Award Season | Tayloe's Take


It's no secret that Virginia has entered a golden era of wine-making—and, happily, consumption. Statewide there are now 269 wineries, producing upwards of 10 millions bottles a year. And the quality of that wine has consistently risen as the state’s winemakers—by and large a collegial lot—share their collective know-how. Virginia’s best bottles have won numerous blind taste tests against the most famous wine regions and winemakers in the world. And perhaps because of our state's growing wine-making proficiency, Virginia's Governor's Cup Wine Competition has become one of the most competitive and meticulous wine tasting competitions in the nation.

This is why I take special pride in letting you know that during this year's Virginia Governor’s Cup Awards, Upper Shirley brought home a passel full of medals, including our very first Gold! To put that in perspective, 494 wines from more than a hundred of the state’s top wineries were blind-tested over four weeks. Just 23 came away with gold medal scores.

While we understand that a wine is only as fine as the pleasure you take while enjoying it, and we put a lot of effort into creating a fun environment in our tasting and banquet rooms and on our dining porch on the spectacular James, I’d like to take a moment to recognize these award-winning vintages and the people who helped create them, for they are, after all, the reason Upper Shirley Vineyards came into existence.


The Bronze:

2015 Viognier: We’re proud to grow some of the best viognier around, so we treat it with respect in the cellar, giving it a long, cool tank fermentation. The wine emerges full of peach and stone fruit flavors, with the richness that our official Virginia grape is known for. This also happens to be our first our first estate release, with amazing aromatics, a creamy mouth feel and just enough mouthwatering acidity to please.

Bronze ain't bad, little fella! While the judges were looking for a little je ne sais quoi in Viogniers this year, we’re happy you made the podium, even if we think you deserved even better. (A parent always sides with its children.)


The Silvers:

2015 Chardonnay: This grape gets presented in one of the widest ranges of varietal wine you can find—from steel tanks it emerges delicate, and tasting of pure fruit and from barrels it comes viscous, oaky and buttery. We like to hug the light, crisp, fruity end of the spectrum. Barrel fermented, aged in 10% new French oak, retains its fruit with balanced acidity. It’s an easy drinker with structure and style. Butter is for biscuits; we don’t do butter—that is unless Carlisle is baking.

2015 Blanc de Blancs: We approach our brut style sparkling Chardonnay with an eye for celebration. Time sur lie gives it bready notes and depth, and its 100% Chardonnay grapes leave it with a contagious effervescence. It’s a perky start to a big night.

2014 Petit Verdot: This wine was so young when it left home for the competition that we worried all night until we heard it got there safely. With age the heavy tannins that showed its youth will soften and the already big fruit nose and plum mid-palate will be sure to please.

2014 Tannat. This lesser known red grape, a Southern France native, is now producing some of the most elegant wines in Virginia. We employ extended maceration to our harvest, aged 17 months, half in new French Oak. The result is tall, dark and handsome, a dark and brooding wine, with notes of plum and black cherry. Perfect with steak or lamb. I openly proclaim the Virginia will be known for this grape in time.

The Gold:

Our 2014 Zachariah brought home the bacon. It’s named in honor of my father, Big Zach, who departed this world in 2016, and so it was with warm and tender heart that I learned of this special honor to his memory. Like him, this blend of 46% Merlot, 31% Petit Verdot, 15% Malbec, and 8% Tannat embodies confidence and grace. Big Zach had a booming voice and a great sense of humor; I feel some of that when I sip his namesake wine. Richness and ripe tannins, rounded by 18 months in a barrel, frame nuanced aromatics and layered flavors. Among those previously charmed by this signature wine is The Virginia Grape, which says it has “an amazing nose . . . followed by layers of complexity, structured tannins and a finish that went on and on.”



Now, let me raise a glass to the team leaders, who make it all happen: To our talented winemaker, Michael Shaps, who is among the most-decorated vintners in the state. And to our vineyard manager, Ryan Swann, who helped plant every vine on our property and devotes his every day to tending to them, ensuring us the best harvest nature can provide. Wine making is a complex task every step of the way, and it takes extreme devotion to achieve excellence. Well done, fellas!

And to you, our patrons, thank you for your never-ending support this past year. We hope you enjoy drinking our wines as much as we enjoy making them.