Mother Nature reasserted her command of events with 27 degree nights on both April 6th and 10th. Normally this would not have presented a problem as the buds on our vines would have not yet broken dormancy. Normally bud break occurs in mid-April; but normal seems to be a word being purged from the Virginia weather lexicon. After a mild winter with some very warm days, bud break came in the last week of March, two weeks early. Two inches of tender green new growth was exposed to the freezing temps.
Today, Dr. Tony Wolf stopped by the vineyard to check on one of his experiments. For those of you not familiar with our state’s Viticulturist, Tony has an incredible resume: A Master’s in Horticulture from Penn State, a Ph.D. in Viticulture from Cornell and is currently the Director of, and Professor at the AH Smith Ag Research and Extension Center of Virginia Tech.
The vineyard has come a long way since my last post; berry growth has turned to berry ripening, a roughly 6 week process referred to as veraison. Fruit that a week ago resembled hard green peas are now starting to soften and change color. The Merlot block got us started with handful of grapes per cluster showing hues of red and light purple in mid-July. Now, almost August, we are greeted by dark ruby whole clusters. The Petit Verdot has joined in; the Viognier is turning from green to gold and their berry skins are becoming translucent. Berries will swell as much as twice their pre-veraison size as they accumulate sugar laden juice. While the topic of berry ripeness is a complex one, it is this sugar accumulation that is the hallmark of August.
The last few hot days have witnessed flowering in the Petit Verdot block here at Upper Shirley, likely well before our Gordonsville vineyard and the rest of our friends in Charlottesville. The tiny caps fall releasing pollen to fertilize the flowers; vitis vinifera (French varieties we grow) grapes are self-pollinating.* This is critical phase for the vine as this process leads to fruit set, where the fertilized flower makes a berry to protect its seed. Not all flowers make it to be berries and bad weather can make the situation worse. We are busy removing excess vegetation (shoot thinning and leaf pulling) to get the future berries the right balance of sunlight and air.
We are so excited to finally have our building completely under roof. The progress in the last two weeks has been very exciting. We have our wonderful building contractor J.W. Enochs Inc. (Wilson Enochs) to thank for keeping things running smoothly each day. Take a look at what the building looks like this week below.
Which, if you have deep ripped the soil, killed all of the grass thatch, did not drink and entire bottle of Zachariah solo the prior evening (just saying) and weigh over 200 pounds, you can force it in the ground deep enough to plant a grape vine. How without J-rooting the vine you may ask? We have a patent pending planting invention we use; more on this later…now for some pics of our brand new Tannat babies. Stay tuned to watch them grow.
Call it a celebration of Earth Day, or a major milestone in construction, but today was a pop the bubbly day at USV; we are finally getting under roof. Al Cobb, owner of PanelWrights and recent President of SIPA, the Structural Insulated Panel Association and Director of the SIPs School, was onsite to supervise the installation of our winery roof. When we asked Al why he, the leading expert in the nation on SIPs, would personally come out to see a relatively small job with his national and sometimes international travel schedule, he said: “It doesn’t take much prodding to get me to come to a winery.” Al is our kind of guy.
Our Tannat takes full advantage of the power and structure inherent to this lesser known grape, native to the South of France. We employ extended maceration and aging for 17 months, half in new French oak. The result is dark and brooding, perfect for the cellar and those times that call for a red wine that is full bodied.