The 2021 Virginia Governor’s Cup Case recognizes the best of the best wines in Virginia, choosing a select few to represent the over 300 wineries found throughout the Commonwealth. Although you can sometimes find wines from these vineyards at the local grocery store or gourmet shop, visiting the wineries allows you to see where, and sometimes how (when tours are available), these award-winning vintages are produced, tasting exceptional wines against the stunning backdrop of Virginia’s wine country. Use this 2021 Governor’s Cup Case guide to help you decide which Virginia wineries to visit this spring.
Governor’s Cup Winner: 2015 Paxxito
Governor’s Case Winners: 2015 Paxxito, 2016 Octagon, 2019 Vermentino Reserve
Barboursville Vineyards came away as the big winner for the 2021 Virginia Governor’s Cup with their 2015 Paxxito, a dessert wine made from Moscato Ottonel and Vidal grapes. The 2016 Octagon, a Bordeaux red blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot, and the 2019 Vermentino Reserve, a white wine made from Vermentino grapes and fermented in stainless steel for a crisp, fruity finish, were also part of the Governor’s Case, giving Barboursville three spots in the coveted Case.
Photo Credit: Barboursville Vineyards
Plan a trip to Barboursville Vineyards, located about 30 minutes northeast of Charlottesville in the rolling hills of Central Virginia. The winery’s 18th century estate includes two tasting rooms, an outdoor patio space for sunny days, and an on-site restaurant and inn that offers the perfect spot for a wine lover’s weekend getaway. While visiting the vineyards, don’t miss the historic Barboursville Ruins, one of Thomas Jefferson’s impressive architectural endeavors, just steps away from the winery.
Bluestone Vineyard & Winery—Bridgewater
Governor’s Case Winner: 2019 Petit Manseng
Fermented in oak and aged about 10 months, Bluestone Vineyard & Winery’s 2019 Petit Manseng blends flavors like orange blossom, honey, and baking spices, with notes of grilled pineapple and honeysuckle for a bright, citrus finish.
Photo Credit: Emily Eby
Located in the picturesque Shenandoah Valley, Bluestone Vineyard & Winery has both gorgeous indoor and outdoor seating options; inside, a roaring stone fireplace is ideal for chillier temps, while outside you have several choices, from the expansive patio with a covered section in case of unexpected rain showers to the second-floor open air balcony that also has a towering stone fireplace embedded into the tasting room’s exterior wall. The winery offers a small bites menu of meats and cheeses to complement their wines.
Governor’s Case Winners: 2016 Meritage, 2016 Nebbiolo
Breaux Vineyards has two notable vintages in this year’s Governor’s Case: the 2016 Meritage mixes Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Malbec for a robust, full-bodied red blend that will age well and pairs with dishes like pork tenderloin and coq au vin; the 2016 Nebbiolo is a full-bodied tannic red made from Nebbiolo grapes, a vine favored in Northern Italy that results in a smooth, drinkable wine with flavors of dried cherry and plum.
Photo Credit: Steven Morris
In Northern Virginia’s scenic Loudoun County, Breaux Vineyards has over 104 acres of vines growing 15+ different grape varieties. Sweeping views of the Blue Ridge Mountains are visible from the winery patio, where you can take your glass outside during sunny days, or sample the winery’s current vintages in the tasting room in front of the magnificent stone fireplace.
R.A.H. Wine Co.—Madison
Governor’s Case Winner: 2017 Series 1
R.A.H. Wine Company is the passion project of Maya Hood White, an associate winemaker and viticulturist at Early Mountain Vineyards. To craft the 2017 Series 1, a blend of Petit Manseng and Malvasia grapes, White utilizes an Italian technique known as appassimento, drying grapes on straw mats after harvest. This innovative wine has a delicate balance of flavors like dried apricots, honeysuckle, pineapple, and stewed bananas, and the inviting aroma of the vintage reminds drinkers of dried tropical fruits and melon.
While extremely limited quantities of the 2017 Series 1 means it may be hard to find this particular wine, you can get a feel for Maya Hood White’s winemaking style with a visit to Early Mountain Vineyards in Madison, located along the eastern edge of Shenandoah National Park and about 45 minutes north of Charlottesville. In addition to an outdoor patio and an expansive estate where you can set out a picnic blanket and soak in the views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Early Mountain has an on-site cottage available to rent for a complete Virginia wine weekend getaway.
