King Family Vineyards 2014 Meritage, a bright and complex Bordeaux-style blend with merlot as the dominant grape, was recently judged best wine in Virginia and was named the 2018 Governor’s Cup winner Tuesday night at a gala at Main Street Station that drew more than 600 spectators.

Described as having a nose of bright red fruit, violets, dried rose petals with delicate notes of saffron, vanilla and spice that lead to layered flavors of cherry and raspberry, this Meritage stood tall from a staggering number of 99 gold medal wines ( awarded after a stringent four-week blind judging of 442 100 percent Virginia grape wines.

King Family’s Meritage — a blend of 50 percent merlot, 23 percent petit verdot, 21 percent cabernet franc and 6 percent malbec — was the highest scoring wine, with the next 11 constituting the Governor’s Cup Case.

“Well-balanced, a dead ringer for a classic-growth Bordeaux” is the way Jay Youmans, master of wine and head of the Governor’s Cup judging, described King Family’s 2014 Meritage. “It really replicated that kind of a quality you look for in a big quality Bordeaux.

“What impressed the judges is that this blend has not only been outstanding, it’s been consistently outstanding.”

Thank winemaker Matthieu Finot’s love of merlot for that.

“As always, merlot has been our staple and my workhorse at King Family,” he said. “From year to year, it has always been the most consistent.”

Each grape plays a pivotal role in the success of the King Family Meritages, but in varying amounts every year.

“Merlot is the backbone of the wine,” said Finot, a native of Crozes-Hermitage in the Rhone Valley of France. “It brings some nice, fruity component with some delicate tannin associated to a good freshness.

“Merlot does very well in the Monticello AVA (American Viticulture Area). For us, the natural chemistry of the berries is always good to produce premium wine. Our site here at King Family (near Crozet) naturally keeps a good acid in the wine and makes the complexity that I need for this wine. This is a good terroir for merlot.

“If merlot is the backbone of the wine, petit verdot is the muscle. It’s a very dominant varietal, and it brings power to wine with its imposing tannin structure. Cab franc will bring this touch of savory component, associated with another dimension of fruit. At last, malbec is my spice box. A small quantity of it always brings another dimension to the wine, more complexity.”

King Family estate grapes are the primary fruit in the wine, although some come from Turk Mountain, a vineyard that the winery has been working with since 2007.

“Like any good wine, what is crucial is the vineyard,” said Finot, whose 2007 Meritage was the cup winner in 2010 for red wines when the awards for red and white wines were given out separately. “Without great vineyard management, there is no great wine. Having control of your fruit is the most important part of it. You can control your crop load, and when to pick. You also know from year to year which blocks are better, what to expect from them.”

David King, patriarch of the King Family that has owned the winery since 1996, appreciates what Finot has done since his arrival in 2003.

“One of the great challenges of wine growing in Virginia is the unpredictable nature of our climate, which can be the source of excitement and anxiety,” King said. “ Matthieu has shown over his career that he understands both the risks and opportunities that this creates.

“We believe that even in challenging vintages, King Family Vineyards’ wines will continue to be a bold statement of his expertise and his intimate knowledge of our terroir. Of course, our family and team are proud of his tireless dedication to our winery, but we are also extremely proud of Matthieu’s participation in the larger Virginia industry.”

Finot has a focus when producing wines.

“When I make wine, awards and accolade are not something that I have in mind. I am just trying to do something that I like and I can be proud of,” he said. “Winning some awards is just bonus. Of course, it is always good to see that some other people like what I — we — do.

“But I just want to stay humble about it. I know there is a lot of good wines in Virginia just by looking at the number of gold medals. I just consider myself as part of the big Virginia wine family. A lot of us are looking forward and trying to improve what we do every vintage. This is really what is important, and this also is what is uplifting with Virginia wines these days.”

Unless you spot a long-ago distributed bottle at your local wine shop, King Family’s 2014 Meritage ($54.95) is available only at the winery, located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains (

Jack Berninger can be contacted at

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