State of the Grape | Tayloe's Take
Fall 2017 Harvest Notes
Wow, what a year. As you know, Mother Nature has been on quite a roll recently, demonstrating her awesome destructive powers mostly to the south of us. It’s a fact of life and will periodically be an issue here in Virginia that hurricane season and the grape harvest coincide. This year fortunately—while our hearts go out to those who were effected—neither hurricanes nor the heavy rains on their periphery hit us. Which was a great relief, because at times winter certainly played the Devil here in Central Virginia.
First, December temperatures were unseasonably warm and impeded the grape vines’ acclimation phase, when they prepare for cold weather. When January brought an exceptionally hard freeze (a 0-degree night, followed by a -2-degree night), in some cases, water still inside the vines froze, causing cells to burst and damaging or killing the vines. The de-acclimation phase, the pre-spring run up to bloom, was even more trying. Spring brought warm days that woke up the vines. The vascular systems began pumping sap, only to be greeted by an 18-degree night.
These two events took out thousands of vines, mostly Tannat, Merlot, and Viognier, and there was more to come. At the end of May, shortly after fruit set, when the berries form, hail damaged the majority of our clusters. In perhaps an act of cosmic (in)justice, it was the Petit Verdot, which had dodged much of the freeze damage, that caught the worst of the hail storm.
The good news: While we were dealt a few serious setbacks to our volumes, the remaining fruit came in with exceptional quality. And the hail damage that we initially thought might have claimed 30% of our crop proved to be less severe than thought. Many of the berries healed (with some blemished skin) and went back to the task at hand, ripening. Some of the damaged berries dropped, leaving us with open, loose clusters, ideal for winemaking, as sunlight and great air circulation make ripening easy.
As the summer played out, and we didn’t have any of the rain deluges we had last year, we breathed a sigh of relief. Our cool nights and hot days provided a near perfect finish to the season, and we geared up for the harvest. The whites came off first, and we brought in a fine crop of Viognier on August 24 and 25, followed soon thereafter by the Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. The reds stepped up neatly in order, beginning the next week, the Merlot on the first day of September, the Petit Verdot on the 10th, and the Tannat the day after that. All are now in the hands of our expert winemaker, Michael Shaps.
While Upper Shirley brought in less tonnage than we would have if Mother Nature had not at times dealt us a difficult hand to play, the great news is that we experienced another year of extraordinary quality. I can, therefore, most happily and gratefully assure you that, given the continued maturation of our vineyards and winemaking team, the estate grown 2017 Zachariah and our other lovingly produced wines, are going to live up to and in some cases exceed the great quality you—and we—have come to expect at Upper Shirley. Thank you for caring about our wine and encouraging us in these efforts.