Ah the balmy days of winter!
That was the winter that was not. I hate to say it but I was tempted to put up the 2017 Winter Newsletter to see if anyone noticed the difference between now and then. Our winters are disappearing just like the Monarch butterflies, the glaciers in Antarctica and polar bears in the Arctic. Bordeaux has approved the use of varietals normally grown in the southern Rhone like Grenache and English sparkling wine is giving Champagne a run for its money.
That is the reality and as the calls for change in our approach to climate change scream out nothing of significance has occurred. Japan and Australia are expanding their commitment to use fossil fuels to generate electricity.You’d think that the Sunburnt Aussies would want to harness the one thing they have an endless supply of – sunshine. After the Fukushima apocalypse the Japanese people not surprisingly have rejected any further investment in nuclear energy. Hey before we get to maudlin let’s look on the bright side, compared with the the totality of the history of humanity we have never had it so good, there is actually less war, disease, famine and pestilence than at any other time in our mere 60,000 years on this planet with most of us only being able to look back on the last 2000. The way things are going the dinosaurs will have outlived us by a couple of million years.
Snow in winter 2015.
I realized as I am writing this piece how much I actually miss the season of winter; I like the grandeur of the snow-clad valley, the blazing fire and that sense of communal pleasure, the coziness of it all. This years’ winter for wine growers was a flop in the sense that we did not have enough cold weather to tame the legion critters – arthropods (insects) that limit our ability to grow decent grapes. Did you know that arthropods make 90% of animals living on this earth? That leaves 10% for the rest of us including all the mammals on the land and the fish in the sea!
On the other hand we have had no recurrence of Chris Hill’s memories of minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit that Virginia experienced in the late 1990s – temperatures so cold that the plants would actually freeze to death. In those days planting grapes was not so much about planting what you wanted to grow but more about what would survive.
Advances in viticulture, the practice of growing grapes, is becoming ever more focused on genetics and molecular biology, a trend reflected in modern medicine. It is the understanding of the genome and expression or not of different genes that will pave the way to disease resistance rather than the treating the disease once it is established proving the old axiom that prevention is better than cure
And of course we can never get away from Gizmos those technological masterpieces that can monitor vineyard water stress and disease pressure with the added benefit of data compilation central to long term data recording- in God we trust but when you boil down to it, it is the data that counts.
Right now we are three weeks ahead of last year in terms of bud swelling and sap rising activity.
Bud break is usually around April 15th. Early bud break increases the time that we are vulnerable to a spring frost, that will damage the primary buds and drastically reduce the crop load. Bud break varies from grape variety to variety for us Chardonnay is the first to break, followed by Sauvignon Blanc and the Merlot.
The mechanisms of frost damage are interesting and the knowledge is crucial to the winegrower.
There are two ways frost can occur that are distinctly different; the advective frost and the radiative frost. Advective simply interpreted is simply a cold mass of air that blows in and when that happens it’s curtains for the vines no amount of intervention, wind machine or helicopter will save the vines. However in a radiative frost which, by the way is the most frequently encountered type is the one we have some chance of countering.
It occurs when a dry, cold air mass moves into an area when there is no cloud cover or wind at night- the warmer plant “radiates” heat into the surrounding space. It is the ice formation inside the plant tissue rather than the low temperature that causes the damage. During spring frost freeze injury is mainly caused by inter-cellular (space between cells) than intracellular ice formation.
There are some instances when advective and radiative frosts occur together and then it’s time to go to bed with a large nightcap.
However there is a ray of hope when confronted with a radiative frost in this situation an alteration of as little as one degree Fahrenheit can be the difference between the loss of crop or not. This is when methods like spraying the vines with water, lighting hay bales in the vineyard, wind machines and helicopters work.
So instead of two weeks of nail biting we are going to have four.
Winter is always hard work whether it be in the vineyard pruning or in the cellar bottling. You can imagine pruning has gone well with the good weather and the Field Marshall (Bill Tonkins) and his team have all the troops (the vines) beautifully pruned lined-up and standing to attention.
In the same way Emily and Elliott have been marshalling Chris and Evan who you may remember were our harvest interns into a fully organized and efficient bottling program. So far this year includes a zappy Sauvignon Blanc 2019 that we have already released – Sauvignon Blanc the wine you drink as soon as it comes off the bottling line! Rosé all 1500 cases are in the bottle and 2018 Petit Verdot and Reserve Red will age at least six months before release. We are getting ready to bottle our 2019 Viognier (spoiler alert) that will knock your socks off (colloquialism).
We say goodbye to Andy Shipman who upped the ante at the Farmhouse and welcome back Dan Zibgien who is set to raise the ante again.We welcomed Dan to the Farmhouse over three years ago however when his wife went to New Zealand to do a fellowship in neurosurgery Dan went along to sharpen his skills in a number of very fancy Kiwi restaurants. He has a long background in training in some of the best restaurants in New York and Boston and we were very sad to see him leave only to be delighted to have him back to add lustre the the Farmhouse reputation as one of the best eating spots in the Charlottesville area (Open Table)
Angel Cruz, our man of the season who has followed a similar path of Dan and executive chef Joel Walding in returning to the Farmhouse after working himself up through the ranks at the Boar’s Head and Glenmore
Angel returned to the Farmhouse for over two years but only in the last year has he taken over as the Maitre D. In so doing he has gone from strength to strength in defining what people mean when they talk of “service” at the Farmhouse. Patricia and I frequently eat at the Farmhouse and are always impressed and assured by Angel’s professionalism and style. He is a credit to all of us.
It is hard to think that since my last newsletter we have gone through Christmas, New Year and Valentine celebrations events that hold so much of our emotional significance yet seem to pass just as a matter of time. Shout out to executive chef Joel Walding, Emily Clemenson and Jesseé McDowell. Our “Events Team” who take the credit for making Veritas events so popular – (they were all sold out). BTW our illustrious Joel Walding is in the running with the brightest and best of young professionals in Charlottesville to support the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation take a look.
Unfortunately we have had to cancel our Easter and Mother’s Day Brunch and as far as Starry Nights is concerned we are going to wait and hope by then the coast is clear.
After our balmy winter let us look forward to the onset of spring that you all know is in the air right now and that despite the threat we are taking all the precautions possible.
Let’s hope the Coronavirus does not interfere with our lives going forward, the best we can do is avoid contact with people and wash our hands! Amelia and Charlotte, our two younger grand girls, wanted me to add “that their grandparents don’t get Coronavirus.” Amen.
We are complying with the Governor’s mandates and hunkering down – we are using the time to do one of the most thorough spring cleans in our entire history. We are open for bottle sales and any gift card you could possibly imagine, we are even doing take out fine dining – anything to keep the lights on. Keep posted for up-coming virtual tastings featuring our wine maker Emily and her father (me)!
Meanwhile we wish you and everyone in your family above all health and safety in the coming days.
From all of us here at Veritas be well and have a Happy Easter.
As sure as the spring will follow the winter, prosperity and economic growth will follow recession.