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The Virginia 2010 Vintage


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#1 Jeff White

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Posted 01 January 2010 - 08:14 AM

Hi,

I participated in a similar thread topic on another bulletin board during the 2009 harvest. Had a great time posting what was happening in my small part of the wine world and reading what was happening eleswhere, primarily in California but also in Washington State, Oregon, the Finger Lakes, France and even in Spain. I thought there might be some interest on this board with what happens during a typical year on a Virginia farm where the principal crop is wine. I will post twice a month with what we are currently doing in the vineyard, around the farm and in the cellar. Weather plays a significant role in farming so I will be writing how this influences our day to day tasks, decision making, the vines growth, fruit ripeness and condition and of course our mood. My hope is that this will not be solely about my vineyard but that others in the industry will join in to share their experiences and possibly problem solve together. Also, for anyone reading this, please feel free to ask questions or make comments. I will limit myself to posting our experiences to only twice a month but will also try to respond to all questions as best I can.

First a little background:

I am a fourth generation farmer of land that my Great-grandparents purchased in 1901. To save time and for those who are interested, there is detailed information about our vineyards and estate history on our website. I am the winegrower/winemaker or the Vigneron as the French would say and part owner of Glen Manor Vineyards, a Virginia Farm Winery located about an hours drive west of Washington DC. But I am most honored to be the current steward of this farm. The job comes with much satisfaction but also tremendous responsibility as I want to leave for our family's future generations something very similar to what I discovered here in 1959.

Also, before I get started let me say that writing is neither my passion nor expertise and I may have signed on to something that will overwhelm me in time...but here goes.

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New Vineyard In Snow

It's New Years Day Twenty-ten. Happy New Years to all! Yesterday we received 2 inches of snow on top of a quarter inch of ice, this on top of the 20+ inches we received the week before Christmas. Snow just makes the farm that much more beautiful. We have a lot of old stonewall fences and I love seeing them all covered in a white blanket of snow. January is one of the most tranquil of months on our farm. But it was not always this way. Back when we had a herd of cattle, sheep, some hogs and a house full of hens to tend, the winter months were very busy times. But with the vineyard, January is a peaceful and quiet time of the year. Right now we are beginning our dormant winter pruning of the vines. This is the most relaxing task I perform. My pruners in hand, bundled up in layers of clothing and overalls, looking as round as the Pillsbury Dough Boy and with some hard rock candy in my pocket as a reward at the end of a row. There is no pressure. The air is crisp and if too crisp I find some inside work. This is the one time of the year that I get to visit with just about every vine in the vineyard. That's 24,000 vines. Now, 3 men work with me so I really only get to visit with 6,000 of them. But I do get a true since of the vineyards health at this time of the year. Roughly 90% of last years growth will be removed and mulched back into the vineyard soil. We cane prune as opposed to cordon and spur prune and if you would like me to explain the differences I will if asked but you could also simply search the terms on the web.

This is also the time of the year that we evaluate last year and make any necessary adjustments. We had a slight deer problem in our newest vineyard last year so we are retro-fitting an electified deer fence that surrounds the vineyard. Originally it was constructed as an eight foot tall high tensile wire fence but some deer found their way in so we are adding wire to make it both taller and 3 dimensional. We also purchased 1.1 mile of chicken wire and are attaching a 3 foot wide band at the height where the deer tend to jump through.

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Attaching Chicken Wire

The cellar is quiet in January. The 2009 wines have pretty much finished fermenting and are now just resting. I taste through the barrels every couple of weeks to familiarize myself with the different lots, for later during the winter and early spring we will start to assemble the blends. Not much else is going on at this time. The tasting room is quiet; we're only open on the weekends during the winter months and sometimes we must stay closed due to snowy road conditions out here in the mountains.

