Spring is here, and it is like déja vu all over again. (Yogi Berra)
Remember the poem about spring in the Bronx
Spring is sprung
The grass is riz
I wonder where the boidies is?
They say the boid is on the wing
But that’s absoid the wing is on the boid
(Attributed to Ogden Nash)
Spring this year has been propitious. I could have used superlatives like “awesome” or “unbelievable” but I am a bit averse to superlatives, and “propitious” is a little more precise meaning that spring is favorable, indicating a good outcome, but not let’s go overboard.
Most important of all, we dodged the frost always a huge concern and often the cause of major crop loss.
Bud break came on time April 15th along with tax day and when the buds break the flowers bloom, it is after all spring.
Right now the sun is shining and right now, is time in the life cycle of the vine that we call efflorescence or flowering.
It is amazing what one can learn from so many different media platforms and one that I would put lowest on my list is Facebook; a fellow wine grower Carole Meredith (UC Davis) at Lagier Meredith Vineyard posted a perfectly excellent picture of the anatomy of a vine flower.
The flowers of the vines we grow (vitis vinifera) are self-pollinating and when the flower first emerges it has a cap on it, the cap falls off and the actual flower consists of a central ovary that is destined to become the grape berry and usually 5-6 anthers that to the unaccustomed eye look like petals, the anthers produce the pollen that falls onto and fertilizes the ovary to create the grape berry.
The time when the flowers get pollinated, we call “fruit set.” Fruit set determines crop load and to a certain extent fruit quality.
There is a certain irony with grapes that goes against all principles of agriculture in that the less fruit a vine produces, the higher is the quality of the grapes hence, the quality of the wine.
The key to this understanding is the term: wine-grape grower. Now if one were growing table grapes, it would be the same as normal agriculture in that the bigger the yield the happier is the grower; but not so with wine-grape growing.
Why so? Well it is because of one simple fact and that is that in wine, the color, the intensity, the complexity and everything else about a good wine is a function of the skin of the grape. In Level 1 WSET class held here and in Richmond by The Virginia Wine Academy the class begins with two black grapes on a napkin and the student is required to taste the component parts of the grape the pulp, the skin and the seeds. One appreciates that a black grape has clear pulp and when the skin is left on the napkin the skin stains the napkin red. I like to ask the trick question what black grape makes white wine? And the answer is Pinot Noir when it is used to make sparkling wine; the pulp of Pinot Noir is the same color as Chardonnay – it is only when the skins are left in contact with the pulp that the juice becomes red or at least pink.
To get back to my original train of thought which was that unlike everyone else in agriculture, wine growers prefer low yields. It is all to do with the ratio of grape skins to grape pulp.
You know, they say that “experience” comes from making mistakes, and that is why I am one of the most experienced wine growers you have ever met. It goes way back to our early days in 2005 when after a couple of years of wine growing I got to understand from other growers that the lower the yield the better was the quality of the wine. I decided to reduce the crop load by half on one of our large blocks of Cabernet Franc. As we saw in the photos on bud break on one shoot there are two bunches of fruit, so I had the crew go through and cut off (drop is the technical term) one of the two bunches. The naïve observer, myself included, might think in so doing it would reduce the crop by half.
It did not.
To my ultimate chagrin and surprise the vines produced exactly the same weight of fruit; each bunch was twice the weight of the grapes from the vines that had not had the fruit dropped. What I did not understand was that with young vines in their third or fourth leaf, the vine is going to produce whatever it is going to produce no matter what one does or how one prunes. As you can imagine doubling the weight of the bunch, the grape berries were twice the size with twice as much pulp relative to amount of skins. The wine was terrible and too red to call Rose and not red enough to call red wine. This was my “shot in the foot vintage” emphasizing that one cannot fool Mother Nature. Another more positive way to look at the importance of the ratio of skin to pulp is to think of our most favored grape, Petit Verdot. The reason it is called “Petit” Verdot is because the grapes themselves, the grape berries are small so that there is more skin relative to the amount of pulp; the result Petit Verdot makes a wine that is deeply colored and packed full of multiple and wondrous grape flavors.
In the Cellar
Our eldest daughter and winemaker, Emily has been elected as the representative for the American Southeast Seaboard to The National Grape Research Alliance (NGRA). This appointment is a big deal not only for Emily, but also for our whole family. It gives Emily the opportunity to be at the leading edge of all scientific developments in every aspect of grape growing and wine making at a national level and I quote the goal of the NGRA is “to actualize scientific advances in the areas of greatest industry need.”
Not bad Eh!
Emily, Elliott, Lucas and Jolie have been cranking it out this month having bottled lots of lovely wines including Viognier, White Star, Red Star and Cabernet Franc.
And talking of winemaking: Our 2016 Vintners’ Reserve VR was voted one of the top three best red wines in the Monticello Wine Trail Competition, all credit to Bill Tonkins and his crew in the vineyard and Emily and her crew in the cellar.
You may wonder what the term “Vintner’s’ Reserve” actually means? The term “Reserve” in the USA has no specific meaning and is not defined in labeling terms except to say the wine is better than the regular stuff. In EU countries if you see “Reserve or Reserva” those terms specify the time for which the wine is barrel aged.
Probably the best way to illustrate it is by describing what happens in the reality of winemaking. It is just a fact that when we make 10 barrels of wine all from the same plot and made exactly the same way there will be a gradation of quality; roughly 2 barrels will be exceptionally good, 4 barrels will be Okay, and 2 barrels will be not so good. When we put together the VR it is made up entirely of those barrels that to the winemaker Emily Pelton Hall are the exceptionally the best of each varietal batch.
Person of the Season: Emily Clemenson
Our Event Manager Emily Clemenson has been working diligently with special responsibility for the Wedding Department as well as all the other events we do like Starry Nights. She is from Lynchburg, Virginia having studied Business Marketing and Sales as an undergraduate and is now on her way to a Master’s in Executive Leadership. She got the job when she told us she liked hiking, the outdoors and good wine! We are delighted to have her as part of the Veritas family!
Get Away From It All
Here’s the latest brain saver: four days of yoga calm interspersed with exhilarating Appalachian hikes rewarded with epicurean wine and food – just do it! For more information: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Grand Girls
Well folks, that’s all the news from Veritas, spring is off to a good start and we cannot ask for more – the cycle of life pedals on, and remember it is not the strongest that survive it is the ones who can adapt the best.
So from the adapting crew here at Veritas we wish you all a wonderful 4th of July and an even better summer.
Enologist, Raconteur and Dilettante Retired.