The Vintner’s Year | July 2013
Jim Law of Linden Vineyards, Virginia, reports on his recent experience of blood, sweat, tears, and hail
July is usually the month when vine growth slows down, our vineyard work eases, and we begin to gravitate back to the cellar. This was not the case in 2013 as sub-tropical rains and heat kept the vines in a full vegetative growth cycle.
To the untrained eye, the vineyard looked great, lush and dark green. In fact, the vines were too happy. This is the time when we would like to see some water stress. Hydric stress, as it is referred to in industry jargon, keeps berries small (and therefore more flavourful), clusters looser (more aeration and less chance of rot), and directs carbohydrates to the fruit (rather than to producing new leaves). While we have been trying to trick the vines by leaving tall weeds and grass in the vineyard to compete for water and nutrients, they seem to still be quite happy. The bright spot is that our 'best' slopes with thin soils and steep gradients seem to be keeping the vines small.
In June we finished doing a light leaf removal around the cluster zone in order to get better aeration against mildew. Unfortunately with subsequent cooler, cloudy weather, the tender berries never completely adapted to sun exposure. The second week of July brought us record-high temperatures with bright sun. This quick weather turn around resulted in some sunburn of some of the berries that were not adequately shaded from the hottest south-west (afternoon) sun.
Insult was added to injury on Sunday 28 July when the lower vineyards experienced an unusual microburst of hail. The hail bruised and split about 25% of the berries, all facing the east. Fortunately only about a quarter of the vineyard was affected, but that quarter included some of my most prized Cabernet blocks… the ones with the poorer soil and balanced vines. Also fortunate for me was that I was away on a rare summer trip, a study trip to Burgundy. You see, physiologically, an event like hail is not quite as bad if you aren't there to witness it. The resulting stress and loss of sleep adds to the misery. In fact, while I was away, my staff wisely decided to not inform me of the event as there was nothing that I could do except worry and become unfocused.
Every couple of years a small group of like-minded viticulturalists travel together to a wine region in mid to late summer. Even though this time of year is not ideal in terms of our work demands, it is the perfect time to see the vines of another wine region and to understand things that can't be learned from books. Crop load, leaf colour, cluster and berry size, and soil influences become evident and obvious when feet are on the ground.
Knowledge is our most important resource. It is only with a deeper knowledge and experience that any winegrower can improve their wines. On these trips we try to quickly get to the essence of the winegrower's philosophies and priorities. Rarely do we discuss the tangible such as equipment, or barrels. More often we cross over to the metaphysical, learning about life forces, letting go, and trusting one's own vineyard and wines. Naturally, tasting is an important part of any visit. In today's world, it is possible to taste a bottle of burgundy or bordeaux in the comfort of one's own home. However, in situ we have the opportunity to taste young wines from the barrel with an interpretation from those who have created the wine. For winegrowers this is a rare opportunity that always leads to epiphany moments. For this trip we brought barrel samples of our own wines to taste with the Burgundian winemakers, who thankfully were frank and honest in their comments. Humility is the path to greater wines.
Tasting Notes & Wine Reviews from Jancis Robinson