Well it’s all over now – summer that is. Labor Day is past, the kids are back to school, and harvest is in a somewhat damp swing. I began writing this newsletter on a cloudy, misty, even damp Sunday morning.
As a kid summer was always the best time of all, but now not so much.
Now, I more often tend to think of summer when it’s over than thinking of it in the future, yet I am looking forward to autumn, the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. The official end of summer is the autumn equinox that this year is September 22nd.
Last summer I titled my newsletter, “The Summer of Change.” I cannot help thinking of the classic song of the 1960s by Bob Dylan – “The times, they are a changin’.” Well, if they were changing 50 years ago just look at things now. 2021 was just the beginning of a “J” shaped curve of change; that change of course is climate change.
And as much as I don’t want to dwell on climate change it is hard not to.
Where we are now regarding climate change reminds me of that line in which nations arguing about the cost of combating climate change is the equivalent of worrying about who is going to pick up the tab on the Titanic.
As far as I can tell, the weather patterns in central Virginia over the last 23 years have not shown any significant trend. I can remember when we first planted we spent hours trying to decide which grape varieties were most cold-hardy because in the previous decade there had been winters severe enough to actually kill the vines (-10 degrees F). In the 22 years since, we’ve had no killer winters. If anything, the winters have been less severe and the summers have been as wet as ever including this year.
I’ve been thinking a lot our vineyard as it relates to climate change and one of my inspirations is a book by Richard Powers, “The Overstory.” The book recounts a wonderful exploration of the relationship of man to nature and in particular to trees and forests. He sees nature as a life force exploited by humankind to the point of almost extermination. (Certainly we are doing a pretty good job in the Amazon). We have taken so much from the natural world without giving back; we have become so advanced at taking from nature with the production of carbon dioxide that we have charted a course of our own demise. Everything that was predicted is now playing out: catastrophic worldwide flood, fire and drought, not to mention sea level rise.
There are so many ways that climate change has affected life in general and although the climate per se has not significantly affected us, one way it has done directly is with the price of glass bottles used for over four hundred years as the preferred container for wine alas no longer.
Glass bottles account for the largest proportion of the carbon footprint of winery production.
There is no argument that a glass bottle is the very best way not only to distribute wine but also to age the wine. As you probably know, glass is made by heating silica to very high temperatures, the silica “melts” to form glass, which is then made into a bottle. Legend has it that when it comes to glass blowing the average FEC1 (forced expiratory capacity) of the average glass blowers’ lungs is 750 mls, hence the average size of a wine bottle is 750 mls. (Let me know in the comments if you can come up with a better explanation!)
There are so many reasons that glass bottles are a big no no when it comes to eco- friendliness. First is the energy involved in making the glass; secondly is the wasted energy in transporting wine in bottles. The heavier the bottle, the higher is the perceived quality of the wine. Sparkling wine bottles are the heaviest because they have to withstand 5-6 atmospheres of pressure. Yet glass bottles have never been more of a problem than they are today with the global market affected by everything from pandemic supply chain scarcity to the war in Ukraine.
Add to that, since 2018 the US imposed a 25% tariff on bottles from China, the world’s biggest producer. Now you can understand why the prices have rocketed.
There have been concerted efforts to recycle glass bottles, especially in climate conscious California, most of which have resulted in failure. In two studies on using returned wine bottles the biggest problem was the failure of the consumer to return the bottles!
For restaurants one of the simplest developments has been to dispense wine in kegs for the house pour, similar to bag in the box. The good thing about these methods is that once it’s opened there is no dead space so no oxygen gets to the wine and it stays nice and fresh.
Some wineries are experimenting with wine in a can and there have been attempts at selling wine in Astra-pouches, just like a Capri Sun.
When it comes down to it, the biggest barrier to selling wine in anything other than a bottle is customer acceptance. It is going to take at least a generation to outgrow the romance of “popping the cork on a nice bottle of wine.”
A grape grower has to contend with the following insect threats: Grape Root Borer, Grape Berry Moth, Spotted Wing Drosophila, Red Mite, Japanese Beetle, and now just to keep us on our toes, the Spotted Wing Lantern Fly!
Considered the result of Climate Change – the Spotted Lanternfly.
It was first discovered in the United States in 2014 having originated from China. In 2018, for some reason, it hit Pennsylvania vineyards in devastating proportions. Some vineyards were almost completely wiped out with as much as 90% grape loss. Strict quarantine procedures were put in place, but so were strict quarantine procedures put in place for COVID.