This is also the time of the year we get to go on holiday. Mine starts Sunday. I'll be back mid month to update the thread again. Until then,

"Stay thirsty my friends"

Jeff

#2 Zirkminsky

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Posted 02 January 2010 - 06:14 PM

I look forward to reading your posts. My dad grew up on a farm in North Carolina, and I spent many summers down there working the tobacco fields for pay and potato fields for food. Now that I'm 45 years old, live in surburbia WDC, I long for time spent on the land. Thanks for taking time to do this.

#3 Choirgirl21

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Posted 07 January 2010 - 02:37 PM

Hi Jeff,

I tasted your sauvignon blanc at a Blank Ankle staff meeting earlier this month and thought it was outstanding. Really great acidity, just like I like my sauv blanc. :angry: I mentioned it to a friend, who pointed me to this thread so I just wanted to mention how much I enjoyed it and how I'm looking forward to a visit to taste more of your wines, as well as to reading your blog posts.

Cheers,
Jen

Jen, part time pourer at Black Ankle Vineyards

If not LOCALLY PRODUCED, then Organic.
If not ORGANIC, then Family farm.
If not FAMILY FARM, then Local business.
If not a LOCAL BUSINESS, then Fair Trade.


#4 Jeff White

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Posted 16 January 2010 - 04:47 PM

Hello,

It's January 16, 2010 and I'm back from my holiday and starting to get back into the thick of things here on the farm. As I'm sure you all know, it was cold around here the last couple of weeks. Actually most of the US was extremely cold from an arctic blast coming down out of Canada. A little off topic but I was in northern Wyoming and while there, for three days it was below zero and I found myself on one frigid morning standing out in the snow at minus 42 degrees Fahrenheit. Thank goodness for boot and glove insert warmer packs.


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Lamar Valley, YNP Negative 42


But in the vineyards we were mostly in the upper 20's and low 30's during the day and in the teens during the night. I keep a min/max thermometer in the vineyard to record the high and low temperatures and the lowest the vineyard got while I was away was 5 degrees Fahrenheit, which is fine from my perspective. During the last few years an insect, the Black-winged Sharpshooter has moved north into Virginia, presumably due to global warming. This insect is causing havoc in vineyards all through the south and southwest. It carries with it many bacteria, one of which causes Pierce's disease, fatal to grapevines and no cure at present. Once the symptoms appear in the vine it must be removed and burned, including as much of the root mass as possible. Our only salvation is cold winter temperatures. At and below 5 degrees Fahrenheit the bacteria within the plant are killed leaving a healthy vine for the next growing season. So, because of this cold temperature event we have dodged the first of many potentially harmful bullets of the 2010 vintage.

Pruning is progressing along very well. We have finished pruning all of our one year old vines, 4.5 acres worth and have just begun to work on our 2 year old plantings, 4 acres worth. We always start with our youngest vines, followed by the early bud-breaking varieties, followed by the late bud-breaking varieities in our older plantings. In the spring as the sun begins to warm the vineyard soils, young vines with their roots still shallow or very close to the warmer soil surface are stimulated to begin growth and open their buds ahead of older vines with much deeper root systems in colder soils. Also, once pruned, the young vines require extra labor hours to secure the newly formed trunks and canes to bamboo stakes and wire. The canes are firmly grasped with both hands and wrapped around the trellis wire. This must be completed before the buds begin to swell and soften as each bud contains all of the genetic information for this year's grape cluster and once damaged there is no getting that cluster back. Early bud-breaking varieties that we grow are Merlot and Cabernet Franc and the later bud-breaking varieties are Petit Verdot, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon, in their respective bud-breaking order. On a side note, I own 2 dogs and they both love the winter pruning season. While I'm working they spend the day running up and down the hillside, checking in own my progress, chewing vine cuttings dropped on the vineyard floor, eating snow and hunting field mice. Usually by the end of the day they are somewhere nearby, curled up in the grass sleeping and are very content when I bring them home for the evening.

The cellar is still quiet but we will be bottling some wines in early March so some activity will be happening in the next few weeks as we prepare for this event. I will touch on this later, as it happens.

Well, that's all for now. I'll write again in a couple of weeks.

