The Vintner’s Year | August 2013

Jim Law of Linden Vineyards reports that they are now finally experiencing perfect weather in Virginia wine country for the first time this year. Harvest is expected to start slowly next week.
See Jim's comments
on the Virginia Governor's Cup 2013 wines below.
—Jancis Robinson

August is a transition month for northern hemisphere winegrowers. With the exception of fine tuning, most of the vine work is finished. However, August 2013 required more fine tuning than is normal. A wetter-than-usual summer resulted in very happy vines: too happy in our case. Exuberant vines continued producing more shoots, leaves and in some cases, secondary grape clusters until late August (they usually shut down in early August). Dense canopies can be an incubator for mildews, so continued hedging was in order. Second crops compete with the desirable main clusters for carbohydrates and needed to be removed (by hand of course).

As we gravitated back to the cellar, we had to get our bearings. April was the last time we did any significant cellar work, so even finding pumps, tank fittings, and barrel washers took a while. Bottling was the main task at hand as we needed to empty barrels of 2012 Chardonnay and 2011 reds to make room for the 2013 crop. Bottling was more relaxed than normal as the 2013 crop is late, giving us a few extra weeks to prepare for harvest.

As of writing, harvest is a few weeks out. A winemaker's most important job at this juncture is to walk the vineyard, observe and taste grapes. Vintage 2013 will be tricky in terms of making the call on when to pick. Each variety and every block has its own personality and rhythm. A cooler, wetter growing season, cicada damage* and hail injury have all made ripening a bit irregular. We are preparing to make multiple picking passes in some blocks and running our sorting tables very slowly in order to weed out damaged or underripe fruit.

The white grapes already show wonderful aromatics. If this streak of dry weather holds, I'm betting that they will be the stars of the vintage. This cooler weather retains acidity and aromatics resulting in the style of wine that I truly love. The reds will require a lot of meticulous sorting, good decision making and some luck with the weather. Merlot looks the most promising variety as it is early ripening and doesn't need the water stress that Cabernet thrives on. September and early October need to be warm and dry to ripen Cabernet sufficiently. I have already mentally dedicated some blocks of late-ripening Petit Verdot to rosé as uneven ripening (green and black clusters on the same vine as illustrated in the photo) can result in harsh, green tannins if made into red wine.

As I walk each block I am optimistic about the older blocks. We have a history. Years of vintages, good and not so good, have helped me form a level of confidence that is needed if the going gets tough. Younger blocks are the challenge as there can be surprises. Surprises are not usually good. Ripening and fruit integrity can change over the course of a day or two. Soil differences not yet understood can begin to express themselves, requiring micro picking decisions of partial rows or even differences vine to vine. I carry a lot of surveyor's tape in my truck this time of year to indicate where to start and stop the picking of a given row.

In the weeks leading to harvest winegrowers get their affairs in order the way one would prepare for an extended trip. We are physically here, but unwilling to be distracted by life's mundane routines such as bill paying, vacuuming or grocery shopping. During this pause we try to relax a bit, as we need to be thinking clearly. Physically we need to be in good shape, so the exercise programme becomes important. Finally, palate training is the highest priority. I have already begun my focus on benchmark wines from similar vintages in Europe. Bordeaux and Piedmont 2004 and 2006 for the reds and Loire and Burgundy 2006 and 2008 for the whites. These vintages show finesse, balance and terroir rather than power and opulence.

This is an exciting time. Cautious optimism prevails, and warm, sunny days make us smile.

*Every 17 years female cicadas lay their eggs in shoots and canes by incision thereby damaging the tissue and interrupting sap flow. Some incisions are worse than others so each cane (and its clusters) is compromised differently resulting in uneven cluster development.

I asked Jim whether he entered his wines in the Virginia Governor's Cup competition and here is his response. —JR

I don't enter competitions for a number of reasons including:

  • no relevance to our marketing focus
  • judging by committee seems to reward correctness and penalise personality
  • way too many competitions
  • making wine to age and to enjoy with food is the antithesis of wine that would do well in competition.

 Ironically I am a wine judge, or at least was. I find the whole thing rather amusing.

Photography by Jim Law

Photography by Jim Law

Tasting Notes & Wine Reviews from Jancis Robinson

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