Yes folks, this has been a Humdinger of a winter – we’ve had it all, blistering cold for days on end, power cuts, interstate highways blocked and the ever-lingering cloud over all our heads, COVID.
You may have noticed that my newsletters tend to obsess about weather and as I was thinking about that I rationalized that wine grape growing really is all about farming. Farming is, in Virginia, more critically dependent on weather than it is in, say, California where in actuality there is no weather. Bear with me a moment. If you think of the wine industry as a business and that business was listed on the stock exchange you might compare a single vine as a single share that you can buy for roughly $4.00 – the price of a single vine. One vine on average will yield a gallon of wine per year, (one gallon of wine is equal to 3.785 liters which is enough for 5 bottles of wine, each bottle being 0.75 liters, 5 x 0.75 equals 3.75.)
So imagine if you sold each bottle of wine for $10.00 and that the overhead to make the wine was 50% then one vine costing $4.00 would yield a return of $25.00 per year!
That is a return on investment of 600%, not bad, eh?
So why doesn’t everyone invest in wine grape growing? The answer is twofold: first and foremost is the cost of setting up and second is the risk that you put that investment up to every year. The more variable the weather the greater the risk of that investment failing. So that’s why you have heard that age old chestnut:
Q. How do you make a small fortune in the Virginia wine industry?
A. You start with a large one.
Believe it or not, wine grape growers love severe winters up to a point and that point is minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit, maintained for at least 48 hours. Those conditions will actually kill the plants, not just the loss of the crop, the loss of the vine. When we first planted the vineyard we had to take those considerations into account when it came to choosing which plants to plant and where to plant them because different vines have different sensitivities to cold damage.
I’m happy to say that this year we never got to minus 10. What the cold has done for us is knock out the multifarious pests and fungi that can beset us during the growing season.
Remember, for the last three winters I have bemoaned the fact that we never really had winter conditions to justify the term “winter.”
Snow is actually good for the vines. Not only does snow provide a blanket effect but it also provides a degree of nitrogen, what the old farmers called “poor man’s nitrogen.”
It is estimated that 2 to 12 pounds of nitrogen are deposited per acre as a result of snow and rain. And another interesting fact is that since industrialization and the automobile the amount of nitrogen in the atmosphere has increased. An irony when you think about it is that air pollution has had an actual beneficial effect.
The vine on the left has too many buds to count; the vine on the right will yield 1-1.5 pounds of fruit per foot of cordon.
Pruning is the major activity in the vineyard when we literally give the vines a haircut and set the number of buds per vine to produce what for us is an ideal crop load.
Last weekend our trusty vineyard manager Bill Tonkins held a Pruning Workshop for our Wine Club members. He had a great turnout of 26 participants who got to know everything and probably a bit more than they needed to know about how to prune a vine. Bill pointed out that in total, with vineyards at Veritas, Ridge Run and Flying Fox our crew prune 72,000 vines that add up to 62 miles of cordon! On average we prune the vines to produce between 1 and 1.5 lbs. of fruit per linear foot of cordon that translates into a total crop, depending on the weather between 164 to 190 tons of grapes.
Given that it has been so cold it is totally appropriate that this year we made our “Ice Wine” known to all our fans of sweet dessert wine as Kenmar. I put “Ice Wine” in quotes because it is not truly an ice wine in the sense that the grapes hung on the vines until the depths of winter.
Again, it’s the same old problem with reliability of the weather so to reduce risk we simply freeze the grapes artificially and then crush them – the result is the same delicious sweet wine with aromas of roses and honey.
Veritas wins gold with our Momentarius Monticello White Blend. Now as a general rule white blends tend not to star when it comes to wine competitions, so to get a gold that ties Monticello and Virginia to one of the most prestigious wine competitions in the entire U.S. is particularly gratifying.
Fred Reno, a man who has spent most of his career promoting California wines, has made a career change by moving to Charlottesville and setting up The Thomas Jefferson wine company for the sole purpose of promoting Virginia wines. He started in 2020 out by interviewing the people he felt are most relevant to the industry going forward to the present day and creating a podcast Fine Wine Confidential that is really worth listening to -you can even hear yours truly on one of them.
Fred has set up a monthly series of events at the Homestead in Hot Springs Bath County featuring Virginia Wines. Patricia and I hosted the January event that included lots of fun stuff including Saturday night Chef’s tasting menu with Veritas wines that, if you will permit me to say, was to die for.
As far as family news is concerned it’s not so much what we did it’s actually more about what we didn’t do. We had to cancel our trip to the New York Ballet to see the Nutcracker and we had to cancel our trip to France.
But the kids did get to play in the snow.
No newsletter would be complete without a picture of the weenies.
Here’s picture that I am happy to share not so much because it is a great picture more that it speaks to something neither I nor Patricia experienced, and that was to have our children know and love both their grandparents when they were children.
This winter has almost been a classic winter one that in previous years might have evoked a lot more joy as in frolicking in the snow but for me somehow that joy was lost. There is a sense augmented by the all pervasive news media of a profound loss of the fundamental precepts of this country, namely the loss of truth that leads to a loss of trust in our fellow human beings.
You could almost say there are so many clouds on the horizon it’s almost best not to look at the horizon.
One thing is certain, drinking and smelling Veritas wines is one of the best ways of keeping safe not only from COVID, but keeping faith in your fellow human beings. Enjoy the truth in Veritas and live life to the full.
Remember to keep your distance and don’t forget to wear a mask on the way to the bathroom.
Raconteur and Dilettante