After the Rain, Loudoun Winemakers Celebrate the Industry’s Best

After a difficult growing year when heavy rains wreaked havoc on the local grape crop, the leaders of Loudoun’s wine industry took time to celebrate Friday night.

The fourth annual Loudoun Wine Awards dinner was held at Lansdowne Resort.

Most industry leaders in the room expressed confidence that, with a good bit of creativity and hard work, the 2018 vintage would result in many great wines.

Loudoun Wineries Association board member Aimee Hinkle, of The Vineyards and Winery at Lost Creek, highlighted that optimistic outlook. “It only rained twice this season—once for 30 days and once for 45 days. In the end, we made it,” she said. “Yes, yields are tough this year, but we will continue to produce high quality, top notch Loudoun County wines.”

The night’s top winner was Fabbioli Cellars’ 2013 Tannat, judged to be the best-in-show wine from among 70 entered in the competition, earning the Chairman’s Award.

During the past two decades, winemaker Doug Fabbioli has been a key leader in pushing to improve the quality of Loudoun wines, from mentoring other winemakers and growers to improving opportunities for viniculture education.

In accepting the Chairman’s Award, he highlighted the dedication and camaraderie of Loudoun’s wine community.

“When we got into this, we gave it everything we had. We continue to do that. This year is one when there is no break. We got through it,” Fabbioli said. “The grit that it takes to survive this is something that you have within yourself, but you find it more when you’re there with somebody who shows their grit and yours steps up another notch. Grit is what is going to keep us going. Thanks to everybody here for making this industry the great thing that it is.”

Other awards recognized the industry’s innovators.

Carl DiManno, winemaker and vineyard manager at 868 Estate Vineyards, was named Winemaker of the Year. During this year’s competition, DiManno’s won a gold medal for 868’s 2016 Petit Verdotand seven silver medals. Other finalists in the category were Lew Parker, the owner and winemaker at Willowcroft Vineyards and Cory Craighill, the winemaker at Sunset Hills and 50 West Vineyards.

Kathy Wiedemann, the senior wine educator at Casanel Vineyards, was named Loudoun’s Wine Ambassador of the Year.  Other finalists were Bill Travis, the tasting room manager at Doukenie Winery and Leanne Wiberg, wine educator and science concierge at Fleetwood Farm Winey.

Zephaniah Vineyards’ Bill Hatch, who converted part of his family’s dairy farm to grape production, was named the 2018 winegrower of the year.

Bill Hatch, the owner, winemaker and winegrower at Zephaniah Vineyards near Leesburg, was named Winegrower of the Year. Other finalists in the category were Dean Triplett, the owner and winegrower at Greenstone Vineyard and Ben Sedlins, the vineyard manager of Walsh Family Wines.

To be entered in the competition, wines were required to be made from Virginia fruit, with 75 percent of the fruit coming from Loudoun County, and to be produced and bottled in the county.

Of the 70 entrants, 18 were rated as gold medalists and 47 won silver medals, results that were announced after the judging in August. During the awards dinner, the best in class winners were announced:

Bordeaux Blend: Sunset Hills Vineyard 2015 Mosaic

Cabernet Franc: Sunset Hills Vineyard 2015 Reserve

Chardonnay: Bozzo Family Vineyards 2017 Murph

Viognier: Maggie Malick’s Wine Caves 2017 Viognier

Vinifera Red: Fabbioli Cellars 2013 Tannat

Vinifera White Blend: Cana Vineyards 2017 Petit Manseng

Albariño: Maggie Malick’s Wine Caves 2017 Albariño

Sauvignon Blanc: Doukenie Winery 2017 Sauvignon Blanc

Rosé: Willowcroft Farm Vineyards 2017 Rose of Sharon

During the night’s program several speakers stressed the importance the wine industry has played in protecting open space in rural Loudoun.

Hatch said the industry has reinvented agriculture in the county. He grew up in Loudoun at a time when there were some 400 dairy operations; today there is one. After closing their dairy farm in 1986, his family now raises grass-fed Angus beef and sheep on the property, as well as an expanding vineyard, allowing the farm operations to continue for a third generation.

County Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) said the Board of Supervisors was pushing to provide more preservation tools, including more conservation easements and a transfer of development rights program, that would help rural businesses.

“The most important thing we can do as a county is to be your partner so you all can make some fabulous, fabulous wines,” she said.

Hinkle said area residents also have an important role to play in keeping the wineries successful.

“We need you to come out and visit our wineries. We need you to buy our wine. We need you to join our wine clubs. We need you to take our wines home,” she said. “This is what we need from everyone to help us and in return the winemakers and the winegrowers in this room will continue the fight, even during crazy years like this when it is not easy and farming is tough. We will continue to produce high quality wines regardless of the weather, to create great experiences every day for you and your friends and to make every bottle memorable, whether it is enjoying wines in your home or with enjoying them with us at the winery.”

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