The Virginia Governor’s Cup wine competition is giving out more gold medals than ever.

But, according to Curt Hartman, founder of Bluestone Vineyard, this isn’t “medal inflation” — more Virginia wineries are bringing great products to the annual competition with judging in Washington and a gala that celebrates the winners in Richmond.

“The wines in Virginia have improved so dramatically that [the judges] are seeing wines that are truly deserving of a silver- or gold-medal status coming out of Virginia on a regular basis,” Hartman said.

In 2022, over 120 individual wines from more than 50 wineries won gold medals in the competition, which also issued numerous silver and a handful of bronze medals. The winners were announced earlier this month.

“It’s a really great thing for the state’s wine industry that we’re doing that kind of quality,” Hartman said.

Awards went to three Rockingham County wineries including Bridgewater’s Bluestone Vineyard, Brix and Columns Vineyards in McGaheysville and CrossKeys Vineyards.

Bluestone Vineyard took home three gold medals and 12 silver medals. An annual competitor, Bluestone Vineyard won its first gold medal in 2012. The vineyard won numerous gold medals and has taken home three medals each in 2016 and 2021.

“One of the nice things is, they give you all the judges' notes about your wine. So, you get pages and pages of judges telling you what they think of your wine,” Hartman said. “Which is terribly beneficial when you’re trying to make continuous improvement.”

This year, the Bridgewater vineyard and winery won gold medals for its 2017 Valley Red, a red blend it makes especially for Local Chop and Grill House and the Joshua Wilton House, and its 2017 cabernet franc, a vintage red. The third gold went to the winery’s 2017 Blue Ice, an ice-style wine made with estate-grown white traminette grapes.

“The two years that showed up heaviest in awards in the Governor’s Cup were 2017 and 2019,”  Hartman said. “Both really, really great growing years for Virginia. We really had some nice wines coming off of 2017.”

Blue Ice, an intensely floral dessert wine, took home gold medals in the past. Ice wines are made with grapes that have frozen on their vines. Bluestone Vineyard makes an ice-style wine by freezing the grapes after they’re harvested.

Bluestone Vineyard won silver awards for red and white vintage wines from 2015 through 2020, including the 2020 Odd Bird, a blend inspired by the challenging harvest that year.

Brix and Columns Vineyards took home one gold medal for its 2020 White Brix, a white blend made with a majority of vidal blanc grapes. The 2020 White Brix is the first wine to take home gold for Brix and Columns. The winery also took home 11 silver medals for red and white wines, including vintage cabernet francs and chardonnays from 2019 and 2020.

“It’s always very exciting to [medal],” said Stephanie Pence, who owns Brix and Columns Vineyards with her husband, Steve Pence. “This competition is one of the most prestigious in Virginia and the judging is well-respected, so it’s an honor that we won gold.”

CrossKeys Vineyards won seven silver medals for its XX “Double X” wine, a limited-edition blend of red grapes. CrossKeys’ 2018 Meritage, also a red blend, took home a silver medal. CrossKeys took home one gold medal in 2021 for its 2017 petit verdot and has won gold medals for wines throughout the past 10 years.

“Every single wine we entered got a silver,” said Nikoo Bakhtiar, who owns CrossKeys Vineyards with her husband, Bob Bakhtiar. “The ratings we got from the judges were really close to gold so we were very happy about how we did.”

Hartman said the glut of awards is deserved. With more wineries in Virginia overall, more winemakers are refining their craft. The industry continues to take off and grow in the region.

“The winemakers have learned how to work with fruit that’s grown in Virginia, which is different than fruit that’s grown in other places,” Hartman said. “[I’ve] found making California wine is entirely different from making Virginia wine because the fruit was just different.”

Contact Jillian Lynch at 574-6274 or Follow Jillian on Twitter @lynchjillian_

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