Spring – when a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love (or planting grapes.)
Every spring I am filled with an imperturbable sense of unwarranted optimism. It’s déjà vu all over again.
It’s spring; it’s opportunity; it is change, almost a rebirth as we watch those beautiful green buds burst forth. Bud break as usual occurs on April 15th plus or minus five days. Now three weeks later, we are blessed with skeins of green along the cordons, as almost inevitably another growing season is upon us. Thankfully, this year the beautiful bud bursting, bounteous, burgeoning vines are undamaged bearing the full weight of fruit that they were designed to produce.
Along with that sense of unwarranted optimism I am filled with thanks, gratitude that is emphasized by the unspeakable suffering imposed on the innocent people of Ukraine.
It has been a good spring.
We have had a couple of frost scares and we are not quite out of the woods yet. Remember, in 2007 we had a freeze event on May 26th! And then, there was Mother’s Day in 2020, the second spring frost that nearly brought us to our knees.
Actually it did bring us to our knees, but we were able to get up. Under the privations of COVID and with a double whammy frost, we were able to increase productivity without having to add labor or capital, a process in the business world known as total factor productivity. Think of it as a new blueprint or a smarter business model that puts existing resources to better use. Basically, it’s another way of saying, necessity is the mother of invention- adapt we must.
As I’ve said before, it’s not the strong who survive it’s the ones who can adapt. What has survived is our core belief in our wines, the Veritas experience, and the loyalty of our customer base, the foundation of which is our Wine Club and that’s what really got us through.
Yes folks, after a lapse of almost 5 years we are doing what every wine grape grower loves to do and that is to increase acreage. It’s not much by any standards; just 5 acres of Merlot behind our house in a block we have called the Jacobsen field. The name come from our house which was designed by a recently deceased, world famous architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen.
For Patricia and I to hear the clunk, clunk of the pile driver as it pushes in the post brings back the memories of twenty years ago when it was me behind the tractor pushing in those posts. Now when it comes to propagating vines it is not that easy.
First of all, you just can’t pop a seed of Cabernet Franc in the ground and expect the seed to grow a Cabernet Franc vine. Don’t ask me why, but Mother Nature has designed it such that some plants, including vines, are “not true to seed”. This means the seed does not produce the same vine it was derived from; probably to induce genetic variability to ensure survival of future generations.
So to ensure that each plant is the same as the next, vines are propagated by taking cuttings. A cutting is created by simply taking a vine shoot that has lignified (turned into wood) and placing it in soil. With water and sunlight the shoot develops roots and consequently develops into a fully grown vine. Sounds easy but there is still another hurdle to overcome…
Phylloxera is an insect pest originally native to North America that destroys the roots of vines.
The vines that make the commercially most successful wines originated in Europe, vitis vinifera.
Vitis vinifera are susceptible to a parasite called phylloxera that feeds on the vine roots. Until the mid nineteenth century phylloxera was unique to the United States. When it crossed the Atlantic in the mid-nineteenth century, it literally devastated the European vineyards. Phylloxera infestation was one of the reasons Thomas Jefferson failed to grow vitis vinifera at Monticello.
To make a long story short it was discovered that the only way vitis vinifera could survive in the U.S. and in Europe was to graft the cuttings onto rootstock from native American vines that had evolved resistance to the dreaded phylloxera.
The plants that we are now putting in the ground are actually plants with two different genetic identities (chimera). One, the native American root system that is resistant to phylloxera, and the other, the graft known as the scion, is the vitis vinifera part that makes the best wine and lives above ground.
Planting a vineyard is actually a masterpiece of organization and timing. A year before you start you have to mark out the prospective vineyard, which in itself is quite a task marking each plant position with a flag.
We plant the vines according to a plan that we have established over the years. Namely, one plant every three feet in a row, with eight feet in-between rows. That works out at 1,200 plants per acre. We know by past experience that this planting density will yield roughly three tons per acre of grapes.
Having marked out the position of the vines we then treat the rows with a herbicide. Before putting the plants in the ground we auger holes that we then fill with lime and compost to optimize growing conditions.
Then of course we have to pound in the posts that will support the trellis wires on which the vines will grow.
At last we are ready to put the plant in the ground.
Well there you have it – everything you need to know about planting vitis vinifera in Virginia!
As we head into another growing year I want to give a shout out to Evan, Chris, and Jolie, our redoubtable cellar team. I have to say you have seen these guys before, usually at harvest or when we win medals at the various wine competitions.
Now Jolie has been with us forever, but Chris and Evan started as harvest interns in 2019 and over the years they have become a team. A team with a really wonderful work ethic that has translated into the quality and consistency of our wines. As I mentioned earlier, our wine quality is what makes Veritas, Veritas. We owe a debt of gratitude to Chris, Evan, and Jolie in upholding everything we stand for – wine quality.
As we say goodbye to Emily Clemenson who has moved on to become Senior Wedding and Event Planner at Farmington Country Club, we are delighted to welcome Amanda Griffin as our new Events Manager.
Hailey has been running her heart out. She and her Western Albemarle High School team brought home a lot jewelry from the Adidas National Indoor track meet.
Well folks that’s all the news from Veritas for Spring 2022. You can see how rich we are in our business and in our family.
Thank you all.
Have a wonderful summer and don’t forget, Veritas wine is your wine.
Andrew Hodson, Veritas RootStock and Scion