Warning: mysql_real_escape_string() [function.mysql-real-escape-string]: Can't connect to local MySQL server through socket '/var/lib/mysql/mysql.sock' (2) in /home/content/30/7596730/html/projectsunlight/wp-content/plugins/statpress-visitors/statpress.php on line 305

Warning: mysql_real_escape_string() [function.mysql-real-escape-string]: A link to the server could not be established in /home/content/30/7596730/html/projectsunlight/wp-content/plugins/statpress-visitors/statpress.php on line 305

Warning: mysql_real_escape_string() [function.mysql-real-escape-string]: Can't connect to local MySQL server through socket '/var/lib/mysql/mysql.sock' (2) in /home/content/30/7596730/html/projectsunlight/wp-content/plugins/statpress-visitors/statpress.php on line 306

Warning: mysql_real_escape_string() [function.mysql-real-escape-string]: A link to the server could not be established in /home/content/30/7596730/html/projectsunlight/wp-content/plugins/statpress-visitors/statpress.php on line 306

Warning: mysql_real_escape_string() [function.mysql-real-escape-string]: Can't connect to local MySQL server through socket '/var/lib/mysql/mysql.sock' (2) in /home/content/30/7596730/html/projectsunlight/wp-content/plugins/statpress-visitors/statpress.php on line 307

Warning: mysql_real_escape_string() [function.mysql-real-escape-string]: A link to the server could not be established in /home/content/30/7596730/html/projectsunlight/wp-content/plugins/statpress-visitors/statpress.php on line 307

Warning: mysql_real_escape_string() [function.mysql-real-escape-string]: Can't connect to local MySQL server through socket '/var/lib/mysql/mysql.sock' (2) in /home/content/30/7596730/html/projectsunlight/wp-content/plugins/statpress-visitors/statpress.php on line 308

Warning: mysql_real_escape_string() [function.mysql-real-escape-string]: A link to the server could not be established in /home/content/30/7596730/html/projectsunlight/wp-content/plugins/statpress-visitors/statpress.php on line 308

Warning: mysql_real_escape_string() [function.mysql-real-escape-string]: Can't connect to local MySQL server through socket '/var/lib/mysql/mysql.sock' (2) in /home/content/30/7596730/html/projectsunlight/wp-content/plugins/statpress-visitors/statpress.php on line 309

Warning: mysql_real_escape_string() [function.mysql-real-escape-string]: A link to the server could not be established in /home/content/30/7596730/html/projectsunlight/wp-content/plugins/statpress-visitors/statpress.php on line 309

Warning: mysql_real_escape_string() [function.mysql-real-escape-string]: Can't connect to local MySQL server through socket '/var/lib/mysql/mysql.sock' (2) in /home/content/30/7596730/html/projectsunlight/wp-content/plugins/statpress-visitors/statpress.php on line 310

Warning: mysql_real_escape_string() [function.mysql-real-escape-string]: A link to the server could not be established in /home/content/30/7596730/html/projectsunlight/wp-content/plugins/statpress-visitors/statpress.php on line 310

Warning: mysql_real_escape_string() [function.mysql-real-escape-string]: Can't connect to local MySQL server through socket '/var/lib/mysql/mysql.sock' (2) in /home/content/30/7596730/html/projectsunlight/wp-content/plugins/statpress-visitors/statpress.php on line 311

Warning: mysql_real_escape_string() [function.mysql-real-escape-string]: A link to the server could not be established in /home/content/30/7596730/html/projectsunlight/wp-content/plugins/statpress-visitors/statpress.php on line 311

Warning: mysql_real_escape_string() [function.mysql-real-escape-string]: Can't connect to local MySQL server through socket '/var/lib/mysql/mysql.sock' (2) in /home/content/30/7596730/html/projectsunlight/wp-content/plugins/statpress-visitors/statpress.php on line 312

Warning: mysql_real_escape_string() [function.mysql-real-escape-string]: A link to the server could not be established in /home/content/30/7596730/html/projectsunlight/wp-content/plugins/statpress-visitors/statpress.php on line 312

Warning: mysql_real_escape_string() [function.mysql-real-escape-string]: Can't connect to local MySQL server through socket '/var/lib/mysql/mysql.sock' (2) in /home/content/30/7596730/html/projectsunlight/wp-content/plugins/statpress-visitors/statpress.php on line 316

Warning: mysql_real_escape_string() [function.mysql-real-escape-string]: A link to the server could not be established in /home/content/30/7596730/html/projectsunlight/wp-content/plugins/statpress-visitors/statpress.php on line 316

