The Vintner’s Year | February 2013
Continuing our series written by Jim Law of Linden Vineyards, Virginia.
In the Vineyard
Finally, after several years of mild winters, we have had a normal February. It has been consistently cold, keeping buds tight and winegrowers relaxed. For most of the last decade we have experienced earlier-than-normal bud break that compresses the dormant pruning season, leads to greater risk of damaging spring frosts, and can ultimately result in early harvest dates. We used to consider an early harvest to be positive, but super-precocious harvesting can result in wines with high alcohol and flabby acidities. Mark Twain wrote that 'climate is what you plan for and weather is what you get'. In the New World we are still learning about which varieties go best where. We plan new plantings that will ripen during the sweet spot of equinox or shortly thereafter (20 September to 20 October). Unpredictability is not desirable for winegrowing. This is why I prefer the term 'climate change' over global warming. More and more frequently we find ourselves reacting rather than planning.
Nevertheless, pruning is going at a leisurely pace, as there have not been any false spring panics. My best days in the vineyard are right now. Pruning in solitude, with the warming sun on my face, I practise the lost art of day dreaming. My mind drifts without interference and takes me to random places and subjects.
Oysters have been on my mind lately. They are becoming more available, even to distant outpost towns along the Blue Ridge in Virginia. Oyster 'terroir' (merroir?) tastings intrigue me. There is a lot to learn any time when place is reflected in what we eat or drink. My friend, colleague and winegrower Richard Boisseau has a weekend place at the mouth of the Rappahannock river where it meets the Chesapeake Bay. Like many other residents in the area he is raising oysters off his docks. His generosity has given me great pleasure, consuming oysters by the bucketful. The Rappahannock oysters are sweet and meaty. His are very big oysters. Too big in fact for most people. We've come to the conclusion that he has been harvesting too late. Richard's oyster learning curve is reflective of our learning curve as winegrowers. Focusing on the finer points of terroir can be premature when we are still trying to understand which varieties, picking strategies and winemaking techniques are most appropriate. As we become more accomplished with the fundamentals, terroir slowly becomes more apparent.
In the Cellar
Our blending trials of the 2012 wines are wrapped up and the blends have physically been made. No turning back now. A handful of barrels still need a home as I was reluctant to include some of the press wine and particularly assertive Petit Verdot. We will allow the new blends to settle down and then re-evaluate.
Being in the New World, we have found ourselves in an odd hybrid situation of growing the Bordeaux varieties that are viticulturally appropriate to this region, but being more Burgundian in our philosophy and organisation. Burgundian, in that we have three distinct vineyard sites that are kept separate in the harvesting, winemaking and bottling. Each bottling has its own personality, which give us great pleasure as we slowly begin to understand how terroir is reflected in the bottle.
A colleague visiting from Bordeaux a few years back was confused as to why we didn't blend the three sites together. I agreed that such a blend would make a more complete and perhaps more complex wine, but it would lack personality. More importantly, we winegrowers would lose some of our spark, drive, and curiosity, which is why we do what we do.
Tasting Notes & Wine Reviews from Jancis Robinson