Andrew’s Newsletter, the End of Summer in Reflection

Posted by on Sep 17, 2019 in Andrew's Newsletter, Harvest, Vineyard | No Comments

The Ultimate Veritas Summer Newsletter 2019

The 2019 Summer – a Retrospective 

As summer draws to a close I have a few thoughts about how I think or used to think about summer and what we as a family winery  have experienced in the summer of 2019 plus a Farmhouse feature of the person behind the B&B at Veritas.

It used to be that “summer” was the epitome of well –being, characterized by sundrenched days of no school, strawberries and salad cream. I remember the gaudy colors of summer that clashed in beach balls, sun shades, swim- suits and always beach music from “Why don’t you come home Speedy Gonzalez” to “There ain’t no cure for the summer -time blues” Of course, I am dating myself now as my summer music was of the boomer generation since then we have had Gen X, Gen Y and the latest to come on board Gen Z. I am not going to bemoan “the good old days” except to wonder,  were the good old days really the good old days? So much has changed, particularly in relation to education, we have gone from rote learning to critical thinking, from textbooks to lap- tops. I keep asking myself are we smarter now than we were three generations ago? We are definitely smarter in the ways we have access to knowledge but if we were to take away the Internet (technology) would we actually think differently?

In our dependence on our smart- phones are we as individuals that much less well informed, have we substituted interpersonal relationships because of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter? 

What I am getting at is that the very concept of summer as the high point in our lives has diminished as through each generation the impact of different seasons has been changed and summer as a season no longer represents the freedom it once did when I was a kid. I see my grand -kids – generation TBA so programmed that in some respects that they do not understand the freedom of what it is like to do nothing except play. 

What happened this summer of 2019?

Summer would not be summer if I did not mention the weather and it has been a SORCHER. 

 Lots of lovely sun and hardly any rain for the whole month of August. 

This is the summer that was -and it was a DOOZIE.

If you remember in the spring, I said things are looking “propitious”, meaning that as far as the grapes were concerned things were looking very promising that is of course, as long as we get lots of sun. 

And guess what? we got lots of sun!

Recently a group of Virginia wine growers were asked to judge the effect of the good weather on the harvest, most growers commented on how quickly the fruit had ripened and how early the harvest was- a chorus echoed in most areas in France and Italy. Phenology is the study of  how weather/climate influences the growth of plants, a branch of science that helps farmers, horticulturalists and wine grape growers predict when a crop will be ready to harvest. Bill Tonkins our trusty Field Marshall reports to the likes of Emily and Elliott our wine-makers a measure called a “Growing Degree Day.” (GDD) I won’t go into the weeds on how we calculate a GDD except to say it is quite simple. A GDD is a measure of the ambient air temperature that apart from water is one of the most important measures  affecting the way a vine ripens the fruit.

You would think the more sunshine the hotter the air temperature and the better the crop and you would be correct anywhere except in Virginia and the reason is summertime rain – the bane of the winegrowers life. This summer 2019, compared to last summer 2018 provides us a perfect example.

 This year is a good year and we have had 3380 GDDs so far  but if you look back at last year that was a bad year, we actually had more GDDs this time last year than we did this year!

2018  was a challenging year with heavy disease pressure that led to  mediocre fruit quality. This year with slightly less GDDs we have an abundant, high quality crop. Why the staggering difference in the two vintages? 

Two things, in 2018 we had cloud and rain during May the period of fruit set so well explained in my 2019 spring newsletter. Poor fruit set reduced the size of the crop 

from the outset, add to that  we had much more rain, high temperature and high humidity increases fungal disease that causes both a poor yield and poor fruit quality. 

Bottom line in Virginia we don’t need more sun we need less rain and if climate change goes the way they are predicting we are going to have more heat AND more rain.

I’m counting on the fact that climate change is just a hoax! 

The harvest is so good this year that if we were in France the harvest would be declared a “vintage” year.

For most products in agriculture an abundant harvest is most frequently associated with a fall in price..

The opposite is true with wine.

In the old world an abundant year was associated with not only a large amount of fruit but also the quality of the fruit was higher and therefore higher quality fruit gave the winemaker the opportunity to make higher quality wine and higher quality wine ages better and that allows the producer to charge higher prices. If you are a Champagne drinker you will know the price difference in a vintage versus a non vintage bottle of bubbles.

