So what makes for an ideal growing season in Virginia? Hot, dry summers with growing seasons that extend into the fall. Oh, and no late or early frosts. Easy question, easy answer. However, what if winter is unusually brutal with sub-zero temperatures and frequent outbreaks of ice and snow that lasts well into March? It may be easy to dismiss winter as an influence on the vineyards; after all, the grapes have been harvested and the vines lay dormant, right? We weren’t so sure about that and asked four Virginia winemakers to offer their opinions on the Arctic winter and its possible consequences. And what about the 2013 vintage? How are things coming along in the tanks and barrels? In this post, we will compare opinions from two winemakers in northern Virginia: Jordan Harris of Tarara Winery and Doug Fabbioli of Fabbioli Cellars.
1. This has been a winter of long-lasting, record-breaking cold weather. This week’s temperatures plunged to below zero in much of Virginia. Are you concerned about stress to the vines? Have you changed vineyard management (i.e. pruning) as a result?
Jordan Harris (JH): I am certainly concerned but I do not believe that there will be wide spread damage on our sites. The coldest we have gotten to is 3 degrees. I have been through that many times in Niagara and at that point there doesn’t tend to be a lot of damage. There may be some issues with really sensitive varieties like Merlot but I would guess it will be in the 15-20% bud loss range for them. In places where they may have got to -5 they could start to see more wide spread damage as you are then entering the temperature range that can harm buds in most varieties.
My biggest concern is actually that we planted a lot last year so I am not sure how the young vines will have stood up to the cold and if we will have significant attrition rates and have to replant those. Really I won’t be able to tell that until well after bud break.
As for pruning, if I were smarter, I probably would have changed it up a bit this year but hind sight is always 20/20. We are exclusively cane pruned VSP (Double Guyot) and we were done by mid January so there is not much we can do now. We do leave a third cane each year so we can replace one of the two that we lay down in case of frost or I guess now winter cold. This year we may just lay that cane down as a third right over top of another one for more buds but my concern is if they are all fruitful then we will have a lot of shoot thinning to do and wonder if we will be able to keep up and maintain a balanced and clean canopy.
Doug Fabbiolo (DF): We had a cold spell in December that got me scared. We did a brief, non scientific bud evaluation and decided to only do a rough pruning. We are leaving a lot of buds on the vines at this point and do not anticipate a final pruning until May when the fruit shows itself and we can make some cuts that will be sure to be fruitful.
2. Early bud break is always a concern when it occurs; however, are there worries about a later bud break? What is the optimal time for bud break? (The cherry blossoms are scheduled to bloom much later this year due to the long-lingering winter.)
JH: You mean like in 2013 when we were so late that there was no risk of frost ☺. After last year I say there is no ideal time in Virginia. I would personally like to see bud-break around the start of April to get a long enough growing season but at least get out of March which is very scary (2012). I actually think there is a good chance we will still see an early to regular bud-break anyway. The soil has a lot of moisture so as long as we get some warmth the vines will come on really fast this year I think. Not that we can accurate guess the weather for tomorrow, but long range it looks like Spring hits pretty well around the 15th which could very well give us bud-break sometime in the first week of April, but more likely the second or third week in many varieties is my guess.
DF: The optimal time for budbreak is after the last killing frost. That never happens. I am hoping with the later start, we will be closer to that situation. The vines will catch up if they have some warm days in late spring.
3. Now that the 2013 harvest is history, how is the 2013 vintage shaping up, and what are the comparisons to past vintages?
JH: I am actually really enjoying the wines, I just wish there was a lot more of it. The later reds struggled a bit to get as ripe as I would like, but varieties like Merlot and Tannat really have some great flavor and striking elegance. The whites (predominately Chardonnay since we got next to no Viognier this year) are beautiful. They are elegant but ripe and are really showing the results of either a great site or meticulous management or both. In the end, I don’t want a repeat of 2013 because it was very trying on my patience and stress level, but the wines are good. Once again, quality is not my concern as much as quantity in this case.
It really is hard to compare our 2013s to another vintage for me given I have only been here since 2007. The closest I can say to any of the vintages I have done would be 2008 but 2013 was a shorter and wetter year for us than 2008. That said I think we have a far better understanding of our site from 2008 so still made better wine. You could say structurally similar to 2012 for us, but the ripeness level is not quite as high.
