The Loudoun Winery Association celebrated the industry’s top performers, as well as its strong sense of community, during the annual awards gala Friday night at Lansdowne Resort.

This year’s Loudoun Wine Awards competition featured a record-setting 110 entries—made with all Virginia grapes, with at least 75% grown in the county.

October One Vineyards took the top prize, winning the Chairman’s Grand Award for its 2020 Viognier, a wine that competition director and chief judge Neal Wavra said rated a full point above all others. The best-in-show winner was described as offering “full of intense tropical aromas with a soft yet lively pallet, great acidity with an outstanding finish and hints of floral round out this wine beautifully.”

After winning eight of the 27 gold medals awarded by judges, Maggie Malick took Winemaker of the Year honors.  

Ben Sedlins of Walsh Family Wines was selected from among four finalists to be the Wine Grower of the year.

Bonnie Archer, co-owner of Zephaniah Farm Vineyard, was named Wine Ambassador of the Year. Visit Loudoun President and CEO Beth Erickson presented the award, saying it was a recognition of her “passion for building a community across the wineries. She believes that Loudoun County wineries are not just a business, but a community working together and helping each other succeed.”

The theme of Loudoun’s grape farmers and winemakers working to support each other was featured in remarks throughout the evening. 

“We help each other because we realize that when we improve individually, we help improve as a group and the whole become greater than the sum of the parts. We grow as an industry,” Malick said. “We are Loudoun, we are DC’s wine country, and we rock.”

Bob Rupy, of October One Vineyards, said, “It is a very collaborative industry we’re in. It has such great value for us as wine growers. We share, we help each other out, and I think what we’re doing at October One is really evidence of that.”

Sedlins was unable to attend the event, but provided comments that were read to the crowd by winery co-owner Sarah Walsh. The remarks that looked back on the early days of Loudoun’s wine industry and challenged his colleagues to take it to an even higher level.

A Loudoun native, Sedlins caught the winegrowing bug while traveling in New Zealand in 2009. After learning from growers in New Zealand and Uruguay, he returned home in 2012 and worked with Doug Fabbioli before joining Walsh Family Wine.

“To be frank, winning this award is a sign of maturity of our industry. I’m a local kid who grew up playing in the fields next to the tasting rooms at Wllowcroft and Naked Mountain as while we waited for our parents to finish a tasting, using empty bottles as goalposts for our soccer games. I remember riding past Wyndham Winery on the school bus when they planted their first grapes and before they became Doukénie. I’ve watched the open pastures of hayfields of Loudoun slowly change, some of which was lost to homes and others that were planted in vines. We have come a long way and we have a lot to be proud of,” Sedlins wrote. 

“I believe that with maturity comes a certain amount of responsibility. We are no longer a boutique industry, no longer trying to figure it out. Our reputation is less and less ‘look at these crazy people who think they can grow quality wine on the East Coast’ and more and more ‘look at these beautiful wines crafted with intention and sense of place,’” he wrote.

He challenged industry leaders to keep pushing for improvements.

“They say that there are three pillars that uphold sustainability—economic, environmental and social. We have proven that vineyards and wineries can be economically viable in Virginia. There is still a lot of work to do to prove to ourselves and to the world that we can farm in an environmentally sustainable way and that our businesses care for our workers and our communities in a socially responsible way,” Sedlin wrote.

“I would hope that our industry might find strength and even bravery in our maturity. Plant more hybrids. Explore non-traditional fermentation programs. I would see us not shy away from the challenges of farming less input intensively, paying agricultural workers a living wage, of discussing candidly the challenges of wine growing in the face of climate change. These are big truthy issues to face, perhaps not ones that a nascent industry still trying to establish itself can handle. But I feel, and I think many of you feel, that Virginia is ready for that challenge. And I stand ready to do my part.”