Winegrower Shares Secret of 2012 Governor’s Cup Winner

By Posted on Apr 10 2012 | By

Love of the vine produces best wine in Virginia

On February 24, Governor Bob McDonnell announced the winner of the 2012 Governor’s Cup Wine Competition. “I raise my glass to Glen Manor Vineyards, whose 2009 Hodder Hill Meritage is a stunning representation of the best in Virginia Wines,” the Governor said. The wine trumped more than 400 other entries.

Jeff White

Accepting the award was Jeff White, owner and winemaker at Glen Manor Vineyards in Front Royal. Uncharacteristically, White was dressed in coat and tie instead of his ubiquitous farmer’s overalls.

But if the award winner had walked on stage in brown denim with pruning shears in his hip pocket, he would have been instantly recognized by those who know him best. The man is a farmer, first and foremost.

White’s love of agriculture might well be genetic. His great grandparents purchased his farm in 1901 and worked the hardscrabble property growing apples, peaches, wheat and corn and tending both dairy and beef cattle. They lived off the land emblematic of early rural America.

Decades later, early childhood visits to the homestead transitioned to full-time farming when White opted out of a Beltway defense contracting job in 1990. Wrestling with what crops to raise his Dad suggested wine grapes. There were sixty wineries operating in the state at the time and he reasoned a market for the fruit existed. Today, some 230 tasting rooms dot the Old Dominion landscape and White has evolved into both grower and winemaker.

But what does it take to make the best wine in the state? Like most thoughtfully posed questions, the answer is subtle and layered. But it begins with a passion for growing vines. A critical component of a well-made wine is the winemaker’s shadow falling frequently in the vineyard. 

An aptitude test taken in the third grade identified White as an adventurer, thrill seeker and farmer; widely divergent traits. He engaged in rock and ice climbing as pastimes early on but farming turned out to be his abiding interest.

A winemaker’s education
Once he committed to growing wine he educated himself for over a decade. White recalls, “I sought the advice of many folks but two important influences were Tony Wolf, the Virginia state viticulturist, and Jim Law, the respected East Coast winemaker and owner of Linden Vineyards. In my twelve years of working for Jim, I came to more fully understand what it takes to produce superior fruit. Jim was also instrumental in educating my palate. If you are going to make great wine, you need to know what it tastes like.”

The 2009 Virginia vintage was good overall but exceptional for Glen Manor’s Hodder Hill vineyard. “There was considerable rain around harvest time but most of the storms missed our farm. We harvested clean fruit. A perfect vintage year would be cool, sunny weather followed by a dry harvest. It doesn’t happen often but ’09 was close to perfect for us. Weather and our vineyard site produced quality fruit that year,” says White.

But how is a Governor’s Cup winner actually crafted? It starts in the vineyard. There is irony in the fact White’s great grandparents purchased land good for only subsistence farming. It is not rich, fertile farmland but thin-soiled, rocky and steep; ideal for growing wine grapes. The best grapes come from soil that stresses the vines. It might be called “tough love”. Colors and flavors deepen as the vine is forced to thrive in such conditions.

At harvest time, White double hand-sorted the fruit, removing any rotten or unripe grapes. He only destemmed the clusters and did not crush the berries. “I also cold soaked the fruit in its juice for about four days to extract more color before inoculating with yeast in open bin fermenters. We punched down the carbon dioxide created hard cap twice a day to assure full juice-to-skin contact.” he explains.

Secret to a winning wine
Once fermentation begins it might be assumed cellar alchemy is employed to produce a winner. But White says, “The secret to my wine success is that there is no secret. I let the fruit fully express itself with minimal intervention. I make no sugar, acid, or tannin additions. I only add a malolactic culture to encourage a necessary secondary fermentation and use a minimal amount of sulfur to control harmful bacterial growth. All my wines are unadulterated. In reality, the more one manipulates a wine the harder it is to make a great wine; less is literally more.” 

Aging is also an important element in producing red wine and small sixty gallon casks were used to bring the best out in his reds. For the 2009 Hodder Hill, White aged it mostly in new French oak barrels for ten months. He then continued the process for an additional five months in older, neutral barrels to increase palate depth and enhance mouth feel.

Blending was a critical element in making the wine. Like the French, this winemaker believes a blended wine is greater than its individual parts. His Cup winner was 63% Cabernet Sauvignon; 25% Merlot; 6% Petit Verdot and 6% Cabernet Franc. “We conducted blending trials for three months tasting and re-tasting all of the potential blends before committing to the final cuvée. We produced 200 cases or 2,400 bottles.” he says.

So might a future Governor’s Cup be lurking in Glen Manor’s cellars? Vintage 2010 was one of the best statewide in a decade. “I have some very nice wines barrel aging now. I’d be pleased if we could garner further recognition for what we are doing here in the vineyard and cellar but only time will tell,” says White.

Glen Manor’s tasting notes describe the 2009 Hodder Hill as “a complex wine with ever-evolving aromas of dark red berries, eucalyptus, licorice, tea leaf, cassis and fresh ground coffee beans.” Given that description,Virginia wine lovers will be looking forward to the 2010 rendition.

For more information on Glen Manor Vineyards wines and hours of operation, visit http://www.glenmanorvineyards.com/


Published in the 2012 Spring edition of the Piedmont Virginian.

Congratulations to 2012 Governor’s Cup Wine Competition winner Glen Manor Vineyards for its 2009 Hodder Hill Meritage and the twelve other gold medal winners.

  • Jefferson Vineyards 2010 Cabernet Franc Gold
  • Sunset Hills Vineyard 2009 Cabernet Franc Gold
  • Bluestone Vineyard 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Gold
  • Keswick Vineyards 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Gold
  • White Hall Vineyards 2010 Gewurztraminer Gold
  • Delfosse Vineyards & Winery 2007 Meritage Blend Gold
  • Glen Manor Vineyards 2009 Meritage Blend Hodder Hill Gold
  • King Family Vineyards 2008 Meritage Blend Meritage Gold
  • Potomac Point Winery 2009 Meritage Blend Heritage Reserve Gold
  • Veritas 2010 Meritage Blend Vintner’s Reserve Gold
  • Keswick Vineyards 2010 Merlot Gold
  • Trump Winery 2008 Sparkling Kluge SP Blanc de Blanc Gold
  • Tarara Winery 2010 White Vinifera Blend Honah lee Gold
Categories : WINE ARTICLES