DF: 2013 was challenging during the growing season but finished up in the best way possible with warm days, cool nights and no rain. I am very pleased with what we are tasting. We will be trialing more blends again today. I am tasting good ripe fruits, rich tannin structure and balanced acids. Some of this is from winemaking techniques done as the grapes came in, but most is because of a decent growing year.
And who are the other two winemakers and how did they respond? Stay tuned to find out. In the meantime, spring is hopefully in the air, and it is time to visit Virginia wineries. Plan a trip to Tarara Winery and Fabbioli Cellars to sample their excellent wines, but be sure to tell Jordan and Doug that Virginia Wine Time sent you.
Tarara Vineyards just received news that three of the winery’s red wines earned 90 points in Wine Enthusiast magazine. These wines include the Cabernet Franc 2010, Tranquility Red 2010, and the CasaNova 2010. We recently visited the Tarara tasting room and can attest to the quality wines produced by winemaker Jordan Harris. We’ve become big fans of the nova series of wines, too.
Jordan Harris was kind enough to answer our questions about the 2012 harvest and to reveal his expectations for the 2012 vintage. We hope that this will be the first in a series of several articles about the 2012 harvest, and we have been polling winemakers from various regions of the state about the 2012 season. Tarara Winery is located in the Northern region in Loudoun County. A huge THANK YOU to Jordan Harris for answering our questions!
How would you describe the 2012 growing season for:
Overall I think that n most of the white varieties will really shine in 2012. I am finding the acidities are really crisp but are balanced with some of the best flavor development I have seen here including 2010 and 2007. They are wines that show a true sense of terroir by having very ripe characters but structures that still allow for minerality and freshness to shine. We only processed Chardonnay, Viognier and Rkatsiteli for whites in 2012. The Chardonnay is leaner but with an abundance of character. I think they will be expressive out of the gate but will also be some of our most age worthy expressions I have made so far in Virginia. Viognier was a welcome return to having riper stone fruit, floral and exotic characters with a full creamy mouthfeel after 2011. While they have the tell-tale aromatics and fruit characters and creamy mouthfeel I think they also have the best acidity I have tasted for balance in quite some time. Rkats was a first for us so it is hard for me to have any comparative statements. We processed Rkats in three wildly different ways and got three wildly different wines. We did some as simple cool fermented stainless only wines, some we fermented on the skins to make an Orange wine with 30 days on the skins and some we did barrel fermented and aged with full Malo. I love all three, but learned I still have no idea what Rkats should be.
The reds were far more selective, but by no means any less successful. We had an extremely long growing season starting almost a month early. That meant the hang time was superb for us in pretty much every block we harvested resulting in more supple tannins, great flavor development and good color. There were a couple scattered rain events that did not effect our Nevaeh Vineyard as much as many other sites just due to the weather patterns around our site. Tranquility needed the most time given the rain that hit randomly at harvest and we always like to wait 7-10 days after a rain event before harvesting (not always possible, but it is a goal). Overall I find that the wines have a more claret like leanness, but more new world style fruit characters. They have the tannins of 2007, the acid of 2008 or 2009, and the flavor development of 2010. There are a couple blocks that weren’t as exciting, but overall I think it was a great vintage for both reds and whites given the length of it assuming you had good vineyard management and reasonable yields.
What factors contributed to the success/failure of the 2012 harvest?
The biggest helper was the early bud break and the fact that we did not get any severe frost damage. There were some blocks that had small amounts of frost that resulted not in shoot death, but simply a naturally lower yield which in my opinion was good. It meant for more balances and concentrated fruit in the end without the possibility of greed after the tough 2011 vintage. It was also a fairly moderate to cool year for most of the vintage except of the end of July and start of August when we hit 100 degrees for several days. The rain in most of our blocks nearing the end of the vintage I found refreshed the vines, but did not cause much of an issue with dilution if you were patient enough and your vineyard was healthy in the first place. It resulted in the ability to hang the fruit longer without having overly excessive sugars and better acidity then most years.
How does the 2012 harvest compare to previous harvests?
A somewhat stated above, 2012 is a year that will be held on its own. The long, moderate season allowed for the flavor development of 2010, tannin (both skins and seeds) of 2007, but the acidity and weight of 2008 or 2009. It is a true winemakers vintage in that I think the types of wines that are being tasted are those that we enjoy with complexity, structures and not wines that will overtake a meal. They are supple and almost lean but in a very good way.