Warning: mysql_real_escape_string() [function.mysql-real-escape-string]: Can't connect to local MySQL server through socket '/var/lib/mysql/mysql.sock' (2) in /home/content/30/7596730/html/projectsunlight/wp-content/plugins/statpress-visitors/statpress.php on line 317

Warning: mysql_real_escape_string() [function.mysql-real-escape-string]: A link to the server could not be established in /home/content/30/7596730/html/projectsunlight/wp-content/plugins/statpress-visitors/statpress.php on line 317
2011 August | Project Sunlight - A Winemaker's Education

Archive for August, 2011

Getting Ready for the Spring Planting

We’ve learned a lot about viticulture (so much so that if we were in the army, the body of knowledge we’ve accumulated would fal­l under the heading of “knowing just enough to get us killed”), and so we’re feeling like we want to plant a larger vineyard this Spring.  “Larger” is a relative term, of course; given that we’re starting with a vineyard of seven vines, it would be hard to go smaller.  We’re thinking of something between 100 and 200 vines.

Our Nelson County vines are feeling lonely – hopefully this Spring we’ll give them some company.

Most people in the business, even most backyard vintners, would regard that as a small undertaking, but it’s large for us, especially since we won’t be living close to this vineyard for at least the next few years.  Everything we plant has to be maintained, and that includes spraying very soon (within 24 hours) after any rainfall that drops more than three-quarters of an inch of water onto the vines.  So, while the number of vines we’re considering is very small by most standards, it’s sizeable by the criteria most relevant to us.

However, it makes the question of what grapes to plant – and how many different types of grapes to plant – much  more complicated.

In a small vineyard like ours, it’s probably best to plant relatively few types of grapes, since it’s easier to process 50 gallons of one type of wine that 25 gallons each of two varieties.  Well, we’re going for fun, not efficiency, so we’re thinking of four or five, all in the Vitis vinifera family of European-style grapes.  There are others, such as Norton, a Virginia original, that are much easier to grow (less spraying, less worry all around), and many Virginia wineries say that Norton is their most popular grape.  But again, we intend for this to be a labor of love, so while we’re not going to disregard entirely issues of suitability, we’ve decided to grow varietals that we love.

First off, we want a white, and Viognier has been named Virginia’s signature grape by the Virginia Wine Board.  We wouldn’t agree that Viognier is the best grape, period, for Virginia, but among whites, we do think a Virginia Viognier is something quite special.  Chardonnay and other whites do well here, but I think Viognier grown in Virginia has the potential to be world class.  So, Viognier makes the cut – three (or maybe four) to go.

Next, we’d like to have some kind of desert wine, and after drinking a bottle of Petit Manseng from Veritas Vineyards over the weekend, we decided to add that one as well to the shopping list. Two down, now on to the reds.

We like Bordeaux-style blends, so we want to choose from among the great grapes of Bordeaux:  Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cab Franc and Petit Verdot. (I’m not counting Malbec, which I doubt will do well on our property.)  We’ve had all four from Virginia wineries, so we know they’re at least realistic options.

Almost everyone agrees that Cab Franc does well in Virginia, and we’ve had good Cab Francs from many wineries.  In addition, the dozen Cab Franc vines that we planted in our two separate “vineyards” seem to be doing quite well, despite the late planting.  So Cab Franc seems like an easy choice.  But the results we’ve observed from Cab Sauv and Merlot are a bit spottier.

We’ve had very good Merlots from King Family Vineyards, among other wineries, and we tasted a lovely Merlot at Barboursville Vineyards Saturday, full of fruit, and very drinkable.  I’ve also had a few Cabs from Virginia wineries that I’ve enjoyed, including one at Barboursville last weekend, but on the whole, I have to say that I haven’t loved Virginia Cabs as much as I would have liked.  It would be nice to have one of the two for Bordeaux blends, and while my heart is always with Cab Sauv, my head tells me that Merlot is the better choice for us.  This is a tough one.

That brings me to Petit Verdot.  Two years ago, I had never tasted Petit Verdot as a varietal, and I can recall being surprised the first time it was offered in a tasting room.  I remember enjoying it, but thinking of it as a bit of a novelty.  I had grown up believing that Petit Verdot was a blending grape that was used in small amounts to correct acidity in Bordeaux blends.

A few weeks ago, when we decided to give Petit Verdot serious consideration for our vineyard, we visited a couple of wineries that bottled this grape as a varietal.  Both were sold out, which we thought was a good indicator of what wine-drinkers think of Virginia Petit Verdot. 

