The valley’s got spirit: Area vineyards score 11 awards in 2018 Governor’s Cup

Eleven awards went to Northern Shenandoah Valley vineyards in this year’s Virginia Governor’s Cup, including one gold medalist, Muse Vineyards.

Area vineyards are no strangers to this list, and Randy Phillips, the owner of the family-operated Cave Ridge Vineyard in Mount Jackson, said he believes this is because of the area’s natural geographical advantages.

“Shenandoah Valley is the best place to grow grapes in the state,” Phillips said. “When you look at soil maps, Shenandoah clearly has the best soils. It’s limestone-based, which has a pH that’s very favorable to grapes. We’re also one of the driest areas, if not the driest area in the state.”

Cave Ridge Vineyard has been operating since 2001. Phillips said his professional background in natural resource management helped him identify the valley’s ideal conditions for grape-growing, a realization he said the rest of the state is coming to as well.

“We’re seeing other wineries in the state purchase land out here, enter into partnerships with growers. Some of my business is making wine from my grapes for other Virginia wineries,” Phillips said. “I think there’s a recognition within the industry that the Shenandoah Valley is kind of a special place for grape production.”

Cave Ridge won three awards this year: two silvers for both it’s 2014 Red Silk Barrel Select Cabernet Franc and its 2016 Fille des Etoiles (“Daughter of the Stars”), and a bronze medal for its 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Phillips said the label of “Daughter of the Stars,” a Prosecco-like vintage, pays homage to the valley itself. An old legend says the stars themselves once came across the Shenandoah River while dancing, and were so struck by its beauty that they honored it with the brightest jewels from their crowns.

“‘Daughter of the Stars’ ties to the word ‘Shenandoah’ … so it’s just kind of an interesting play on words and language,” Phillips said. “And to (win a medal) on a sparkling wine which we’ve only been producing for a couple of years was fairly noteworthy.”

Although Cave Ridge has won several awards in past Governor’s Cups, Phillips emphasized that his family prioritizes customers’ palettes over winning prizes: “Judges don’t buy your wines, customers do,” he said.

Phillips said he asks area residents to help refine the taste of his vintages, asking customers and members of Cave Ridge’s wine club to taste new wines and help fine-tune the flavors.

Muse Vineyards won a gold medal this year for its 2016 Thalia, and in 2015 it won the honor of Virginia’s No. 1 wine for its 2009 Meritage. At that point, the vineyard had not yet opened its doors to customers.

Amid massive growth in the Virginia wine scene, Shenandoah County director of tourism and economic development Jenna French sees the consistent flow of awards to the valley as a testament to the area’s vineyards.

“Obviously the state has seen tremendous growth in the number of vineyards, and so as that happens the Governor’s Cup becomes more and more competitive,” French said. “It really speaks to the quality of their wine that they would be able to come in and, really being a relatively new vineyard to the scene, to still be able to now take home their second gold.”

Muse Vineyards, based in Woodstock, could not be reached for comment.

French said she hopes these awards will help bring awareness to the Shenandoah Valley Spirits Trail, a network of breweries, 22 wineries, cideries, and distilleries along Virginia’s northwest corner.