The coveted 2022 Virginia Governor’s Cup, honoring the best wines of Virginia, went to Cana Vineyards and Winery of Middleburg for their 2019 Unité Reserve. The wine is their signature estate red blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Winemaker Melanie Natoli is the first female winemaker to win this award, and the celebration held at Richmond’s Main Street Station became a historic event for the Virginia wine community.
Part of the Loudoun Wine Trail, the seven-acre Cana Vineyards won two spots in the prestigious Cup Case for their Meritage blends, the 2019 Unité Reserve and the 2019 LeMariage–a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. Winemaker Natoli is especially proud of the 2019 Unité Reserve, saying, “It’s in my hands from bud break to bottle.”
Female Winemakers Make History at Governor’s Cup
Governor Youngkin’s remarks highlighted the significance of the moment: “It is an honor to present this year’s Virginia Governor’s Cup to Cana Vineyards and Winery of Middleburg and Melanie Natoli, the first woman winemaker to receive this award. The 40th anniversary of the competition saw the most diverse selection of award-winning wines to date, demonstrating the passion and experimental spirit of Virginia driving our wine industry to new heights.”
Cana Vineyards’ 2019 Unité Reserve makes history as the first cup winner produced by a female winemaker. Two other female winemakers, Rachel Stinson Vrooman of Stinson Vineyards and Maggie Malick of Maggie Malick Wine Caves also medaled in the 2022 Governor’s Cup Case—Vrooman for Stinson’s 2017 Meritage and Malick for her 2020 Albariño—marking a historically female-dominated year.
This is not Natoli’s first encounter with critical acclaim. Since joining Cana Vineyards in 2015, she has produced several award-winning wines, and in 2017, she became the first Virginia winemaker to be named Winemaker of the Year at the Women’s International Wine Competition. After receiving nominations for Virginia Winery of the Year four years in a row, the winery’s recognition in the 2022 Governor’s Cup Case verifies what fans of the winery already know: under Natoli’s skilled hands, the wines produced at Cana Vineyards are some of the best around. The Commonwealth is home to 10 wine regions, which include more than 300 wineries and over 4,000 acres of grapes.
Barboursville Vineyards was honored to be included in the Case for their 2020 Vermentino Reserve. Above, Barboursville Winemaker Luca Paschina pours. Also in the case for his 2019 Chardonnay was Michael Shaps, who took the most golds for the year.
Four Decades of Virginia Winemaking Excellence
The 40th Governor’s Cup competition received a record-breaking number of entries, with submissions of 615 wines from over 100 Virginia wineries. Twenty-five cider- and wine-tasting experts served as the panel of judges. Over 10 days, the judges sampled the entries, scoring them in a single-blind tasting where they knew the grape or category of the wine but not the winery, name or vintage. Finally, after dropping the lowest scored wines, the judges averaged the scores for each wine. Wines with 90–100 points won gold medals, 85–89 points won silver, and 80–84 points received a bronze medal.
To choose the Governor’s Cup Case, 12 of the judges returned to taste the gold medal wines, then used the same averaging process for the scores to select the 12 best wines, and the wine with the highest overall score won the coveted Governor’s Cup.
Another notable gold medal winner was Veritas Vineyards & Winery for their 2015 Scintilla. Veritas’ winemakers, Emily Hodson and Elliot Watkins, seen here second and third from left, celebrated with their team. Other honored gold winners were Early Mountain Vineyards for their 2019 Eluvium and 2019 Petit Verdot, and for the unique cider category, Castle Hill Cider brought in a gold for their 2020 Terrestrial.
Meritage Dominates the Cup Case
Out of the 12 wines selected for the 2022 Governor’s Cup Case, seven are Meritage, a name for Bordeaux-style blends. These wines characterize Virginia’s distinctive winemaking ability, marrying the prestige and sophistication of the old world with the daring and fearlessness of the new. Elegant white varietals of Chardonnay, Vermentino, Albariño, a sparkling and a dessert wine rounded out this year’s Case.
Virginia cider was also judged in its own competition category for the second year, with the highest scoring cider receiving the “Best in Show” award. After earning three gold medals in the overall Governor’s Cup, Albemarle CiderWorks had the honor of taking home the award for Best in Show Cider for its 2019 Virginia Hewes Crab. The gold medal winner marks the first reserve cider produced by the cidery, which is about 20 minutes outside of Charlottesville and set against the breathtaking backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Virginia Hewes Crab has a complexity rarely found in ciders made from one varietal, with an intensely floral and bold-bodied balance that makes clear the cider’s impressive high marks after a single sip.
Excited to be on the gold list again were Brix and Columns Vineyards (seen top right) owners Steve and Stephanie Pence with their team for their 2020 White Brix. Pippin Hill Farm and Vineyard also took more golds for their 2019 Bundoran Blue, 2019 Petit Verdot and 2020 Petit Manseng, while Winemaker Lee Hartman of Bluestone Vineyards enjoyed sharing his prized gold medal wines, 2017 Blue Ice, 2017 Cabernet Franc and 2017 Valley Red.