 

Phoenix, the Vineyard Dog, inspecting BOW's tank room. Here he is walking away from a tank after discovering that it was empty.

Our major concerns at this point were all practical.  Petit Verdot is a late-ripening grape, at least as late as Cab Sauv, which we think might be hard to grow, and that concerned us.  On the way home from Nelson County Thursday, we stopped at Barrel Oak Winery (BOW), which is not only dog friendly (Phoenix the Vineyard Dog was traveling with us), but we thought it featured a Petit Verdot (PV for the rest of this post).  

Alas, BOW was also sold out of PV.  However, we lucked out.  Sharon Roeder, who owns BOW along with husband Brian, and serves as its winemaker, took us on a tour of the winery, and offered a barrel sample of the 2010 PV. 

It’s not so easy to tell how a wine will develop as it continues to age in the barrel, and then ages some more in the bottle. But I was just blown away by this Petit Verdot.  It’s a big, bold, exuberant wine that is just full of fruit.  I would have loved to have poured a bottle and taken it home.  However, this wine has a ways to go before it’s bottled sometime in the Spring of 2012.  Before bottle aging starts, it will have spent 15 months in oak.  Fortunately, BOWs 2009 PV will be released in a couple of months.  I expect to be first in line.

So, that tasting eliminated by doubts about growing Petit Verdot. Maybe it’s more difficult than other grapes, but the results are surely worth it.  And while I agree that Viognier is Virginia’s signature white grape, I’m wondering if Petit Verdot will join Cab Frank as the Commonwealth’s (by my reckoning) signature red.

So, we’re done to Viognier, Petit Manseng, Cab Frank, Petit Verdot, and maybe Merlot. Now the real challenges begin.  How much of the total vineyard to plant next Spring?  How many of each varietal?  And which nursery to buy the vines from?  Tough questions.  Probably best to ponder them over a glass of wine.  Maybe a Virginia Viognier.  

 

 

August 25, 2011 | By | 1 Reply More

Introducing the Vines, Part II – Meet the Nelsons

It’s long past time to introduce the Nelson County vines, but before I start, let me once again acknowledge that it’s a bit of a stretch to refer to seven vines as a vineyard.  But hey, it’s a stretch I’m willing to make.  One is a vine, two or more is a vineyard, right?

“Nelson Mandela,” the tallest, noblest of our Cab Franc vines, named for one of the truly great figures of the 20th century.

The Nelson County property is the site for the real vineyard we plan to put in, and the seven vines we’ve planted fall into the category of experimental.  As my wife, the Vineyard Goddess, puts it, we want to make our mistakes on these vines, so that we’ll know what we’re doing when we plant the main vineyard.

The vineyard itself is a small plot, surrounded by a deer fence, with five Cab Franc vines and two Mammolo Toscanos. The Cab Franc were purchased from Double A Vineyards, a nursery in New York state.  They were ordered for delivery in the middle of April, a bit late in the season, but it took me a little time to get my arms around the idea that I could actually get everything done in time to plant vines this year.  We ordered 12 in all, and the other seven were planted at our Fairfax property, where I thought I could keep a close eye on them. Continue Reading–>

August 19, 2011 | By | Reply More

Outsmarting Birds and other Vineyard Predators

The grapes at DuCard Vineyards are starting to ripen nicely, which means that pretty much every creature that walks, flies or crawls is out to feast on them.

DuCard Vineyards in mid-August. The Cab Franc grapes are looking beautiful. Should be another great vintage for DuCard

There’s an old saying that goes something like this: when the deer begin eating the grapes, the Brix (a measure of the sugar level) is 20, when the birds begin feeding, it’s 22, and when the bees go after grapes, it’s time to harvest.  (If anyone has a more accurate take on that little bit of country wisdom, please post a comment!)

That aphorism probably ascribes a level of precision to nature that can’t be verified with scientific instruments, but it does give you an idea of what the grape farmer is up against.  After a growing season in which the vines are threatened by any one of a dozen pests or diseases, not to mention the vagaries of weather, Mother Nature presents a whole new set of challenges just as the grapes are reaching perfection.

Vineyard balloons: If you're a bird thirsting for Viognier, it doesn't get any scarier than this.

Saturday’s vineyard management class at DuCard focused on a number of these problems, and some of the tried and true solutions that have been used by viticulturists for years.  Some are high tech, like the box that transmits sounds of birds in distress throughout the vineyard, and others are decidedly low-tech: balloons and CDs hanging from trellises in spots where they’ll catch a bit of sunlight.  All three seem to work pretty well.

