Browntown's Glen Manor wins statewide competition
By Joe Beck -- firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- Years of hard work and uncertainty paid off for Jeff White with last week's announcement that one of the wines he produces at Glen Manor Vineyards winery won this year's Virginia Governor's Cup competition.
In doing so, 2009 Hodder Hill Meritage instantly became an ambassador for the state's entire wine industry and gave Glen Manor a chance to expand its reputation around the state and nation.
Hodder Hill Meritage prevailed over more than 400 entries from other state wineries and new, tougher judging standards in its first year of competing for the Governor's Cup.
White said he was hoping for a strong showing, but first place exceeded his expectations.
"Out of 400 some wines, I didn't think I was going to win," he said. "I was hopeful we would be somewhere near the top. I was pretty confident in my wine. We tasted it here, my family and staff."
Gov. Bob McDonnell saluted White and the award-winning wine, a blend of 63 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 25 percent Merlot, 6 percent Cabernet Franc and 6 percent Pertit Verdot.
"I raise my glass to Glen Manor Vineyards, whose 2009 Hodder Hill Meritage is a stunning representation of the best in Virginia wines," McDonnell said in a news release announcing the Governor's Cup winner.
McDonnell and White referred to revamped rules for the event that place red and white wines in a single category, instead of keeping them in distinct classes, as a welcome sharpening of the competition.
White said he was especially gratified to win this year when the judging was done by a panel of nationally known experts whom he hopes will spread the word about Glen Manor among restaurateurs and wine writers.
"Personally, I'm very proud for myself and my family," White said. "Farming is very difficult. You don't get a lot of recognition for what you do and not a lot of money. It's a labor of love and passion for us."
The Governor's Cup comes after years of effort by White to learn the winemaking trade before he was ready to put the first bottles at Glen Manor on sale three years ago.
White said he had little idea he would become a winemaker when he returned to the farm at 2244 Browntown Road that was homesteaded by his mother's family 112 years ago. He moved there to take care of his grandfather after the death of his grandmother.
White, who had been working as a financial analyst and accountant with a Beltway defense contractor, quit his job and began casting about for a crop that would bring in enough money to support him and his family.
After a few years of meager income raising cattle and Christmas trees, White set off on the path that would lead him to the Governor's Cup.
"I was vaguely aware Virginia had a wine industry," White said. "I did some research and went to the agricultural extension office in Front Royal. I took everything they had and started reading. Most everything they had was written by Dr. Tony Wolf, and I ended up calling him."
in 1993, White gained a job as a summer helper for Wolf, a viticulturist and director of the Alison H. Smith Agricultural Research and Extension Center.
"Jeff was very definitely an eager learner," said Wolf, who remains friends with him.
Wolf said he continues to see White several times a year and was "tickled" to learn that White and his wife, Kelly, who runs the winery's tasting room had won the Governor's Cup.
"Jeff and Kelly are very much hands-on winegrowers, and they deserve the award not just because of the work they do, but because of the quality of the wine," Wolf said.
Not long after his stint with Wolf, White took a job with Jim Law of Linden Vineyards, who became a teacher and mentor to him through 2005.
White sold his first crop of grapes to Law in 1996 and continued doing so up until 2005, when he felt he had gained enough knowledge to try producing his own wine.
By 2007, White was making wine and began selling bottles in the tasting room the following year.
White and Wolf agreed that Glen Manor's location along a steep mountainside has much to do with the quality of wine produced there. The slope allows the 14-1⁄2 acres of vineyards to shed water quickly, thereby reducing the chances that moisture will dilute the grapes' flavor and cause the vines to rot, White said.
White said he expects his $35-a-bottle 2009 Hodder Hill Meritage will be sold out within a month. Hodder Hill and other wines produced at Glen Manor are available at the winery and restaurants around the region.
They include: J's Gourmet, Apartment 2G and Element on Royal Avenue in Front Royal; Wine and Duck, also in Front Royal; The Wayside Inn in Middletown, and One Block West in Winchester.