Notably missing from the Governor’s Cup’s 127 gold medal winners were examples of “Virginia’s Signature Grape,” the Viognier. Only one—a 2020 Viognier from King Family Vineyards—took home the gold in this year’s competition, marking an interesting omission in favor of the Meritage blends.
This year’s Governor’s Cup showcases the incredible innovation and growth seen in Virginia’s expansive wine industry, where winemakers are creating world-class wines that impress even the most seasoned wine enthusiast. Vineyards generate an estimated $1.37 billion in annual economic impact, and the state’s wineries employ more than 8,200 people. To find a full list of medal winners and learn about the wineries that created them, visit the home page of the Virginia Governor’s Cup 2022 Awards.
Virginia Governor’s Cup Case Winners
In addition to Cana Vineyards’ winning wine, the 2019 Unitè Reserve, the wines voted into the Governor’s Cup Case include:
- 50 West Vineyards – 2019 Ashby Gap
- Barboursville Vineyards – 2020 Vermentino Reserve
- Cana Vineyards & Winery of Middleburg – 2019 LeMariage
- Maggie Malick Wine Caves – 2020 Albariño
- Michael Shaps Wineworks – 2019 Chardonnay
- Pollak Vineyards – 2017 Meritage
- Rockbridge Vineyard – 2018 V d’Or
- Shenandoah Vineyards – 2019 Reserve Red
- Stinson Vineyards – 2017 Meritage
- Trump Winery – 2015 Brut Reserve
- Wisdom Oak Winery – 2019 NINETEEN
Best in Show Cider
- Albemarle CiderWorks – 2019 Virginia Hewes Crab
Virginia Governor’s Cup Gold-Winning Wines & Ciders
- 50 West Vineyards (1) — 2019 Ashby Gap
- 868 Estate Vineyards — 2019 Vidal Blanc Passito
- Afton Mountain Vineyards (2) — 2017 Bacco & 2017 Petit Verdot
- Albemarle CiderWorks (3) — 2019 Royal Pippin, 2019 Virginia Hewes Crab & 2020 Wickson
- Ashton Creek Vineyard (1) — 2019 Cabernet Franc
- Barboursville Vineyards (4) — 2018 Paxxito, 2019 Nebbiolo Reserve, 2020 Sauvignon Blanc Reserve & 2020 Vermentino Reserve
- Barren Ridge Vineyards (1) — 2019 Christof
- Beliveau Farm Winery (2) — 2017 Soul Singer & 2019 Syrah
- Black Heath Meadery (5) — 3M, Apple Pie, Aw Schmucks, Blue Angel & Meadowfoam Traditional
- Bluestone Vineyard (3) — 2017 Blue Ice, 2017 Cabernet Franc & 2017 Valley Red
- Bozzo Family Vineyards (1) — 2019 Sei What?
- Breaux Vineyards (2) — 2019 Nebbiolo & 2020 Sauvignon Blanc
- Brix & Columns Vineyards (1) — 2020 White Brix
- Cana Vineyards & Winery of Middleburg (2) — 2019 LeMariage & 2019 Unité Reserve
- Castle Hill Cider (1) — 2020 Terrestrial
- Cave Ridge Vineyard (1) — 2019 Fossil Hill
- Chestnut Oak Vineyard (1) — 2019 Chestnut One
- Delaplane Cellars (1) — 2020 Petit Manseng
- Delfosse Vineyards & Winery (1) — 2017 Screaming Hawk Meritage
- DuCard Vineyards (1) — 2019 Petit Verdot
- Early Mountain Vineyards (2) — 2019 Eluvium & 2019 Petit Verdot
- Eastwood Farm and Winery (4) — Cabernet Franc, Meritage Reserve, Merlot & 2018 Blanc de Blancs
- Flying Fox Vineyard (1) — 2018 Petit Verdot
- Fox Meadow Winery (1) — 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon
- Gadino Cellars (2) — 2015 Nebbiolo & 2017 Nebbiolo
- Garden Grove Urban Winery (2) — 2020 Age Unknown & 2021 Brindille de Framboise
- Grace Estate Winery (2) — 2017 Ice Wine & 2018 Le Gras de Cuve White
- Granite Heights Winery (3) — 2016 Lomax Reserve, 2017 Cabernet Franc & 2017 Merlot
- Hamlet Vineyards (1) — 2019 Eltham
- Ingleside Vineyards (1) — 2020 Albariño
- James River Cellars (1) — 2020 Petit Manseng
- Jefferson Vineyards (2) — 2019 Meritage & 2019 Merlot Reserve
- Jolene Family Winery (1) — 2019 Cabernet Franc
- Keswick Vineyards (2) — 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Reserve Block 7 & 2019 Nektar
- King Family Vineyards (5) — 2019 Mountain Plains Red, 2019 Petit Verdot, 2019 Sauvignon Blanc, 2020 Chardonnay & 2020 Viognier
- Lost Boy Cider (1) — 2020 Winesap Blend
- Lovingston Winery (1) — 2017 Estate Reserve Josies Knoll
