Fall Essay 2001 | September 2001
I love the Fall. Sixteen-hour days, no time off for months, the heartbreak of losing crop to weather or predators, equipment problems just when we don’t need them. I love the Fall. No meetings, no appointments, nothing but the purity of farming. The rest of the year has only been training for this season. We have done everything we can to prepare our vines and trees. They are healthy and the crop is in balance. Now it is out of our hands. There used to be great stress in this, but now I know what I can control and what I cannot.
At Linden Vineyards we grow grapes, heirloom apples, and blueberries. I was attracted to the mountains of Virginia because of its all but vanished history of fruit growing. Abandoned orchards stretch hundreds of miles along the east slope of the Blue Ridge. Old varieties of apples with curious names and distinct flavor lost to the world of centralized distribution and Red Delicious. One of these abandoned orchards was named Monticello. Fortunately for us Thomas Jefferson kept good records. He had a passion for wine and for horticulture that has been an inspiration to orchardists and winegrowers in Virginia. It has been exhilarating for me to learn from him. In the 1980s we planted about a dozen heirloom apple varieties. Over the years it became apparent that the ones that Jefferson had success with worked best on our farm too. Esopus Spitzenberg, Calville Blanc,and Newton Pippin adapted wonderfully to our site. Our customers are also intrigued by the history of these apples, but even more so they love the personality of flavor of each variety. We often describe the apples as if they were wine—strawberry aromas, firm texture, good acidity. In fact we have learned that the winegrowing concept of farming for flavor makes just as much sense in the orchard.
After 20 years I have a certain intimacy with my corner of the world. I know when to pick based on taste, health of the plant and weather conditions. Measurements of sugar content, acid, or pH become insignificant. Flavor and texture are everything. Every growing season gives us different flavors in both apples and grapes because of the variability of Fall weather. This is something that our customers and we used to fear. Now we marvel and celebrate the personality of each vintage year.