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Reds Take Gold

The Virginia wine industry runneth over at the Governor’s Cup awards.

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Warner inadvertently mentioned the real strength of the Virginia wine industry — not to mention the Kings’ vineyard — its veterans. Winemaker Michael Shaps is the consummate veteran. He has experience from the last 10 years, when the quality of Virginia wine has made great strides.

“I wanted a lot of fruit and enough power to eliminate the veggie flavors that often occur in this grape variety,” Shaps said of his winning cabernet franc. The wine has concentrated ripe blackberry flavors that are elegant in style. It’s a benchmark cabernet franc with medium tannin and a luscious body.

“Actually, I was the jockey on this one,” says Shaps. “Chris Hill, our vineyard manager, gets a lot of credit.”

Hill is a mountain of a man with hands the size of catchers’ mitts. He has owned and managed vineyards in Virginia since 1981, and he has a wise folk attitude in an increasingly sophisticated wine world.

“My uncle used to say, ‘To hell with the critics, there are poor, good and damn good wines,’” Hill said. “Michael and I are here to make the damn good ones. I happen to love what I do.” This is dedication from a man who remembers in the early ’80s, “the Virginia red wines were undrinkable.”

This was a red-wine dominated Governors Cup. Of the 10 winners, six were red, one was white, and the others were sweet white dessert wines. The reds all shared a sophisticated style. The standouts were Keswick Vineyards Trevillian, 2002, Chateau Morrisette Reserve Chambourcin, 2001, and the King Family Vineyards’ other winner, the Meritage, 2002.

What happened to the white wines? One of the competition judges, Doug Hott from Charlottesville, said, “They took a lot of silver medals this year, mostly chardonnay and viognier from 2002 and 2003, but this was the year that red wines just showed the best.”

Our most famous grape grower, Gov. Warner, spoke of quality, growth and change. “We are up to 87 wineries, 250 grape growers, with the industry dollar contribution to our economy at 69 million to 95 million annually,” Warner said. “We have history, tourism and wineries that no one can match.”

Warner’s office also announced a bold and ambitious long-range plan for Virginia wines titled “Vision 2015: A Strategic Direction for the Virginia Wine Industry.” The plan includes a quality assurance program, as well as finding the grapes most suited to grow well here. It also includes marketing plans to grow all aspects of Virginia wine sales and a new wine board to implement it all. S

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