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Local vineyards win big at State Fair of Virginia wine competition

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Of the 12 wineries that garnered gold medals in the 24th State Fair of Virginia Commercial Wine Competition, eight grow their grapes in the Fredericksburg region.

The winners of the competition, held in June, were announced Wednesday.

Entries from Ingleside Plantation Vineyards in Westmoreland County captured the most gold medals with five, and wines from Horton Vineyards in Orange County won three.

Ingleside spokesman Chris Flemer said the region has long been neglected in public opinion as a major wine producing region in favor of Charlottesville and Loudoun.

“But this really speaks to the fact that we have a great wine growing region here,” he said.

“2014 was a great year for us,” said Flemer. “Every red we entered was a 2014. There was great sunshine, dry weather and a long season.”

“We are really serious about our wines,” he said. “Opened in 1980, we are one of the oldest vineyards in Virginia. And since then we’ve learned what mix of grapes does well here on the Northern Neck.”

He said one of those varieties that proprietor Doug Flemer and winemaker Mark Misch identified is Albariño, which they first harvested in 2013 and works well paired with oysters, another Northern Neck specialty.

Shannon Horton, family representative at Horton Vineyards, said the winery has been around since 1989 and has witnessed the changing trends in the Virginia wine scene.

Among those trends is the focus on local drinking and wine tours that carve out smaller wine regions.

“Orange is a great agricultural area and my father did a lot of research before planting to make sure this would be sustainable.”

She said their winning Viognier is a perennial classic and one of the first grape varieties they planted. Their Tannat is more unique to the vineyard, she said. Horton was the first in Virginia to grow the grape and one of the few to bottle it as its own variety rather than a blend.

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She said 2017 has already been a good year. They have harvested more than 500 tons of fruit and plan on making 35,000 cases of 2017 wine.

The annual competition drew nearly 110 entries from more than 20 Virginia wineries and meaderies statewide in 2017, which were judged by a panel of professionals at The Meadow Event Park in Caroline County.

Wine is no longer a small industry in the commonwealth. Virginia is home to more than 250 wineries. According to a 2015 economic impact study, the Virginia wine industry employs more than 8,200 full-time workers and contributes almost $1.4 billion to the state’s economy.

Mountain Run Winery owner and wine maker David Foster said the business is coming up on its first anniversary and he was floored to find out the first wine he entered in competition with the state won a gold medal.

He said the Chardonnay is “buttery with a hint of oak” and shows off what Mountain Run does best, bringing out the full flavor of the grape.

After years at a desk job, he said he wanted a change and purchased the Culpeper farm to create wines that are focused in flavor. He said with only a half acre of each grape planted, he focused on the exact time for picking each variety.

“We’re new and we have a really rustic feel,” he said, noting the winery’s tasting room in an indoor-outdoor corn crib.

Kenny White, owner of Chateau MerrillAnne said he also feels that Central Virginia is underappreciated for its wine.

“I feel like we’re the best kept secret in Virginia wine,” he said.

He also recently opened a vineyard, with its first harvest in 2012. He hired Michael Shaps as winemaker and said the Petit Verdot that won this year is “fruit-forward and balances with soft tannin.”

Local gold medal winners include: Barboursville Vineyards’ Octagon 2014; Chateau MerrillAnne LLC’s Petit Verdot 2015; Generals Ridge Vineyard’s Petit Manseng 2015; Generals Ridge Vineyard’s Petit Verdot 2014; Horton Vineyards’ Petit Reserve 2014; Horton Vineyards’ Tannat 2014; Horton Vineyards’ Viognier 2016; Ingleside Plantation Vineyards’ Albariño 2016; Ingleside Plantation Vineyards’ Right Bank 2014; Ingleside Plantation Vineyards’ Left Bank 2014; Ingleside Plantation Vineyards’ Virginia Gold 2014; Ingleside Plantation Vineyards’ Petit Verdot 2014; Mountain Run Winery’s Chardonnay 2015; Vint Hill Craft Winery’s Covert Wineworks Bebe Le Franc 2015; and Vint Hill Craft Winery’s Cabernet Sauvignon 2014.

Local silver medal winners include Barboursville Vineyards’ Cabernet Franc Reserve 2015; Barboursville Vineyards’ Petit Verdot Reserve 2014; Chateau MerrillAnne LLC’s Viognier 2016; Mountain Run Winery’s Meritage 2014; Vint Hill Craft Winery’s Covert Wineworks Petit Manseng 2016; and Vint Hill Craft Winery’s Petit Verdot 2014.

In addition, the best dessert wine award and the best single bottle design award went to Barboursville Vineyards for its Paxxito 2014.

The best overall vineyard series was Ingleside Plantation Vineyards. And the most creative series was Vint Hill Craft Winery.

Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976

lestes@freelancestar.com @flslindley

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