Saturday, February 23, 2013

Where Did All the Gold Medal White Wines Go?

There's been a few comments in the twittersphere noting that Viognier, and for that matter, all white wines are under-performing in the Virginia Governor's Cup Competition. For a little background, in the past, white wines and red wines had their own competition, but starting in 2012 the revamped Governor's Cup combined the two and included new requirements that the wines be sourced from 100% Virginia fruit. In 2012, two white wines were awarded Gold medals; the Tarara Vineyard & Winery Honah Lee White Blend and the White Hall Vineyards Gewurztraminer. On the other hand, ten red wines were awarded Gold medals, including the Governor's Cup Winner Glen Manor Vineyards Hodder Hill. There was also a sparkling wine Gold medal - the Trump Winery Kluge SP Blanc de Blanc. In the 2013 competition, white wines fared even worse as the Virginia Wineworks Michael Shaps Chardonnay was the only white Gold medalist. Along with the Trump Winery Sparkling Rose, the remaining wines were red, including the Governor's Cup winning Barboursville Vineyards 2009 Octagon.  

There results are significant since, in 2011, the Virginia Wine Marketing Board designated Viognier as the Commonwealth's "signature grape". If Viognier is the state's future, why isn't it preforming better in the competition? Let's start by looking at the entrees.  In 2013, over 400 wines were submitted in which I do not have the actual breakdown between red, white, sparkling, or ciders. However, I did compute the medal winners in which there were approximately 109 white wines, 243 red wines, and 10 ciders or sparklers. Out of the 109 white wines, 23 were 100% Viognier - thus the grape accounted for 21.1 % of white medalists and 6.4% of all medalists.  In comparison, 32 single varietal Chardonnay wines were awarded medals resulting in 29.4% and 8.9% of white and overall medalists respectively. On the other hand, there were 41 wines labelled as Meritage that medalled, and of these, 9 or 22% were award gold medals.  Not a bad showing.

What does the above analysis mean? I don't know - maybe this entire exercise is statistically meaningless. It does show that there's defiantly some awfully good Meritage being produced in the state and that Virginia Chardonnay is just as good (or better) than Virginia Viognier?  Yes, there were more than  twice as much red wines entered than white wines (assuming the ratio of medalists equals the ratio of submitted); but this doesn't help us statistically. The question remains, why did only one white wine win a Gold Medal. Some people on Twitter noticed the absence of some major Viognier players such as Pearmund CellarsChrysalis Vineyards, and Chester Gap Cellars - but I don't think their entry would change the results significantly.

In the case of Viognier, maybe there is just not enough fruit being grown in the state. Only a third of the state's wineries even produce a Viognier wine. The past few years have also witnessed unseasonable weather patterns that may have affected Viognier grapes more than others. Or, is Viognier just too fickle in the vineyard. Maybe consistent, year over year, quality or quantity is difficult. In any event, this may help explain Viognier's absence, but not necessarily Chardonnay or other white wines.

Or perhaps, as many have suggested, Virginia is a red wine state. Bordeaux reds seem to work, whether its both cabernets, Merlot, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. Add Syrah and Tannat and Virginia looks solidly Red. Obviously, a two year sample is too short to provide a definitive analysis, but it does suggest a pattern.

That being said, I don't think it invalidates Viognier being named the Commonwealth's signature grape. We all know there is very nice Viognier being produced in state and as a marketing campaign, the grape can differentiate Virginia  from other regions. We all know the Governor's reference to Napa versus Virginia, but do we really think Virginia Meritage would compete against Napa reds in the marketplace. Some perhaps, but generally no. On the other hand, can Virginia Viognier compete against California or Washington? My answer would be affirmative.  What do yo think? 

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