FarmHouse Feature

The FarmHouse is doing exceedingly well all credit to my dear wife Patricia. Since it opened in 2012 it has been going gangbusters. The Farmhouse itself was our home for the first 12 years at SaddleBack Farm in Virginia. By the time the kids had moved out we were “empty- nesters” so we downsized  to our current residence, 

 Fawlty Towers a house we had always dreamed of owning. Here was our opportunity, as many of you know Patricia is the artist in the family and it was that artistic talent that underlies the beautiful facility that is now the FarmHouse.

Exquisite decor demands exquisite dining and over the last seven years with constant attention to detail Patricia has developed a farm to table dining experience that is second to none. Andy Shipman the executive chef at the Farmhouse for the last four years is the epitome of the locavore chef who has through his own hard work created a unique style of cuisine. The result  the Farmhouse has a five star rating by Trip Advisor and is rated the number one restaurant in Charlottesville by OpenTable. It has taken Paticia time to build a staff of individuals who can deliver that sense of heightened dining pleasure that matches the quality of the food and remember you do not have to be a guest to book at table.

The standard of service is one of the things that keeps the five stars shining.

Then there’s the retreats another Patricia brainchild that she loves hosting

She has been doing them for over five years now a combination of Yoga and education for the spiritual well being, exercise in the form of hiking for the physical wellbeing and the best wine and food we can offer for the hedonistic wellbeing.

 The Harvest Cru (Crew)

To prove my point that it has been a good year  we are well – ahead of our usual harvest schedule actually almost as far forward as we were in 2010, (still in many people’s  mind the best vintage in the last two decades) – so keep your fingers crossed.

Emily and Elliot have had a rocking harvest  with our harvest team. Gwen who was with us last year along with Jolie who is our bubble in the lab. 

 Our two “harvest” interns Chris Hurst and Evan Brailer,  are still smiling and have both contributed to the fun and selfless team -work everyone has had working this harvest. I warned them that the beatings will continue until morale improves.

Ruth Terry

We say a fond farewell to “Ruthie” who retired in July. I know for all the Hodson family she will be remembered with warmth and gratitude. She worked Saddleback for sixteen years before we even got here and she worked for us for twenty, making a total of thirty six years in all. She drove the tractor when we planted the vines she helped put up the beams when built the winery. In whatever aspect of life at Veritas Ruth was there. She was always devoted to the menagerie of animals from Chloe’s ferrets to the vineyard dogs- Ruth took care of them. Last time we spoke she told me she has never been happier- Good job Ruthie.

Neubies  -We have had great luck in finding two much needed  employees -they are both so lovely I couldn’t resist including them in the newsletter. Bekah Erkel joined us in July  to head up our marketing efforts and Abby Wilson joined soon after Bekah to head up our ever burgeoning wine club division!


The Cousins

Bill and Di as is their custom brought three of their grandchildren over for the “summer hols” they all had a great time playing with their American cuzzes.

Elliott and Chloe’s two: Isla going to school and Elsie just looking sweet

Patricia, Emily, Tralyn, Chloe and Auntie Di take ALL the girls away for a weekend at the beginning of summer before they all scatter in different directions for camp or whatever – here is a picture of all six of our grand-girls on their “Girls Getaway “ at the homestead.

I asked the “big” girls to tell me in their own words- “My favorite part of summer was”-

Amelia -I even slept out under the stars and I got to swim for the Crozet Gators at the Champs meet at the UVA pool.

Charlotte- Live Arts – I did kids Aristocats with my best friend- I was Amelia Gabble – the goose – It was very fun.

Hailey- I started training for Cross Country which was fun- My dad and did a lot of fishing.

Lydia- I love traveling I went to Jackson Hole, New York City and Seattle and most importantly I got to drink lots of coffee.

Patricia and I went to Iceland en route to the UK we stopped over for a day or two – lots of tales of the Norse warriors – this is one of their ships.

It has been a good summer and now it’s over, in two weeks it will be the first day of fall.

Thank you for reading the newsletter about our family and our family winery and learning about how you can enjoy this vintage year in years to come by staying at the Farmhouse.

Remember what happens at Veritas gets posted on Facebook and Instagram!

See you in the fall.

Andrew Hodson

Raconteur and Diletante Retd.