Carriage House Wineworks—Waterford
Governor’s Case Winner: 2019 Petit Verdot
The 2019 Petit Verdot at Carriage House Wineworks is barrel aged in American Oak, resulting in a dark purple color and notes of dark fruits with a hint of floral elements. This is a big, full-bodied red that is heavily tannic and will age well.
Photo Credit: Bruce Beddow
This Northern Virginia winery is in the historic town of Waterford and surrounded by rolling hills blanketed in vines. While the tasting room has been closed during the winter season due to COVID-19, they will be reopening beginning April 24th, welcoming visitors to come savor their wines in the social-distanced outdoor space.
King Family Vineyards—Crozet
Governor’s Case Winner: 2017 Mountain Plains
Named for the land grant signed by Thomas Jefferson in 1773 for the acres that are now occupied by King Family Vineyards, the 2017 Mountain Plains is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. After pressing each type of grape, the wines were individually aged in new French oak barrels for 22 months, then blended and further aged to create a complex, structured red wine.
Photo Credit: Tracy Lee
A Crozet winery about 15 minutes west of Charlottesville in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, King Family Vineyards has an array of large spaces to accommodate visitors safely, including an expansive lawn, verandas, and a brick patio, as well as indoor tasting rooms with warm stone fireplaces that allow for winter winery visits. Head to the winery on a Sunday afternoon during the summer (Memorial Day to mid-October) to catch a polo match while sipping on a glass of their award-winning wines.
Michael Shaps Wineworks—Charlottesville
Governor’s Case Winner: 2015 Meritage
The Michael Shaps Wineworks 2015 Meritage is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Sauvignon, with the majority of the grapes grown from Rougemont Vineyard in Keswick and Carter’s Mountain. The wine juices are fermented with natural yeast in stainless steel tanks, then moved to French oak barrels to age individually before blending and aging further for a total of 20 months in the oak barrels, resulting in a smooth red wine that stands out as one of the best Bordeaux blends in Virginia.
With two tasting rooms in the Charlottesville area (the original Wineworks and the Wineworks Extended warehouse), you can either enjoy Michael Shaps wines on the winery grounds or within a more urban environment at the warehouse, just minutes from many of Charlottesville’s biggest attractions, such as the University of Virginia campus and the Downtown Mall. The Wineworks Extended site carries all of the local Wineworks label wines, while you’ll get the chance to try the Maison Shaps Burgundy label at the original Wineworks tasting room, made at the Michael Shaps winery location in Meursault, France.
Governor’s Case Winner: 2014 Brut Reserve
Trump Winery’s 2014 Brut Reserve is a bubbly wine in the champagne style that is made from Chardonnay grapes, with notes of green apple, pear, and citrus. This sparkling wine is aged for over 5 years, resulting in a full-bodied Brut that pairs especially well with oysters.
The winery’s stunning 1,300-acre estate sits in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Charlottesville, only a few miles from historic Virginia landmarks like Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and James Monroe’s Highland. The tasting room offers sweeping vineyard views and breathtaking pastoral landscapes, and while any time of day is great for a wine tasting visit, sunset provides some prime opportunities to capture that perfect Instagram shot.
Veritas Vineyards & Winery—Afton
Governor’s Case Winner: 2017 Petit Verdot
Veritas Vineyards & Winery was recognized in the 2021 Virginia Governor’s Cup Case for their 2017 Petit Verdot. This red grape was once typically reserved as a minor component of the traditional Bordeaux blends, but many Virginia winemakers have recognized the grape’s ability to produce a fruity yet floral intensely bold red wine that can not only stand on its own, but result in award-winning vintages, as proven by Veritas Vineyards.
Another exceptional winery in Central Virginia with front-row views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Veritas Vineyards & Winery has a barn-style tasting room complete with a stone fireplace that creates a cozy space to sample wines during the winter, while the sun-drenched deck and spacious estate grounds offer a social-distanced area to soak up some rays in warmer weather.
These wineries were recognized in the 2021 Governor’s Cup Case, but there are dozens of wineries that earned bronze, silver, and gold medals for their wines; check the complete list and visit these remarkable vineyards to experience the absolute best of Virginia vino.