The 2023 Virginia Governor’s Cup Case recognizes the best of the best wines in Virginia, choosing only a dozen wines to represent the 300+ wineries found throughout the Commonwealth. 2023 marks another record-breaking year for the Virginia wine industry, with 614 total entries, 66 winning wineries, and 142 total gold medals. Now in its 41st year, this annual wine competition has become known as one of the most stringent in the country.
Although you can sometimes find wines from these Case-winning 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 incredible vintages are produced, tasting exceptional wines against the stunning backdrop of Virginia’s wine country. Use this 2023 Governor’s Cup Case guide to help you decide which Virginia wineries to visit this spring.
Delfosse Vineyards & Winery—Faber
Governor’s Cup Winner: 2021 Screaming Hawk
Delfosse Vineyards & Winery took home the big win in this year’s Governor’s Cup with their 2021 Screaming Hawk, a Meritage blend that exhibits the best the estate vineyard, under the label “Mountain & Vine”, has to offer. The red wine has a nose of dark chocolate and blackberry fruit, with an earthiness that lends to the complexity of the palate. This wine will age beautifully over the next 10-15 years.
Photo Credit: Steven Morris
The winery is part of the reputable Monticello AVA wine region and is nestled in a quiet valley at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Established in 2000, the winery features one of the only terraced vineyards in the state. The family- and dog-friendly vineyard welcomes visitors to tour the vineyard, sample wines in the tasting room, and enjoy a picnic lunch by the lake. If you’re looking to make your winery visit a complete weekend getaway, book the historic Chestnut Log Cabin, which dates back to 1870 and was carefully restored in 2005 to make it a comfortable retreat with all the modern amenities.
Governor’s Case Winner: 2021 Vermentino Reserve
Barboursville Vineyards 2021 Vermentino Reserve, a dry white wine made from Vermentino grapes, was chosen for the 2023 Virginia Governor’s Case. The wine has vivid citrusy aromatics with a deep, dry palate, excellent body, and a sustained structure. With a luscious minerality, this flavorful white wine pairs perfectly with fish and other seafood dishes.
Photo Credit: Cathy Anderson
Plan a trip to the picturesque Barboursville Vineyards, located about a half-hour 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 famed architectural endeavors, just steps away from the winery.
Barren Ridge Vineyards—Fishersville
Governor’s Case Winner: 2019 Petit Verdot
The 2019 Petit Verdot from Barren Ridge Vineyards is a dry red wine with notes of violet, cherry, and dark chocolate. You’ll get big, bold flavors in this fruit-forward, well-structured wine that has been aged in French and American oak and cellared for 18 months.
Barren Ridge sits in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley and offers small plates to pair with your wines, including artisanal cheese and charcuterie, stuffed olives, and an array of spreads. In addition to wine tastings, you can sample hard ciders from Cobbler Mountain Cellars at Barren Ridge. The winery tasting room is housed in a former apple packing barn that has been transformed into a rustic, cozy space complete with a roaring wood fireplace during the chillier months. When visiting, book a vineyard walk with Barren Ridge Vineyard’s manager and assistant winemaker, where you’ll hear detailed explanations of the grape growth cycles, vineyard operations, and environmental challenges.
50 West Vineyards—Middleburg
Governor’s Case Winner: 2020 Petit Manseng
50 West Vineyard’s 2020 Petit Manseng is a gorgeous white wine that displays a lovely balance between acid and sweetness. Notes include mango, ripe pineapple, peach, baked apple, and caramel, with a hint of lemon zest and candied fruit.
Photo Credit: Rikki Cushwa
Located in the bucolic hills outside of Middleburg, 50 West Vineyards is named for the historic Route 50, which spans the entire country from Maryland to California, along which the winery resides. The tasting room, a renovated horse stable, sits atop a towering bluff, offering panoramic views of the Bull Run Mountain range. During warmer weather, guests can savor their favorite 50 West wines from the vineyard patio, or in case of rain, they can move to the covered patio area.
Governor’s Case Winner: 2019 Meritage
Governor’s Case Winner: 2021 Petit Manseng
Jefferson Vineyards had two wines selected as part of the 2023 Governor’s Cup Case; the 2021 Petit Manseng and the 2019 Meritage. The Petit Manseng exudes tropical and honey notes, with a full-bodied palate of pineapple and stone fruit and hints of grapefruit that lend to the bright finish. A touch of spice on the nose adds to the vibrant characteristics of this wine, which resembles a very crisp chardonnay and pairs well with white fish dishes. The 2021 Petit Manseng is aged for six months in French oak and has 0% residual sugar.
Jefferson’s 2019 Meritage is comprised of 45% merlot, 40% petit verdot, 12% cabernet franc, and 3% malbec. You’ll taste elegant red fruit and cedar on the nose, with flavors of cocoa, current, macadamia nuts, plum, cranberry, and tobacco. Aged 30 months in oak, the finish of the Meritage is round with medium tannins, pairing well with lamb or pork chops.
Photo Credit: Attila Woodward
Another Monticello AVA member, the vineyard was established in 1981 on the grounds of Virginia’s very first wine company (founded in 1774 under the guidance of Thomas Jefferson himself). Today, Jefferson Vineyards features two tasting rooms and several outdoor patio spaces for wine enthusiasts to sample the latest vintages. One of the most scenic spots to enjoy your wine is beside the wildflower gardens, on dazzling display once spring arrives.
For a luxury vineyard retreat, stay the weekend at Colle, a six-bedroom palatial estate that features a pool and is located directly across the road from Jefferson Vineyards. Granted by Thomas Jefferson to Philip Mazzei in 1773, Mazzei planted vines and built the original house, which has been rebuilt and renovated over the centuries to ultimately create an idyllic sanctuary for Virginia wine lovers.
