The Vintner’s Year | April 2013

Jim Law sends this report.
—Jancis Robinson

April is a transitional month. We wrap up our cellar work at Linden Vineyards, bottle the fresher aromatic whites, and take inventory of any vineyard maintenance problems that now need our attention.

In the Vineyard

The vineyard has been pruned and tied. The established vines can be left alone in April. The activity focuses more on the baby vines. Planting was delayed because of a cold, snowy March, so April became a hub of activity in our new blocks and some of the older blocks requiring replanting of missing vines.

Back in the 1980s and 90s, April was a big month for weed control and mowing. The vineyard looked like a golf course going into May with clipped grass row middles and nary a weed to be found under the trellis. Long-time visitors to Linden must think that I have grown lazy in my old age. The vineyard floor is no longer seen as 'eye candy' for PR photos, but a way of achieving vine balance and environmental and soil biodiversity. The vineyard looks disheveled and haphazard, but there is a plan being implemented.

In our Mid-Atlantic climate we can receive consistent rainfall throughout the growing season. Vines, especially red-fruited varieties, need a period of water stress (ideally in mid to late summer). This hydric stress keeps berry size small (ideal for making more intense wines), and slows or stops vegetative growth. Cessation of vine green growth redirects carbohydrates to flavour and sugar development in the grapes. Grass, cover crops and/or weeds compete with the vines for nutrients and water. This can be to our advantage in mid summer when we want to put the brakes on shoot growth.

Palate Calibration

In April we essentially start to shut down cellar operations. For the next four months all hands are needed in the vineyard. This early April I took off to Bordeaux for three days of en primeur tastings with a couple of colleagues to calibrate our palates. Rarely does a winemaker have the opportunity to taste so many benchmark wines at this stage of development.

This was no beauty contest. Tasting young Bordeaux reds is not a hedonistic experience. At this stage the wines are tough, tannic and inelegant. This is exactly why I showed up with samples of my own 2012 reds to taste alongside the 2012 Bordeaux. My goal was to understand how they compare at this stage. Objective self-criticism is one of the most difficult aspects of this profession. In the trade, the term 'cellar palate' refers to winemakers who don't get out much. They are usually quite content with their wines.

Rapid-fire tasting and evaluation require focus on the essentials: these are the tactile sensations. Mouth feel, density, structure and length form a foundation that aromas and flavors will require as the wine ages and evolves. Wines that may seem punishing at six months will be harmonious and seamless at 10 or 15 years. Bordeaux does this very well. Some New World winemakers are making slow progress in this direction, but for most this seems counterintuitive. Making wines in this style for a market that no longer ages wine may not be the wisest business decision.

Tasting Notes & Wine Reviews from Jancis Robinson

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