August 25, 2011
I am sure you are wondering how my warped mind has me comparing winemaking with acting like a teenager. Well...you would have to start by knowing I was not always a rationale teenager, even though I thought I was. I also often argued with my mother like almost any teenager does and always figured I knew better and when it didn't go my way would simply have a hissy fit.
So what has changed? Well my actual mother and I get along beautifully and she accepts that I know better. I wish. My mother actually just went home from a great visit before harvest starts and not it is on to the other mother that I now have frequent arguments with. Mother Nature!
So far the 2011 season has been great. I almost feel very Bordelaise in that I want to come to you at the end of the year and say 2011 is the best vintage we have ever had. I haven't said that since 2010 and 2007 before that. We do seem to be having a pretty good string of vintages. That said, so far 2011 really is the best year I have seen here yet in the Nevaeh Vineyard. The big difference this year is that the vintage has been far more scattered throughout Virginia so some of our vineyard are fairing better then others. At Nevaeh we have had an extremely dry year again, but it has been slightly cooler then 2010 and even then 2007 for August. There have been a few rains at the start of August as well which is giving a little more water for the vines headed into the harvest season. We also had a very wet spring just before bud-break before it became beautiful, sunny and dry.
What does this all mean? The wet spring leading to a drier and sunny bud break with great warmth through the later half of April and May meant the vines got an incredible jump start. Since my arrival at Tarara I have never seen such vigor at the start of the year with the shoot growth. This developed a great canopy for ripening the fruit through the summer, but also meant a lot of work to maintain it and ensure it stayed under control and we didn't get mildew problems from an overly dense canopy. That was simple, since our vineyard crew is the best out there in my opinion. We also had the best fruit set that I have seen here. We made our entire way through bloom without any rains, still moist soils and no heavy winds. Wow! Perfection so far which is a first. The only downfall to this was that we knew we had some extra work ahead of us dropping fruit since we tend to grow very light yields to maximum concentration and ripeness uniformity. This year we had to drop more fruit then ever to get our vines to 1 cluster per healthy shoot, and none on less vigorous shoots. This is our normal yield in the end, but Mother Nature really wanted to give us more this year and test us to see if we would allow it. The great thing about dropping the fruit was that we were able to be far more selective on the clusters we could leave remaining. The takes us up to about June with no real issues at all.
Through June, July and the start of August it was simple vineyard maintenance. There was very little disease pressure since it didn't rain until August and the vigor of the vines started to slow a little. We simply did our regular work of tucking shoots, very little shoot thinning and opened up the canopy a bit around the actual clusters to allow better air flow and more sunlight to the fruit. This all while finishing the job of dropping the unwanted clusters. It was a great time of the season. Mother Nature didn't bother me and I didn't bother her.
August has been a little more challenging in that we have had more of a balance of rain and sun. At this time of year my attitude gets far more "colorful" when it rains. The grapes have gone into veraison (changing color, soften and the final stages of ripening) and the vines just suck up everything and send it to the fruit. That means, too much rain can mean dilution. It has not been a problem this year actually so far though. It has slightly pushed harvest back which could be a good thing for added tannin and flavor development. That said more rain now can be downright bad. Certain varieties like Chardonnay, Viognier and especially Pinot Gris are right around the corner. In fact Pinot Gris is being harvested on Friday and Saturday before any potential rain, but that is sold anyhow to another winery. All three of these varieties and Pinotage from Honah Lee are very tight clusters and earlier ripeners. What that means is right now the berries are pressing quite hard on each other and added water can cause them to split before being quite as ripe as I would like.
This is when I start acting like a teenager again. I try to defy Mother Nature and tell her, "No you want drop 2 inches of rain on us, or heaven forbid a hurricane!" We have had a great season so far, but the most critical time is now. It becomes me against Mother Nature and I have to admit, every time she tests with a sprinkle of rain I have to be sent to my corner because I will have a bit of a tantrum.
So here is to hoping for some great weather for the next 7-8 weeks to complete what could then be another banner vintage. I can't say it is yet, it is way too early, but my excitement is balanced with my fear of the unknown over the next few weeks.
Until we know better, happy sipping and I hope you are enjoying the 2008's, 2009's and 2010's that are currently available for you. Cheers!