State of the vineyard: Local winemakers look forward to what 2014 will bring

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Grace Estates winemaker Jake Busching recaps last year’s successes and looks ahead to what 2014 will bring this vintage. Photo: Christian Hommel Grace Estates winemaker Jake Busching recaps last year’s successes and looks ahead to what 2014 will bring this vintage. Photo: Christian Hommel

Every year around this time, our nation’s president makes a State of the Union address reflecting on the challenges and accomplishments of the previous year, while also looking ahead at the agenda for the upcoming year. While the president’s address typically includes legislative proposals and government-related issues, this State of the Union address is written by local winemakers based on their feelings about the 2013 vintage, and what we might expect this year. We figured this would be a good opportunity to read it through their own words, out of the cellar and into the real world.

Benoit Pineau, winemaker at Pollak Vineyards

The 2013 vintage was good overall at Pollak Vineyards. In contrast with the challenges of a wet spring, we had an excellent late season. Heavy rainfall early in the season made canopy management and spray programs difficult to keep up with, but once summer arrived it was pretty smooth sailing. The last leg of the season was comfortable and dry with nights trending cooler than usual. These are optimal conditions to let the red grapes ripen on the vine until the ideal sugar, acid, and phenolics balance is reached.

It’s another planting year for us, and we’re implementing some specific changes in regards to technique in the vineyard. We are moving towards a tighter plantation density, cane pruning and planting specific clones we strongly believe will result in better intensity and complexity for our wines.

So far 2014 is off to a good start thanks to the “polar vortex.” The past two years, harvests have been under threat of new pests like the spotted winged fruit flies. I am convinced this cold stream will help to push the infestation further south without causing damage to the vines.

Jake Busching, winemaker at Grace Estates

[Last year] was typical for Monticello area vineyards, in that it was nothing like any of the previous vintages. It had a smattering of similarities but nothing that would drive any of us to say, ”Oh that was just like 2008!” We had a proactive plan to make the most of it, and become very reactive as the vintage rolled out before us. Doing well in a vintage is the ability to interpret what’s coming over the mountain or what’s flashing green and yellow on the radar screen and harness all of the chaotic elements to your advantage. It’s what we do as winegrowers; an art grown from a medium of elemental chaos.

Riding this sense of accomplishment, we look ahead to what we’d like to do next year to improve, change, or just have fun with the grapes that we will steward to fruition once again. I am looking at making some new wines: sauvignon blanc, new growths of tannat and cabernet franc, and starting a port program.

We simply cannot make any assumptions of the vintage upcoming. We deal with the elements and the elements aren’t talking…yet. When asked about the next vintage, or even the current vintage, and how it’s doing or looking, I like to answer with something like “ask me when it’s been in bottle a few months.”

Nathan Vrooman,
winemaker at Ankida Ridge

[The year] 2013 produced a well-timed bud break, followed by nice weather at bloom giving us healthy, well-populated vines. Warm, dry weather toward the end of the growing season helped the vines recover from previous gloomy weather and everything ripened, just a little later than previous vintages.

The biggest setback to the 2013 vintage was the rain in the middle of the growing season that caused a lot of worry that the fruit would not be able to adequately ripen.

The winter has shown us a big cold spell already. Assuming the vines have not been damaged, we think we are off to a great 2014. It will soon be time to start pruning!

Kirsty Harmon, winemaker at Blenheim Vineyards 

As everyone has said, 2013 was unbelievably wet, but luckily the rain stopped for the entire duration of harvest, which certainly saved the vintage from disaster. Reds are still in a bit of a weird place since malic acids were so high (likely due to all of the rain and not enough sunshine). Many of our red wines are still going through malolactic fermentation, so it’s tough to figure out how everything will taste once they are done.

We made a sauvignon blanc for the first time, and if things go as planned, we will also make a roussanne.

For 2014, we hope to make more sauvignon blanc and will continue to experiment with the block of pinot noir that we have.

Who knows what the weather will bring us? But as always, I’m hopeful for sunshine and excited for another chance to make wine!

Rachel Stinson, winemaker at Stinson Vineyards 

[Last year] was a big year in the vineyard for us—our first harvest! Our first grapes came in on August 31 and the last ones on October 27. We do an extended fermentation on our port-style wine, so we didn’t press everything off until right before Christmas.

Ripening in general was a bit behind due to cooler temperatures throughout the summer and LOTS OF RAIN. Fortunately the sun came out for a very key few weeks in September and produced a fine finish on the fruit. We look forward to playing around with blending trials on the new clones.

In 2013 we planted a block of tannat, which is the varietal we use in our port–style wine. Its hard to find growers who are willing to let the grapes hang late into the season, so this will be a new experience for us. We’re also experimenting with our new sauvignon blanc plantings to better protect them from cold damage.

What little we’ve seen of 2014 so far has been continued unpredictable weather! While some cold weather is good as it may help to kill off bugs and certain diseases, it also means keeping a careful eye out for cold damage to the vines and timing pruning just right. We’re also looking forward to higher yield from our vines. I think this will be another big year for Virginia wine in the press so hopefully the weather will cooperate!

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