In Virginia it was first identified in Frederick County in 2018. Since then it has gradually spread southward and is basically now on our doorstep.
The so-called Lantern Fly is not really a fly or a moth; it comes under the general term of a leafhopper, the same kind of insect that spreads Pierce’s disease. Its official entomological name is Lycorma delicatula.
This bad boy is capable of invading a whole range of fruit-bearing trees but has special delight in attacking vines together with Ailanthus – or tree of heaven – its preferred host. This critter does its damage by piercing the bark and siphoning off the sap of the victim tree. The same time as it ingests the sap it excretes what is fancifully called ”honeydew” but actually is excrement or to put it more bluntly poop. The puncture point continues to exude sap that attracts every insect and their brother, including a fungus called sooty mold. If you are in an infected area you can trace the path of the SLF invasion by plants blackened – almost as if by fire – from the honeydew-seeded mold left in the swarms’ wake.
You can see from this map what I mean when I say it’s on our doorstep. So far as I know there have been no reports in Nelson County.
We welcome Franco (who worked with us last summer) back to the cellar team of troglodytes (cellar rats) Emily, Elliott, Evan, Chris, and Jolie who continue bottling the spectacular line up of Veritas wines. We usually bottle the reds from 2021, Cab Franc, Merlot, Red Star in the summer of the previous year.
This year Emily hired Covey ….. a great addition to the cellar team. This will be Covey’s third year working with us. He first started in the vineyard 2 years ago and loved it so much and did such a good job that Bill Tonkins, our trusty vineyard manager hired him last year. Well, Emily thought that giving Covey some experience in the cellar would add to his career prospects in the wine business, so she hired him. The problem is, Bill keeps stealing Covey to work in the vineyard!
Our Events manager Amanda Griffin, featured in the spring newsletter, is doing a fabulous job coping with the weddings that were delayed from 2020 – remember that year? In addition to the weddings, we had three Starry Nights Supper Series events for our wine club members that our chefs Andy Shipman and Adam Bean scored home runs with the quality of the food served.
The twist was that this year instead of strings we celebrated the start of the 2022 Wintergreen Performing Art Summer Festival with a wind quintet (Winds and Wines?). The music was a set of five miniatures chosen by Erin Freeman the music director by William Grant Still. He was a prolific and talented African American composer who combined pieces of folk tunes, jazz, and gospel that paired perfectly with the wines if I may so myself.
Lois and Jerry have worked with us for what seems like forever. They are, as a couple, almost inseparable having been married now for some forty years. I think they have worked in almost every capacity we have asked them to work in at the winery. They are loved by everyone they work with and set a high standard of hard work that is an example to every generation at the tail end of the alphabet. They are accomplished in so many aspects of their lives (Lois speaks fluent German) and have a star-studded family with a son who is a Marine Corps fighter pilot who just graduated from Top Gun school, a son who is an Army Ranger, and a daughter who served five years in the Marine Corps. Their youngest daughter, who works here during her vacations, is an accomplished horse barrel racer and is just finishing up nursing school in Texas.
We are more than fortunate to have them here and my tribute to them is long overdue.
Patricia and I left for Europe on July 5th. We visited England, France, and Portugal over six weeks getting back on August 16th. Brief summary: we started off visiting Patricia’s younger brother Bob and his wife Christine in Derbyshire, then to visit my two brothers in Plymouth.
Then we carried onto Paris with our family except for the weenies who stayed with their grandparents, Roy and Maureen Watkins, in Portugal.
From Paris, we drove to the wedding of Bill and Di’s son in a small French village called Doumaihac, just outside of Limoges that turned out to be a wonderful family get together. On to visit our very good friends Ned and Nancy Martin in Saussignac, just outside of Bordeaux.
The last week we drove via Pamplona, Madrid, and Seville to visit Elliott’s parents Ray and Maureen Watkins in the Algarve, Portugal. You can imagine we had quite a summer but we say this every time we go away, when we get back it makes us realize how fortunate we are here in good old Virginie.
I hope this hasn’t been too much news, but as I wrap up today, the sun is shining and harvest is underway – Hope springs eternal.
Thanks for reading and as Judy Woodruff says on PBS news every night – “We will talk to you soon”
Andrew Hodson, Chief Bottle Recycler