I’m finishing up writing the Winter retrospective on the last day of winter, March 20th, 2023.
When it comes to Winter I have to remind myself that here in Virginia we are on the 38th parallel. That puts us in line with Lisbon in Portugal and Palermo in Sicily, not places that one normally associates with winter wonderlands. Having endured 23 winters in Virginia we have had our share of winter wonderlands, but not this year. We’ve had a couple of cold snaps due to Arctic wobbles but they were gone as soon as they came.
The biggest worry, as you all know, is a premature spring. Warm winters are bad news for wine grape growers.
The innocent buds emerge only to be nuked by spring frosts, which was the story in 2020 when we actually got hit by two frosts within 10 days of each other. That, with COVID, was the winter of our discontent.
So, here we are again with yet another non-winter; the daffys are out, forsythia is blooming everywhere, and the sap is dripping from the pruned vines.
I tend to perseverate about the weather in my newsletters but that is a function of being a wine grape grower. What other important news in the world of wine?
Well, what about the fact that the French Government is paying grape growers in Bordeaux to pull out 23,500 acres, about 10% of the total of 280,000 acres? That’s roughly an area four times larger than the entire acreage of Virginia vineyards.
Bordeaux, the bastion of the very best of French wine brought to its knees by the very consumer it serves.
In France, home consumption has dropped by over 30% in the last thirty years and the 25% tariff imposed by the US on French wine starting in 2019 has not helped. Yep, there is a glut of wine in France, particularly at the low end. It appears that the market for the premium wines has held pretty well, but the sales of plonk have plummeted. All the reason why Constellation Wines, one of the biggest international consortiums, is selling off all its investments in the less expensive wine brands.
The other major factor is a generational one. The Boomers, who until recently were the number one wine consumers, who like me have realized that we already have more wine in the cellar than we could possibly drink before we fall off the perch, have stopped buying – especially high end wines that have to age!
Then there are the Millennials, 70 million of them, the big disappointment. One time, they were seen as taking up the chalice of wine but unfortunately, no; they have taken up craft beer, bubbly hard seltzers, as well as cocktails. As a result wine sales are pretty much flat, the only sectors showing growth continue to be sparkling wine and rosé.
Then again, there is Silicon Valley Bank (SVB), the bank of California wineries that make up the single largest sector of the US wine industry with an estimated value of $88 billion. According to sources, the wine industry made up 2-3% of SVB portfolio, which, before collapse, was worth $200 billion in assets. Rob McMillan, who was the SVB wine guru, was considered by many as the spokesman for the entire US wine industry. His yearly reports were regarded as the most important and robust data that predicted the direction of wine sales for the rest of the country.
It reminds me of that famous quote from the Austrian chancellor in Napoleonic times “When France sneezes the rest of Europe catches cold.” That in our current financial situation we could translate into – “when California sneezes the rest of the US (wine industry) catches cold.”
There is no season when we can ignore the vineyard even though the vines are considered “dormant.” Although the vines are metabolically inactive this is the crucial time when we carefully prune the vines; you could almost say we “tailor” the vines to fit our harvest expectations.
The secret to understanding pruning is to understand the pivotal role of the vine bud.
The vine bud is to the plant world as an embryo is to the animal world. It is the genetic future of the vine, from the bud all things flow and indeed all things grow.
The two simplest forms of a canopy are described as either cane pruned or cordon pruned.
The cordon pruned vine consists of a single permanent cordon on which spurs exist that have a specific number of buds – typically two to three.
A cane pruned canopy is formed by a cane that is renewed every year and like the cordon has a specific number of buds depending on the intended yield – the more buds the greater the yield.
One bud gives rise to one cane and as a general rule one cane produces two bunches of grapes.
Knowing these facts as we prune allows us to determine how much fruit we expect a given vine is going to produce. Typically we measure yield by the weight of fruit per linear foot of cordon or cane pruned vine.
Bill Tonkins, our Vineyard Manager, will tell you we have almost 72 miles of vine cordon – that’s 270,720 feet of cordon. Say we prune to allow three pounds of fruit per linear foot – the expected yield is 400 tons of grapes for our entire vineyard. And that is exactly what we do every year when we average 350-400 tons. This year Bill and the crew have pretty much finished pruning in expectation of bud break in mid-April.
Despite the spring weather I’m not going to talk about spring frost, I’ll keep that for the spring newsletter.
You may remember when I waxed prolific about Patricia’s sheep with names like Euphoria and Euthanasia. Well in 2022 a rogue bear invaded the neighborhood and killed almost a third of the flock. We had to move the sheep to the safety of another farm and fortunately the bear decided to leave. Well, now the sheep are back and to protect them we have bought two donkeys!
You wouldn’t think it but donkeys apparently can make mince meat out of a bear
Forgive me for this pun but Elliott is crushing it for Virginia Sparkling Company to the point when demand is exceeding supply. We are about to release our Merrett trademark appointing any wine that reaches vintage standards the Order of Merrett. Very briefly Christopher Merrett, an Englishman, clearly described in the proceedings of the Royal Society the process of adding sugar to wine to make it “lively” roughly one hundred years before the writings of Dom Perignon.
Veritas Illuminated – Hats off to our CEO George Hodson who was the driving force behind Veritas opening its first ever winter wonderland lights extravaganza – It was a huge success.
Masked Ball – New Years Eve brought back all the good vibes from years gone by with the re-introduction of our New Years’ Eve Ball – why is Veritas having a Ball – because it can. I couldn’t resist this one, Shapour and I studied medicine together 1965-1970
Supper Series – I am really excited to share with you the plans for our Supper Series, this time with the added attraction of a number of guest chefs from around the country all of whom are going to showcase their individual excellence with the individual excellence of the Veritas wine line up.
So many people comment on the fact that all the wines at Veritas are of a consistently high standard and this will be our chance to prove it with our supper series. Details on the website under “Events”.
Partnering with Wintergreen Music has always been precious to Veritas and to prove that, we are having a weekend April 14-16th with the Sounds of Spring. This event is really going to be fun with a string ensemble playing multiple genre music with jazz, classical, and dance influences. The website tells it all the events are selling out so book now!
And yes folks Starry Nights are back! Starting in June we are bringing back one of our most popular events ever- Starry Nights- check out the website for details.
George calls Shannon and Katie “The accounting Mafia.” I’m not sure why, but Shannon and Katie have been the glue that keeps the Veritas family together, they are in charge of payroll. Shannon has been with us it seems like forever but actually it is only 5 years. Katie has been with us for 2 years.
Evan Brailer wins Double Gold in Jiu -Jitsu! You will have seen photos of Evan at every harvest – he is a trusty member of our cellar team. Congrats Evan!
That’s all folks, all the news that’s fit to print from Veritas!
Have a wonderful Easter,
Raconteur and Dilletante Retired.
I love reading your newsletters Andrew. So informative and interesting. Keeping my fingers crossed for a smooth sailing warm spring with no surprises. Love to all the fam!
Lots of news and informative as always. I shall steel some of these pictures for our next pruning workshop. Sad to learn that Bordeaux is yet again having to pull their vines (process known as arrachage in French) to reduce the wine lake glut. And that we Boomers are partly responsible because we have laid down all that good wine,which, “we could not possibly drink before we fall off the perch”, Come on Gen X and Millennials its time to appreciate the good things in life.
I so enjoy reading your newsletters — informative, entertaining, heartwarming. Another visit to Veritas must be planned soon.