Cheers!
Jeff

#5 Jeff White

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Posted 01 February 2010 - 12:02 PM

February 1, 2010

Hello everyone,

Here is the latest update:

We've had some eventful weather during the last half of January but temperatures were fairly normal with teens and twenties at night and in the thirties during the day, although yesterday we awoke to 4 degrees F. We experienced an icing event, a very powerful wind and rain storm and this past weekend's snow. The rain storm melted away the last remnants of snow from the big December blizzard. All of this moisture has saturated the ground, making it difficult to get to our vineyards which are located 200 to 300 feet higher in elevation than where our trucks are parked near the farmhouse and barns complex. In the early morning the ground is frozen and we can drive right up but it's a slippery slide back down for lunch and sometimes a walk up. After about 2 or 3 dry and sunny days the ground usually becomes firm enough again for our wheeled commute up to work.

We completed pruning of our 2 year old plantings and our Merlot in the original vineyard. Merlot is the most problematic variety I grow. It is not very winter hardy, meaning that at certain cold temperatures which are warmer than it would take to affect other varieties, vascular tissue damage to the trunks can occur. At these injury points there is a risk of pathogens entering the plant, weakening it to where its fruit will not ripen and eventually causing its death. During the summer, some vine's canopy of leaves turn prematurely red and we drop the fruit on the ground and cut out the plant. During the winter months, cankers or galls are more visible at the bottom and along the sides of the trunks of the damaged vines and these too are removed. We will replant 10 to 20 percent of our Merlot this spring. Sometimes, if we can manage to nuture the vines to say 5 years old, they grow out of this condition but if not, hard and expensive decisions have to be made, whether or not to replant with another variety. This leaves valuable vineyard land unproductive and more than doubles the start-up costs for the block.

By the way, I had to ban my 2 dogs from my vineyards while I prune. But please don't fret. They still go for long runs through the vineyards and all over the farm. But as I prune they are left to their own devices for entertainment and end up spending all of their time searching out and digging up mice and moles. They bring me the dead rodents to see and then quickly consume them. A little later I get to see the victim again. Ugh! The problem is much later in the summer after the grass has grown up and I have long forgotten about rodents. I'm walking in the vineyard and wretch my back by stepping into a hidden hole in the ground. Bad dogs. Bad dogs.

I recently tasted through all of our red wines from the 2009 harvest. Cabernet Sauvignon is the star of the vintage. Loaded with structure, depth and concentration, it will be the backbone and highest percentage of our Bordeaux style blend called Hodder Hill. Many of the barrels are still finishing up a secondary fermentation called malo-lactic fermentation or simply ML. This process converts the harsher malic acid to a softer lactic acid which produces a more round palate feel to the wine. But during this fermentation the wines can go through some funky and awkward stages, which some of the barrels now exhibit. I have learned through the years though, not to be worried and in a few more weeks, once the fermentations complete the wines will come around again and show their true youthful exuberance of berry and spice flavors and aromas.

Some activity is now happening in the cellar as we prepare for a March bottling. We will bottle 3 wines, our 2009 Sauvignon Blanc and Rose', and our 2008 Cabernet Franc. Nothing really happens to the Cabernet Franc before bottling but the 2009s require stabilization and filtering before they are put into bottle. Stabilization, and in this case I am referring to cold stabilization, is a process where we cause a reaction in the wine now while still in tank, so it does not happen later, once in the bottle. All wines contain naturally occurring potassium bitartrates in various levels depending on the grape variety, growing region and vintage. When wine is subjected to cold temperatures, like in your refrigerator, the tartrates will crystallize and fall out of solution. One will see white crystals or flakes floating in the wine or white sediment in the bottom of the bottle. The crystals have no taste but are unattractive. Basically, all we do is chill the wine down to a temperature causing this reaction and then hold the wine at this temperature until it stabilizes, crystallization ceases at this temperature. Then the wine is removed from the tank containing the crystallized tartrates and passed through a filter into a clean tank. From here it is ready for bottling.

