornus Virginicus, was announced as a collaboration with Mountain & Vine Vineyards and Winery, the winners of the 2023 Governor’s Cup. George Hodson of Veritas Vineyards introduced the Case winners as the crowd applauded each winery named. Finally the Governor took the stage to share his love for Virginia wine.

“300 wineries, 1.7 billion in economic contributions, 10,000 full time jobs–this is what the wine industry is all about,” Governor Youngkin reminded the crowd. “We know that Virginia was the birthplace of American wine, and now we’re fifth in the country for wine production…we go from height to height.” Finally, he proudly introduced the Governor’s Cup winner for 2024: King Family Vineyards.

Winemaker Matthieu Finot of King Family Vineyards (above, bottom left at right) accepted the award for their 2019 Meritage. This is Finot’s third Cup win for King Family. The winery is a well-respected and successful one, located in Crozet in the Monticello AVA. Finot, a native of the Rhône region of France, has been working in the Virginia wine industry since 2003. “I was in France not long ago, at the Vinexpo,” Finot said in his acceptance speech. “For the first time, Virginia wine went to France and people were tasting the wine…and you should have seen the feedback. It was wonderful…it’s time to get out, it’s time to let people know about Virginia wines.”

Finot is proud of his Meritage wines, which he believes are a balanced and true representation of the terroir. He is an avid experimenter, releasing the occasional version of what he calls “nerdy wines” to test the boundaries of winegrowing and winemaking capabilities.

Photo of King Family Vineyards team accepts the 2024 Virginia Governor's Cup for the best Virginia wine 2024.

The King family joined Finot onstage with the Cup, presenting a united front and excitement. Pictured above from left to right are James King and his wife Kelly, Finot’s wife Erin, Finot; holding the cup is oldest son Carrington King and his wife Corie, and Stuart King with his wife Ali. All of the King sons are active members of the winery and vineyard teams. Co-founder Ellen King was absent but missed. She and her late husband David King, a beloved paragon of the Virginia wine industry, started the vineyard in 1998.

Virginia Wine Trends of 2024

The vast majority of gold-winning wines in 2024 were red wines, with red blends taking a substantial 55% of the gold medals. Meritage blends, a subset of red blends, won 19% of the total golds. Of single-varietal wines, Petit Verdot took home 13%. These numbers follow a pattern shown over the last several years of red blends in general and Petit Verdot in particular developing a significant place in the Virginia Wine Industry.

The 2024 Governor’s Cup Case Winners

The Governor’s Cup and Best in Show Cider are not the only awards presented at the Gala, however. 12 wines including the Cup winner were chosen to make up the coveted Governor’s Cup Case. This year’s case was made up primarily of wines from Central Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley, both well- respected regions in the Virginia Wine Industry. Breaux Vineyards represented Northern Virginia in the Case.

Aside from King Family Vineyards’ Cup winning wine, their 2019 Meritage, the 11 other wines voted into the Governor’s Cup Case include:

  • Afton Mountain Vineyards – 2019 T
  • Barboursville Vineyards – 2019 Paxxito
  • Bluestone Vineyard – 2017 Petit Verdot
  • Breaux Vineyards – 2019 The Fog Nebbiolo Reserve
  • Cave Ridge Vineyard – 2019 Fossil Hill Reserve
  • CrossKeys Vineyards – Blanc de Noir
  • Hark Vineyards – 2019 Spark
  • Michael Shaps Wineworks – 2020 L. Scott
  • Mountain & Vine Vineyards & Winery – 2022 Chardonnay
  • October One Vineyard – 2022 Albariño
  • Paradise Springs Winery – 2022 Petit Manseng

The winning wines will be used over the next year as ambassadors of Virginia wine. The Governor made it clear that at his table he only serves wine made in Virginia. He proudly serves it to guests and sends home bottles as a special gift for visiting dignitaries. Cases of the wines chosen for the cup case will be reserved and used to represent Virginia Wine Country as not only a storied industry but a viable one. These gold-winning wineries will continue to improve and test their products, thanks in part to the proceeds of the night’s silent auction, to continue attaining perfection. Every year, the wines submitted get better, and every year Virginia wineries are winning more and more gold medals both at the Governor’s Cup and internationally. In 2023, Charlottesville’s Monticello wine region was announced Wine Enthusiast’s Wine Region of the Year over competitors in California, France and Italy—we look forward to seeing what next year will bring.

best virginia wines in 2023 love and wine
Virginia Governor's Cup Competition Gala 2023, Image © R.L. Johnson for Virginia Wine & Country Life

Find the full list of the 2024 Governor’s Cup gold winners here. To see who won the Cup in recent years, read more on the Virginia Governor’s Cup 2023 Awards, Virginia Governor’s Cup 2022 Awards, the Virginia Governor’s Cup 2021 Awards, Virginia Governor’s Cup 2020 Awards, the 2019 Virginia Governor’s Cup Winners and the 2018 Gold Winners of the Virginia Governor’s Cup. For other award-winning Virginia wines, look at the Virginia Wine & Country Gold-Winning Wine Shop. Open Virginia Wine Day is coming soon – consider making yours an award winning bottle. ~

MAI LIONNI GUSS is the Editorial Assistant at Wine & Country Life. She holds multiple degrees in Media, World Mythology and Shakespeare, fosters countless dogs and has a boundless enthusiasm for exploring the life and style of Virginia’s Wine Country. 

R. L. JOHNSON is our co-publisher and creative director, Robin Johnson Bethke, who began her career as a professional photographer in Los Angeles before moving into graphic design and art direction when she relocated to Charlottesville in 1994. As our company’s co-founder and visionary, she enjoys all aspects of the publishing process from story conception to graphic design to photography. Her work is often seen in many of our publications.

Virginia Wine & Country celebrates elevated living in Virginia Wine Country. Virginia Wine & Country Life is a semi-annual luxury print magazine with a full digital presence. The Virginia Wine & Country Gold Book is an annual guide to the top award-winning wines, wineries and experiences in Virginia Wine Country. The annual Virginia Wine & Country Wedding Planner is an art book of elegant Virginia weddings. Virginia Wine & Country tells the stories of Virginia wineries, the farm-to-table movement, luxury travel, entertaining, art and the elegant country lifestyle. Ivy Life & Style Media also provides branding, web design and PR services for the wine industry.