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 in over 20 years, 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

“It is an honor to present this year’s Virginia Governor’s Cup to Cana Vineyards and Winery of Middleburg and Melanie Natoli,” Governor Youngkin said. “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.”

Natoli joined Debra Vascik of Valhalla Vineyards as only the second woman in history to win the prestigious award. Vascik won in 2000 for her 1998 Syrah. The Governor’s Cup Competition was fully restructured in 2011 to formalize the judging process, introduce esteemed experts as judges, and award the top twelve wines in the Governor’s Cup Case. Natoli marks the first female winemaker of the modern competition recognized today. 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—making 2022 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. 

To read more about Cana Vineyards and visiting them in Middleburg, read on, and see Loudoun Wineries to Visit and A Weekend Guide to Visiting Middleburg.


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:

 

Best in Show Cider

 

Virginia Governor’s Cup Gold-Winning Wines & Ciders

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 is a semi-annual luxury print magazine with a full digital presence. The annual Wine & Country Wedding Planner is an art book of elegant Virginia weddings. The brand includes the Wine & Country Shop in Ivy, Va. It is a beautiful lifestyle boutique that brings the pages of the magazines to life. 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.

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