As has been the way of our family since 1901, this indeed is a family farm business and not simply a sole proprietorship. And just as both my Great-grandparents, their childern and extended families together worked this land, so do we today. I remember well the days long ago when our fields were being harvested and the barns were being filled with square bales of hay or the silos were being filled with chopped corn and cornstalks and especially on hog butchering day when our entire family along with friends and neighbors all lent a hand to complete the task. As I wrote previously, I am Glen Manor's winegrower/winemaker; (I'm its janitor, dishwasher, etc., etc., etc. too), but my parents, brothers and wife are also working members of our farm enterprise. During critical periods like harvest we even enlist the help of our friends and neighbors, including some who have their own vineyards for home winemaking.

Many times upon entering our tasting room, customers comment on the decor such as wall colors, flooring, window treatments and light fixtures and my response is, "The women in my life are credited for this space. I had nothing to do with it." My mother, wife and a close friend planned this room. My mother also prepares meals for our volunteers and she relinquished her dining room and table to me for nearly 2 years as I planned and executed the construction of our winery facility and new vineyards. My father, who recently celebrated his 83rd birthday, helped plant our first vines in 1995 and today is our bookkeeper, winery groundskeeper, historian and tour guide. My wife, a trained chef and the executive chef for a select registry bed and breakfast, The Inn at Vaucluse Spring in Middletown Virginia, also works in the tasting room. With her experienced palate she assists me when we conduct our wine blending trials and with writing tasting notes and food pairings for our wines. She has also donned a headlamp and walked the vineyard with me at 1am to collect feeding climbing cutworms from the tender and apparently delicious buds as they swell in the early spring. My brothers have fulltime jobs and families but live within an hours drive of the farm. They help out at harvest and cover for me in the tasting room when I am away or working in the vineyards and cellar.

It has been said that it takes a village to raise a child. I believe it also takes a village to farm the land.

Cheers!

Jeff

#6 Jeff White

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Posted 14 February 2010 - 11:16 AM

Sunday February 14, 2010

Hello,

Not a whole hell of a lot to write about other than, and I'm sure everyone is sick of the topic, but snow, snow, snow and even more snow. We received 23.5 wet and heavy inches, followed by and instead of the forecasted 10 to 20, only 5 additional inches a few days later. I have always been a winter person, enjoying winter camping, snow skiing, hiking, ice climbing, ice fishing, ice hockey, what have you, but I have to admit I'm quickly tiring of this one.

Deep snow can be both positive and negative in a vineyard. On the positive side it acts as a thermal blanket protecting that portion of the vine which is covered, from a severe cold temperature event. If such an event should occur in the next couple of weeks while the snow is still deep, only the exposed part of the plant might be damaged resulting in a loss of this year's crop but not the loss of the entire plant. On the other hand we cannot prune what we cannot see. So now the pressure level is starting to rise. We might loose a couple of weeks pruning time while we wait for most of this snowpack to melt. Fortunately there are some projects and other maintenance jobs we can work on while we watch the skies and hope for some warmer and melting temperatures.

This past Thursday, after missing four days of work my employees were finally able to drive to our farm. We spent the next two days, first clearing snow off the winery walkways and crushpad and the farmhouse upstairs porch and walkway and then cleaning mold growth off the walls and floors of the tank room in the winery cellar. Mold thrives in this dark, cool, wet environment and must be attended to constantly. To clean anything and everything in the cellar we use sodium percarbonate, an oxidizing agent and an ingredient in the eco-friendly bleach products such as OxiClean. Dissloved in water it releases hydrogen peroxide and soda ash. With a little bit of elbow grease it does a terrific job and is environmentally safe.

Well, as I wrote above, besides snow there has not been much to write about so I will end for now. This is a short month and we will be bottling on March 1st so will wait to update this thread again until the 2nd or 3rd.

