The Vintner’s Year | March 2013

Jim Law brings us this monthly report from Linden Vineyards in Virginia.
—Jancis Robinson

March brings the awakening. We sense an upward thrust coming from the warming soil. Crocuses are the first visible sign of spring. They give us great pleasure and wonder, especially after they are repeatedly buried in the unrelenting heavy snows of March 2013. In many years, crocuses can contribute to a bit of anxiety and trepidation to those growers behind in their winter pruning. This year the only thing behind is spring.

At Linden, spring's evolution is measured by environmental markers rather than sterile numbers taken from weather-station monitors. Dates of crocus, daffodil and forsythia blooms are dutifully recorded and compared with previous springs. The first peeper chorus is a milestone. Peepers are tiny frogs that hibernate in the muck of the lower wetlands. Once the soil thaws and warms, the peepers spring into action with an exuberant, relentless cacophony of peeps. This March, with cold nights and weekly snows, there has been a certain lack of peeper enthusiasm.

Peepers prepare us for the first visible expression of spring in the vineyard, which is sap flow. Growers refer to this as bleeding or crying. When pruning cuts are made, sap slowly drips from the wound. A new grower might think this a problem, but it is in fact a welcome sign that all is well.

A cold and snowy March is not such a bad thing. Vine buds remain very dormant giving us plenty of time to finish pruning and tying canes to the trellis wires. Any threat of late killing frost is diminished, as the vines are not susceptible to frost damage until the buds break open and expose green leaves.

This late spring has already fuelled speculation and hand wringing as to how the vintage may unfold. (Some growers can be rather obsessive/compulsive, thinking about all the possible scenarios that may arise as the season progresses.) If a late start to the season results in a late finish, we may have to manage the vines differently. Our two latest-ripening varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot, could potentially fail to ripen sufficiently if they bump up to a chilly mid October. Flowering, typically in early June, is a much better predictor of the progression of the growing season. This year, if flowering is much delayed, we can more accurately predict that harvest will be late. If that is the case we will thin (remove developing clusters) vigorously to reduce the amount of grapes that each individual vine has to ripen. Fewer grapes per vine accelerates ripening.

But perhaps I am getting ahead of myself.

Photography by Jim Law

Photography by Jim Law

Tasting Notes & Wine Reviews from Jancis Robinson

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