Winter 2018 Newsletter
Apart from a few cold spells and some freezing rain, it has for the most part been a green winter, and green winter is the main topic of this not so wintery winter newsletter.
I am writing about climate change today because as I write this it is February 21st and 72 ° and sunny outside. The vines are weeping as the sap rises with increasing temperature. More likely than not we will get early bud break, exposing us to a marked increase in the risk of spring-time frost damage. I know that “weather” is not climate, but if you think about it, the cumulative effects of individual weather patterns over an extended period constitute what we call climate.
In the wine world, climate (forgive the pun) is a hot topic and the nature of climate change is even hotter. Wine growers describe climates quite simply by referencing climate examples from around the world. Viticulture refers to grape growing but not all grapes are destined for wine making. China is now the largest producer of grapes, but only a small portion goes into wine making. Probably the single most important consideration in wine grape growing is temperature. Grape growing around the world is restricted to certain latitudes in both the southern and northern hemispheres where the average temperature ranges from 50-70F (10-20C). These so-called isotherms are limited to latitudes 30-50 degrees in both hemispheres. While grapes can be grown in other parts of the world, these are the primary areas of wine cultivation.
The coolest growing regions around 50° F (10 in both the northern and southern hemispheres have what are known as Continental climates with short, hot summers and long, cold winters good examples in the northern hemisphere would be Burgundy in France and the Mosel in Germany; in the southern hemisphere Otago in New Zealand and Mendoza in Argentina). At the other end of the spectrum the warmer wine growing regions around 70° F (20 °C) are characterized by long, hot summers and short, cool and often wet winters.
The climates in these warmer regions are called Mediterranean climates because (No Duh) the climate is typical of the Mediterranean region. Examples of Mediterranean climates in the northern hemisphere are Provence in France and Sicily in Italy, and in the southern hemisphere Stellenbosch in South Africa and the Hunter Valley in Australia. In between those two extremes are Maritime climates that occur in areas typically surrounded by water, where the water acts as a buffering mechanism so that it never gets too hot or too cold in the northern hemisphere. Bordeaux in France is the classic example in the north and in the south the classic example is the Margaret River in Australia.
The fact is, climate change is real. Whether it is the result of mankind depends on whom you believe. I like the line that arguing about climate change is rather like a group of revelers on the Titanic arguing about who should pay the bar bill. The Brits are reveling in the fact that the French are buying vineyard property in England in areas that several decades they would have laughed at. By the middle of this century, Britain could become one of the world’s big wine producers, as global warming moves the limits of viticulture ever-farther north.
There are areas in Alsace that are experiencing earlier and earlier harvest with fruit so ripe they are having to change the regulations. Hot areas are getting hotter, much to the dismay of the Australian wine growers who are busy buying cooler vineyard property in Tasmania. As cool areas warm, so will warm areas have to change to growing raisins. The survivors will not be the biggest producers or the richest producers but the ones who can adapt – just ask Charles Darwin.
In The Vineyard
The vines are sleeping, but right now the alarm is going off. Our trusty crews are working away pruning the vines for this year’s crop, led by Alvino and his crew, who in turn are under the command of our most glorious Field Marshall, Bill Tonkins.
The Virginia Vineyards Association awarded Bill Tonkins Grower of the Year and By Gosh he deserves it, not just for the superb work he has done at Veritas and Flying Fox –(resulting in 6 gold medals in the 2018 competition and 3 gold medals for 2017 – two of which were in the Governor’s case) but also for his dedication as President of the Virginia Vineyards Association. He was elected to the Virginia Wine Board and has worked selflessly in the eternal struggle to improve the quality and quantity of Virginia wine. Jolly Good Show Old Boy!
2018 Governor’s Cup
The Winter Olympics, as in any Olympic event, is the epitome of human competiveness as we struggle one against the other, a zero sum game, where gold is the ultimate victory. So it is with The Governor’s Cup – forget the runners up, we want gold and yes folks, we won a total of six gold medals, four for Veritas and two for Flying Fox. One of the gold medals, our 2015 Petit Verdot, scored high enough to gain a place in this years’ Governor’s case – the second year in a row for Veritas Petit Verdot. Veritas won gold with 2015 Petit Verdot, 2017 Sauvignon Blanc – (the first Sauvignon Blanc to ever win gold in the Governor’s Cup in the history of the cup), 2017 Viognier, and 2015 Vintner’s Reserve. Flying Fox won gold with their 2017 Viognier and 2015 Trio. It’s hard to be humble when you have such a winning combination of wine grower and wine maker.
In January, as usual, we bottled our two highest-quality 2016 red wines, the Petit Verdot and Vintner’s Reserve, both aged for eighteen months in oak. In February we bottled 1,980 cases of 2017 Sauvignon Blanc which I have to tell you stands on the shoulders of all Sauvignon Blanc we have ever made – as the vines mature so does our ability to perfect the wine.
Our events team is led by Jami, who we featured in last year’s summer newsletter. She has been, with the help of Jessee (see below), adding glory to our illustrious name with a series of top class events, the first being The Masked Ball on New Year’s Eve.
The Spurrier Dinner followed on January 30th. Steven Spurrier is revered in Britain for his early achievement of demonstrating to the world that California wines were of comparable quality to the first-growth wines of Bordeaux. He was invited to be the principal judge of the Virginia Governor’s Cup competition. Chris Parker and I have known Steven over the years through our contacts at the London Wine Fair and we were able to invite Steven on behalf of The Virginia Wine Academy to a dinner held at Veritas entitled “Steven Spurrier – My Life in Wine” on January 30th. Executive Chef Joel Walding and his fine culinary team starred in providing what can only be described as “Haute Cuisine” for almost one hundred guests. Steven’s personal charm and choice of wines harmonized so well with the food that few will forget and most will remember.
Person of the Season
Jessee McDowell was appointed Wait Captain back in July of last year. He has an associate’s degree in Hospitality and Management and worked as General Manager at Wild Wolf for two years before he started working with us in May 2014. He was born in Jacksonville, Florida and now lives in Amherst where he loves the outdoor life, sports and cooking. The great thing about Jessee is that he is solid as a rock, reliable and conscientious. He has been a stalwart backup whenever anything goes wrong. Jessee never fails to help out and for that we are grateful.
Well I did it. Thanks to my dear wife Patricia I completed the seven continents of the world in seventy years with a Christmas gift of an Antarctic trip that I can say was truly out of this world.
The Grand Girls are as lovely as ever. Patricia took them all to ski last weekend at Wintergreen, where despite the weather they all had a wonderful time. The up-shot was that they felt that they were more summer birds than winter ones.
I am contrasting the fervor of that shot with a calmer and more dignified picture of them at Christmas when we all, and I mean all, went to see The Nutcracker in Richmond.
And then of course there is Isla, thirteen months and walking like a champ.
According to Steven Pinker’s book Enlightenment Now, the world is actually a better place to live in than it has ever been. According to his optimistic view, there is less starvation, disease, and war, but now we have climate change.
Thank you for reading the fortunes of the Veritas family, for we are the lucky ones.
From all of us here at Veritas have a Happy Easter.
Co-Founder of The Virginia Wine Academy
Emeritus Veritas Bottle Washer