What will the hallmarks of the 2012 wines?
This is the area that never really changes much for me here. Chardonnay and Viognier shined for the whites. Merlot and Syrah shined for the reds, although I am more partial to the Cabernet Franc we harvested from Nevaeh this year. I can only compare it to 2007 for quality in my mind for Cab Franc. I found with the midseason ripeners (Viognier, Chardonnay, Merlot and Syrah) and a little patience we were able to get some pretty incredible grapes that in my opinion will rival any vintage I have seen here.
Summertime presents opportunities for wine lovers to spend vacation time at local wineries. In recent weeks, we’ve taken advantage of free time and longer daylight to do just that!
Chrysalis Vineyards: The VIP pickup party was held this past Saturday evening, and the event showcased new releases: the 2011 Chardonnay and the 2008 Red Reserve. However, club members were also able to enjoy a complete wine tasting of current releases. Pizzeria Moto provided the evening’s food to pair with a favorite Chrysalis wine. (These guys make great pizza!) Our wine partner for the evening was the crisp 2011 Albarino, and it proved to be the perfect match with my pizza topped with pancetta and goat cheese. Fans of Kluge Estate wines will be pleased to know former tasting room manager Tammy Cavanaugh is now tasting room and sales manager at Chrysalis Vineyards. (We had a wonderful time catching up with Tammy!)
Gadino Cellars: We’re big Wolftrap fans and attend many summer concerts there; of course, we sit on the lawn so that we can bring our own picnic foods and wine. Of course, that means stocking up on favorite summer wines from Virginia wineries, and that quest found us at Gadino Cellars. We enjoyed the 2011 Pinot Grigio that is blended with a small amount of Petit Manseng. Pineapple and citrus notes with a refreshing crispness suggest a perfect wine for summer. A sweeter option is the 2010 Sunset, a blend of Traminette and Chardonnay with 3% residual sugar; however, our favorite was the 2011 Moonrise, a blend of Nebbiolo, Cabernet Franc and Petit Manseng. Bright berry flavors and spicy finish make for a versatile wine that would be at ease with a host of picnic foods; a semi-dry finish makes for a refreshing pour on warm evenings. We ended up purchasing each of the above to bring along to our Wolftrap concerts!
Tarara Winery: Tarara Winery continues its summer concert series, and we’ve already attended one show that featured a Journey tribute band. (We were Journey fans in the 1980s.) Before the concert though, we were able to sneak in a tasting thanks to wine educator Kerry Ann. The 2011 white wines were all bright and fruity with an acidity that most 2010 Virginia white wines seemed to lack. Particular favorites were the 2011 Barnyard White, 2011 Petit Manseng (my favorite), and the 2011 Viognier (Paul’s favorite). We were also treated to a sneak sample of the 2011 Rose, a Provence-style rose with strawberry and faint herbal elements. In fact this one ended up being our wine to enjoy at the concert. And what foods partnered with the rose? Pizza from Pizzeria Moto! Did I mention that these guys make great pizza? They will be at many local winery events this year, so it’s worth checking out any event where Pizzeria Moto will be serving the food. Great wine, great pizza, and a trip down memory lane with songs we knew from high school made for a memorable evening.
Be sure your summer plans include visits to Virginia wineries; check out the events to see if you can plan a day of wine, food and music. At the very least, visit the wineries mentioned in this post to stock up on summer wines. Please mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.
We haven’t been able to participate in Wine Blogging Wednesday yet but since we both are finished with our work obligations for the summer, we decided to participate. Frank Morgan from Drink What You Like is hosting this month’s Wine Blogging Wednesday. It’s all about viggy.
Viognier was on tap for Wine Blogging Wednesday, and we enjoyed the 2010 Viognier from Tarara Winery. This Viognier presented a more golden hue; however, we noted that the nose needed a bit of coaxing to reveal itself. Swirling (and warming) ultimately produced tropical fruit aromas with a flinty edge. Similar flavors were observed in the mouth with a nice acidity and fuller feel. We appreciated this Viognier with herb and parmesan-crusted baked chicken breasts and roasted potatoes topped with fresh parsley. I would have added a creamy sauce of some sort to complete the partnership with the 2010 Viognier from Tarara Winery; however, we had quite a feast anyway. If you haven’t had the 2010 Viognier from Tarara Winery, give it a try. And if you visit the winery, tell them Virginia Wine Time sent you!