- Maggie Malick Wine Caves (2) — 2019 Tempranillo & 2020 Albariño
- Michael Shaps Wineworks (7) — 2016 Meritage, 2018 Petit Manseng, 2019 Cabernet Franc, 2019 Chardonnay, 2019 L. Scott, 2019 Meritage & 2019 Petit Manseng
- Moss Vineyards (1) — 2020 Moss Cider
- New Kent Winery (1) — Reserve Chardonnay
- Old House Vineyards (2) — 2019 Bacchanalia Reserve & 2021 Vidal Blanc
- Old Town Cidery (2) — 2019 Wolf Creek Reserve & 2020 Pearsecco
- Paradise Springs Winery (1) — 2019 Cabernet Franc
- Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards (3) — 2018 Bundoran Blue, 2019 Petit Verdot & 2020 Petit Manseng
- Pollak Vineyards (4) — 2017 Meritage, 2017 Mille Fleurs, 2019 Meritage & 2019 Merlot Reserve
- Rockbridge Vineyard (2) — 2017 Meritage & 2018 V d’Or
- Saga Meadery & Winery (2) — 2021 Bourbon Barrel Aged Winter Cheer & 2021 Sunburst Citrus
- Shenandoah Vineyards (2) — 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon & 2019 Reserve Red
- Silver Hand Meadery (5) — 2020 Dream By the Fire, 2021 Let it Linger, 2021 Soak Up the Sun, 2021 Strawberry Swing & 2021 Virginia Tonight
- Stinson Vineyards (1) — 2017 Meritage
- Tasting Room & Taphouse at Mount Ida Reserve (1) — 2019 High Ridge 1810 Reserve Red
- The Barns at Hamilton Station Vineyards (4) — 2017 Meritage, 2019 Meritage, 2019 Petit Manseng & 2020 Cascina
- The Vineyards & Winery at Lost Creek (1) — 2019 Allure
- The Wine Reserve at Waterford (1) — 2019 Steel Magnolia
- The Winery at Bull Run (3) — Fort, 2019 Cabernet Franc Reserve & 2020 Reconciliation
- Trump Winery (4) — 2015 Brut Reserve, 2015 Sparkling Rosé, 2016 Blanc de Blanc & 2019 New World Reserve
- Tumbling Creek Cider Company (1) — Hellbender Hopped Cider
- Upper Shirley Vineyards (1) — 2018 Blanc de Blancs
- Veritas Vineyards & Winery (1) — 2015 Scintilla
- Williamsburg Winery (3) — 2017 Trianon, 2019 Petit Manseng & 2019 Wessex Hundred Petit Verdot
- Willowcroft Farm Vineyards (1) — 2019 Riesling Muscat-Ottonel
- Winery at Kindred Pointe (1) — Picasso
- Wisdom Oak Winery (1) — 2019 NINETEEN
- Zoll Vineyards (2) — 2020 Petit Verdot, 2020 Unoaked Chardonnay
To see who won the Cup in recent years, read more on 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, stop by the Wine & Country Shop in Ivy. Open Virginia Wine Day is coming soon – consider making yours an award winning bottle. ~
PATRICIA KEPPEL ANDERSON is the Content Manager for Virginia Tourism Corporation, where she writes content for the Virginia is for Lovers blog and website. She is a lifelong resident of the Commonwealth and currently lives in Richmond, Virginia. Her passion for travel takes her all over the world, but her love of all things Virginia, notably the excellent wine and culinary offerings, always draws her back home.
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.
Wine & Country celebrates elevated living in Virginia Wine Country. Wine & Country Life, a semi-annual life & style magazine, and Wine & Country Weddings, an annual art book celebrating elegant Virginia weddings, are complemented by the Wine & Country Shop in Ivy, VA—a beautiful lifestyle boutique that brings the pages of the magazines to life. The Shop features over 40 Virginia artisans with everything from tailgating essentials and Dubarry attire to locally made foods and award-winning Virginia wines and craft beverages for your next event. Wine & Country covers the grape-growing foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains from Lynchburg to Leesburg, including points in between like Charlottesville and Middleburg. Ivy Life & Style Media also creates other projects, including CharlottesvilleFamily.com, a collection of local resources including a popular calendar of events, family services guides and features on education, health and family day trips for parents and teachers in Charlottesville, as well as the CharlottesvilleWelcomeBook.com a guide to resources for Charlottesville tourists and newcomers.