Mountain Run Winery—Culpeper
Governor’s Case Winner: 2021 Petit Verdot
A big, flavorful red from Culpeper’s Mountain Run Winery, the 2021 Petit Verdot is full of stone fruit flavors and has a lovely tannic finish. Pair it with a nice rare steak or other savory meats for an unforgettable dining experience.
Established in 2015, Mountain Run Winery is a fairly new addition to the Virginia wine scene, but their win in the 2023 Virginia Governor’s Cup Case shows that they are already creating high-quality vintages. The family-owned farm winery is located just outside of downtown Culpeper, and prides itself on small-batch, distinctive wines, ciders, and meads. Mountain Run’s tasting rooms are built in a remodeled 1960s corn crib and a 100-year-old horse barn, blending seamlessly with the rural countryside found in this Central Virginia region. Light, prepared foods, like cheese and charcuterie, are available in the tasting room, but you can also pack your own picnic to dine in the charming natural settings of the property.
Paradise Springs Winery—Clifton
Governor’s Case Winner: 2021 Petit Verdot
Paradise Springs Winery earned a spot in the Governor’s Cup for their 2021 Petit Verdot, a wine aged entirely in French oak that resulted in well-rounded tannins, bright acidity, and an earthy, floral finish. Savory notes intertwine with blackberry and floral aromatics typically present in this varietal.
In 2023, Paradise Springs will open its third location in Albemarle County (the existing two are in Northern Virginia and Santa Barbara, California). The Northern Virginia location borders the Bull Run River and is the closest Virginia winery to Washington, D.C. Originally part of a land grant from Lord Fairfax in 1716, the winery has a long, rich history–don’t miss seeing the 1700s log cabin, which was restored and renovated in 1955.
Governor’s Case Winner: 2017 Meritage
The 2023 Case includes the 2017 Meritage from Pollak Vineyards, a bold and structured Bordeaux-style blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. The resulting vintage has a nose of blackcurrant, black cherry, and raspberry, with cedar, spice, and earth notes rounding out the blend for a complex and elegant red.
Pollak Vineyards is yet another winery on the Monticello Wine Trail, which now features over 40 wineries, so if you’re looking for an award-winning wine adventure, this region should definitely be considered. Enjoy a picnic on the winery patio or veranda, or spread a blanket by the pond and sip on excellent wines while taking in the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains. If visiting during inclement weather, head into the tasting room and snag a seat on the cozy couches, set around a cavernous fireplace that warms up wine tasters on the chillier days.
Governor’s Case Winner: 2016 Blanc de Noir
Governor’s Case Winner: 2019 New World Reserve
Trump Winery is another double winner in the 2023 Governor’s Cup Case, earning two of the twelve coveted positions for their 2016 Blanc de Noir and their 2019 New World Reserve. The 2016 Blanc de Noir, meaning “white from black”, was made with 100% pinot noir grapes. Made in the traditional Méthode Champenoise, it has flavors of apple, pear, and candied lemon peel dominating the nose, but is nicely balanced with nutty and complex bread dough aromas. Enjoy this sparkling white wine with mushrooms, seafood, and smoked salmon.
The 2019 New World Reserve is a signature Bordeaux-style blend that is complex and round, with well-structured tannins and developed flavors of blackberry, vanilla, cassis, and toasted oak. Malolactic fermentation in the barrels softens the wine by removing malic acid. This wine will develop over time in the bottle, softening into a beautiful wine with great aging potential. Pair the 2019 New World Reserve with steak, lamb, and hard, salty cheeses.
Photo Credit: Jack Looney
Located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains outside of Charlottesville, Trump Winery is a stunning 1,300-acre estate that is only a few miles from historic Virginia landmarks like Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and James Monroe’s Highland. Experience sweeping vineyard views and breathtaking pastoral landscapes from the tasting room, especially at sunset, when the golden hour affords especially photo-worthy lighting at the winery. Stay overnight at the on-site hotel, Albemarle Estate, an opulent retreat with 45 luxury rooms and a wide array of upscale amenities.
Governor’s Case Winner: 2019 Petit Verdot Reserve
Williamsburg Winery rounded out the 2023 Virginia Governor’s Cup Case with their 2019 Petit Verdot reserve. This expressive and bold red wine has a nose of dates, figs, and plums, giving way to notes of blueberry, dark cherry, and blackberry. The fruity aromas are enveloped in dark chocolate and a touch of vanilla, as well as a lovely floral, fresh herb nuance. The oak comes through to balance out the bold fruits, and the tannins are firm yet still approachable.
Photo Credit: Kelly J. Mihalcoe LLC
Sample the latest vintages of Williamsburg Winery at their on-site tasting room, Susan Constant Hall, or head to the 1619 Wine Pavilion, a two-story outdoor pavilion overlooking the vineyards, when the weather is nice. While visiting Williamsburg Winery, stop into Gabriel Archer Tavern for lunch and consider booking an overnight stay at Wedmore Place, their on-site hotel featuring 28 sumptuous rooms and suites, each styled in unique European region themes.
These wineries were recognized in the 2023 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.
Who comprise the individuals that make these decisions?
Thanks! Great review. Well done.
Sorry, but I would NOT list any of trumps wines at the top. Tried them and they were pretty bland. Hamlet vineyard and Stanburn vineyard are both superior
Haley G. Dameron
Trump sparkling is Excellent. It was Kluge prior.
It’s wines are below Budweiser at best.