Birds apparently have some early warning systems.  They understand the vineyard is supposed to look a certain way, and when they see something out of the ordinary, they look for safer pastures, so to speak.  The CDs catch a glint of sunlight, and are visible to the birds as they approach, sending off the signal

Any old song will do: Not sure if it matters which CDs we hang from the vines, they all seem to scare the birds.

that something is not quite right here, so move on, and be quick about it.  The balloons accomplish the same thing.  In other vineyards, I’ve seen foil streamers flying in the breeze, which has the same effect.

And the deer will be coming soon as well. DuCard is located in the midst of open country, some of the most beautiful country you’ll ever see, and so it’s home to more deer than any of us can count.  The electric fence is going up this week, and between the fence, the balloons and the CDs, Scott thinks he has “about a 95 percent solution,” which I think is a nice compromise with nature.

While walking through the vineyard Saturday, I tasted a few Cab Franc and Viognier grapes, and was impressed by the sweetness.  We’re getting toward the end of the period of veraison, the time in which the berries stop growing in size and begin ripening, turning color in the process.  The Cab Franc gapes, for example, were about 80 percent there (by my own seat-of-the-pants measurement), with most of the grapes blue-black in color, and only a few still greenish. They’re looking magnificent, and the growing sugar level was evident on my tongue when I tasted the grapes.

As we move toward harvest, the sugar will continue to increase and acidity will drop.  The seeds inside the grape will turn color from their current green to more of a brown, and will lose their bitterness.  Soon, Scott Elliff, DuCard’s owner, and Julien Durantie, his vineyard manager, will begin testing the grapes regularly, taking advantage of both technology (checking the Brix with a refractometer), and the knowledge that comes from years of working in vineyards (looking at the seeds, chewing the skin to get an idea of the tannins, etc.)

The day of the harvest can’t be predicted this far in advance, and of course each of the four varieties of grapes Scott grows will ripen at different times.  But at some point for each, everything will come together, and Scott will make the judgment that it’s time to get the grapes off the vine and onto the crush pad.

And then we can start dreaming about the wine.

 

August 15, 2011 | By | 2 Replies More

WBC11: A Conference for Wine Bloggers -Part II

When I signed up for the North American Wine Bloggers Conference, I had just assumed, without really giving it much thought, that it would be a conference mostly about the art and practice of blogging, made into a wine blogger conference by the shared interest of those attending.  In fact, it was mostly about wine, with a few sessions devoted to the practice of blogging.

Thank God for that.

What was I thinking?  Of course, it should be about the wine.  After all, I get a regular stream of solicitations at the office for conferences focused on the how-to of social media, so that market is apparently covered.  The wine blogger conference market, however, is another story, and WBC11 catered to it in so many ways, especially by providing am abundance of opportunities to taste wines – Virginia wine in particular, I’m happy to say – and hear from the men and women who grew the grapes and turned them into wine.  That’s something you just can’t get just anywhere else. Continue Reading–>

August 3, 2011 | By | 1 Reply More

WBC11 – A Conference for Wine Bloggers

I’ve been meaning for a week now to write something about the Wine Bloggers Conference (WBC11) that was held in Charlottesville July 22-24.  It was a well-planned, well-executed conference, but what I think was most important about it for the purpose of this blog is the way it showcased Virginia’s wine industry.  Some 325 bloggers from around the country attended, and they were all exposed in a variety of ways to Virginia wine.

While I was gathering my thoughts, I had occasion to read two really terrific posts from Frank Morgan on his blog, "Drink What You Like."  I started to respond to the post, and my piece turned out to be too long for a comment – probably too long for a blog post, for that matter – so I decided to submit a trimmed-back version to his blog and run the extended piece here.  If you haven’t yet seen Drink What You Like, trust me, it’s well worth a visit.

What’s great about these two posts (A View from the Punt, I and II) is the perspective it provides from “the other side of the bottle” – the views of those who were pouring their wines at this conference.  I had actually been wondering what the winemakers, vineyard managers, marketing directors and others who poured during the conference thought about the event and about the bloggers.  They pour (sorry for the pun) their lives into their wines, then pour the wines for people who sniff and swirl it for a few moments before rendering judgments that can be generous in their praise or critical to the point of being mean-spirited. Continue Reading–>

August 1, 2011 | By | 3 Replies More
%d bloggers like this: