Loudoun Wine Awards Showcase Wine and Teamwork
By Matthew Fitzsimmons
The Loudoun Wine Awards hosted its 2022 event at the Lansdowne Resort and Spa on Friday, October 14th. Melanie Natoli of Cana Vineyards took home the Winemaker of the Year award, while the 2021 Albariño from Bluemont Vineyards won the Chairman’s Grand Award.
While the awards were well deserved, the evening’s real winner was the Virginia wine industry as a whole. In a business that can be tough and competitive, Virginia wine stands out for its teamwork.
This sense of community was evident throughout the event. While guests enjoyed a 3-course dinner and extensive tasting of Loudoun County wines, they seemed just as eager to rub-shoulders and take selfies with owners, winemakers, and fellow Virginia wine lovers.
Multiple winners including Melanie and 2022 Winegrower of the Year Michael Newland made a point to recognize their coworkers and mentors, with both thanking Doug Fabbioli of Fabbioli Cellars for giving them their start in the industry.
“I am a Loudoun made winemaker and I’m proud of that,” said Melanie during her acceptance speech. “I spoke from the heart to my tribe. I put on a dress because it was a special night, but I wore slippers on my tired harvest feet because I’m home with my people.” Earlier this year Melanie also won Virginia’s 2022 Governor’s Cup, becoming the 1st female winemaker to win the award in the past 20 years.
“This event really showed how communal and convivial Virginia wine is,” said Neal Wavra, owner of Field & Main Restaurant and the event’s Competition Director. “Not only did the awardees thank their teams, but the people who were thanked were in the room.”
Virginia Wine Increasingly Thinking Outside The Box
Bill Hatch, President of the Loudoun Wineries Association and owner/winemaker of Zephaniah Farm Vineyard, called Loudoun County “D.C.’s wine country,” based on the presence of over 40 tasting rooms just over an hour from the city.
Loudoun wineries entered 139 wines into the competition. 15 Gold medals were awarded to 8 Chains North, 868 Estate Vineyards, Bluemont Vineyard, Cana Vineyards & Winery of Middleburg, Carriage House Wineworks, Doukenie Winery, Maggie Malick Wine Caves, Three Creeks Winery and Williams Gap Vineyard. 112 wines also won Silver.
Loudoun County is nearly tied with Charlottesville in terms of acres of vines planted. While it’s long been associated with grapes traditionally grown in Bordeaux and Burgundy (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and others), relative newcomers Petit Manseng and Albariño are also finding a home in the area.
The rising quality of Virginia wine is largely due to two factors. On one hand, vineyards are increasingly dialing-in on grape varieties and clones that do well locally. On the other, the region has benefited from the growing level of expertise found in today’s Virginia winemaking community.
To Dominique Landragin, owner and founder of D.C.’s Cork & Fork and one of the wine judges, these changes were easily apparent.
“When I look back on the Gold medals earned by Virginia wines, they used to be 100% single varietal. But this time I see a lot of blends, especially Merlot and Petit Verdot. I thought there was an amazing improvement.
I was especially impressed by the Albariños. It takes the humidity very well. Petit Manseng also. I’ve seen a few promising Syrahs as well. The Cabernet Francs here don’t have the vegetal character we find in the Loire; it’s very exciting.
The industry is really coming together, the mom & pop wineries and the professionals. In the beginning there were no professionals. But now, Michael Shaps makes some great wine!”
Neal was also impressed by the growing variety of wines in the region. “A few years ago Albariño wasn’t even a category. Last year was the first time it was its own category, and this year it was the winner.”
Scott Spelbring of Bluemont Vineyard, who took home the trophy for his 2021 Albariño, also had high praise for this grape.
“Albariño is a prolific grower but not a great yielder. We usually get 2-3 tones an acre. It’s one of the first we pick, usually in early September. We’ve grown it since before I started in 2016, and I’ve made it every year.
It has great acidity, but we’re not afraid to experiment. This wine is mostly cold fermented in stainless steel, but we also add in 2 barrels that are fermented using native yeast.
I think a lot of consumers are aware of Albariño but it’s not well known on the east coast. But we’re starting to step outside the box of Merlot and Cabernet Franc.
Petit Manseng is a grape where sweet or dry, you never know what you’ll get. But Albariño is such a great wine out of the box, because we know what to expect.”
Loudoun Wine Awards Competition Results
Chairman’s Grand Award | 2021 Albariño from Bluemont Vineyards
Winemaker of the Year | Melanie Natoli, Winemaker, Cana Vineyards
Winegrower of the Year | Mike Newland, Vineyard Manager, Walsh Family Wine
Wine Ambassador of the Year | Nancy Deliso, Owner, 868 Vineyard
President’s Award | Aimee Henkel, Owner, Lost Creek Winery & Echelon Wine Bar
BEST OF CLASS
Winners can be viewed the online at https://www.loudounwineawards.com
Author: Matthew Fitzsimmons is a blogger who has visited nearly every winery in Virginia – most of them twice. Track his progress at https://winetrailsandwanderlust.com/.