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McAuliffe lauds Loudoun wine—and sneaks in a Medicaid pitch—at ‘Great Grapes’

Gov. Terry McAuliffe joined Mark and Vicki Fedor, owners of North Gate Vineyard, at “Great Grapes of Loudoun” May 18 in Leesburg. The Fedors’ 2011 Meritage, a red wine blend, was named one of the top 12 wines in the state in the 2014 Governor’s Cup. Times-Mirror Photo/Chuck Moore
Gov. Terry McAuliffe praised Loudoun winemakers and underlined the billions of dollars the agriculture industry pours into the commonwealth's economy as the keynote speaker for the first “Great Grapes of Loudoun” celebration Sunday.

The event, which served to honor four of the top wines in the county and the state, was hosted and organized by the Loudoun Times-Mirror. More than 100 attendees – elected officials, business leaders, wine experts and tourism advocates – turned out at Palio Ristorante in Leesburg for the afternoon affair.

“Great Grapes” attendees had the rare opportunity to, at one location, taste the four Loudoun wines that placed in the top 12 – the Governor's Case – of the 2014 Governor's Cup Wine competition.

McAuliffe, a Democrat in his fifth month as governor, joined the crowd for just less than an hour, during which he chatted with winemakers, glad-handed guests and gave a roughly 15-minute speech.

“This is so important,” McAuliffe said of Virginia's wine industry. “This is a booming part of our economy. It helps us diversify our economy. I want to thank everybody here in Loudoun County, you're always steps ahead on things. I want you to continue to do what you're doing.”

Loudoun has the highest concentration of wineries of any county Virginia with more than 40. The fast-growing, affluent county also, as McAuliffe pointed out, went blue for the Democrat in last November's election.

The local Governor's Case honorees include Sunset Hills Vineyard's 2010 Mosaic, a meritage blend; Fabbioli Cellars's 2011 Tannat; North Gate Vineyard's 2011 Meritage; and Two Twisted Posts Winery's 2012 Chardonnay. Representatives from each of the wineries were on hand at Palio.

“You continue to do what you're doing making wines and enhancing your reputation, they are going to begin to think that Napa is an auto parts company,” McAuliffe joked.

“I am betting that folks down in the Monticello region are paying close attention to what you're doing here in Loudoun County,” the governor noted, referencing the Old Dominion wine region often viewed as the star of the state.

With more than 230 wineries across the commonwealth, Virginia is tied with Texas as the fifth largest wine-producing state in the nation, behind California, Washington, Oregon and New York. As the largest industry in state, agriculture counted for more than $2.8 billion in exports in fiscal 2013, according to the governor.

The wine industry alone contributes approximately $747 million annually to the state economy, according to a 2010 study.

In opening remarks, Peter Arundel, publisher and CEO of Virginia News Group, which counts the Loudoun Times-Mirror among its titles, said Loudoun vintners in many ways “personify everything that is great about Loudoun County.”

Following the governor's speech, Arundel told the crowd he “can't imagine a better pitch man for the state of Virginia than what you have just heard.”

McAuliffe didn't focus his comments exclusively on the wine industry, however. With a potential state government shutdown six weeks away, the governor reflected on his first four months in office, saying he's made good on campaign promises to eliminate discrimination against gays and lesbians and “onerous regulations” at women's health clinics. Despite what he considers successes in social and economic policy, McAuliffe said there's one more key initiative he hopes to achieve.

“There's one big issue that is not done yet,” McAuliffe said. “I'm working very diligently. I promise you we're going to close that coverage gap and provide health care for those 400,000 Virginians who are in desperate need of it today.”

As of May 18, McAuliffe said, the commonwealth has forfeited more $700 million in federal tax dollars. Those funds could come back to Virginia if the state opts into Medicaid expansion, the governor pitched.

Little movement, if any, has been made in recent weeks to strike a deal on a state budget. All but one Republican in the GOP-led House of Delegates oppose including Medicaid expansion in the commonwealth's spending. Democrats in the Senate and pro-expansion forces, however, have refused to separate the Medicaid decision from the budget. If a deal isn’t struck by the end of June, Virginia's government could shut down.

While the crowd at the Loudoun event gave a warm welcome to the Democrat governor, at least two elected Republicans were in the audience: Loudoun County Supervisor Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin) and county Treasurer Roger Zurn.

Some of the most stringent opponents of Medicaid expansion represent Loudoun in the House of Delegates, including budget negotiator Del. Tag Greason (R-32nd) and Del. Dave LaRock (R-33rd), who represents a portion of Leesburg.

“Many folks assert that Virginia is passing up millions of federal dollars by not accepting money from Washington for an Obamacare Medicaid expansion,” LaRock stated in a recent op-ed appearing in the Times-Mirror. “Yes, the federal dollars are dangling in front of the Virginia legislature like a carrot on a stick. Some of those dollars are our taxes, but once those Obamacare tax increase dollars leave Virginia there is absolutely no guarantee they will be managed responsibly or returned to Virginia.”

Virginia News Group and Times-Mirror Publisher Peter Arundel gave opening remarks and introduced Gov. Terry McAuliffe (background) at "Great Grapes of Loudoun" May 18.Times-Mirror Photo/Chuck Moore

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