Take care and be happy,

Jeff

#7 Jeff White

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Posted 02 March 2010 - 09:45 AM

March 2, 2010

Hello again,

Before I get started let me say please hang in here. Winter is dragging and things are a bit slow right now and maybe not too interesting reading. But believe me, spring is on the horizon and with it comes much more and varied activities both in our vineyards and across our farm. The tempo really quickens once the heat of summer sets in. Ending with our grand finale in autumn called harvest and crush. The only thing that may not change during the year is my inspiring, thought provoking, Pulitzer Prize worthy and of course humble writing style...or lack there of.

Since I last wrote, the white of snow is still prominent but grassy spots are quickly starting to appear and enlarge, especially on exposed south and west facing slopes. We or I should say my guys are back in the vineyards pruning. I plan to be back in soon. They are down to having just one and a half more acres to go and then we'll start through the entire vineyard again wrapping and tying down all the fruiting canes on the trellis wire.

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At this time of the year I watch for and take note of the first signs of spring. These signs help me to determine when our budbreak might occur, thereby allowing me to prioritize tasks and to rough estimate flowering and harvest dates. I keep a log of when such signs appeared and the date of budbreaks from past springs. I can then compare years and make an educated guess. Some of the signs I look for are, Canada geese flying north, the appearance of migratory songbirds, emerging daffodils, the mating call or gobble of the American wild turkey, little white colored wildflowers pushing up through the cold soil under the vines, a particular patch of grass at one spot along our state road that turns green and starts growing before other surrounding grasses, the morning and evening singing of spring peepers, (a tiny chorus frog) and finally, the sap starting to flow and drip from pruning cuts on our vines. So far this year, on February 25th I noticed the first chirps of returnng migratory songbirds on the farm and on February 28th I saw daffodil shoots poking through the ground. Right now it seems that budbreak will be later than usual this year. But all it takes is 5 or 6 straight days of 70 to 80 degree temperatures to accelerate things and this is not an uncommon occurrence around these parts. On a side but related note, one early morning the other day I saw a pair of coyotes traversing a snow covered field just below our vineyards. Coyotes mate for life so seeing them together isn't a sign of spring, just a rare wildlife sighting I am privileged to witness every now and again while farming and living close with nature.

As I mentioned above, I have not made it back out to prune since the last big snow. My focus has been on preparing for our late winter bottling which occurred yesterday and all went quite well. Bottling is an exercise in organization and administration. Leading up to and including bottling day can be very stressful; getting the wines ready, ordering the correct amount of bottles, corks and capsules, having artwork completed for the labels, then working with the printers on the production and also getting TTB and ABC to approve the labels. At the end of bottling day I exhale a huge sigh of relief and feel a quiet satisfaction with having the wine safely in bottle. We also end up with some "E" wine or employee wine. I give this to my employees and take some home for myself. This wine comes from either the first case through the bottling line which has been diluted a bit with water used during the cleaning phase or when we chase one wine with another wine, the first case will be a blend, like now I have a few bottles of Sauvignon Blanc/Rose. Interesting but I won't sell it.

Bottling does nothing to help nor enhance the wine. If performed correctly the wine is not any better, but if not, the wine can be harmed. Microbial contamination and oxygen pick-up in the wine are the two challenges while bottling. To protect the wine I add sulfites just prior to bottling. Some of these will bind with any oxygen entered into the wine before it has had a chance to react and cause harm. What does not initially bind helps to keep the wine fresh and alive while it continues to develop in bottle and will also bind with oxygen as it ever so slowly enters through the cork over the years to come. To reduce the amount of oxygen pick-up and eliminate the chance for contamination, I rely on a professional bottler to bottle all my wines. He shows up here towing a self contained mobile bottling line inside a semi-trailer. All I do is provide water for his steamer machine and bottle rinser, electricity for lights, wine, bottles, capsules, corks, labels, membrane filters, cylinders of CO2 and labor to feed empties and to take off full bottles of wine. Any part of the bottling line which will come into contact with my wine is first sterilized using steam for 20 minutes. After rinsing the bottles, a vacuum removes oxygen and an inert gas, carbon dioxide is injected just before the bottle is filled with wine. Finally CO2 is injected once more on top of the wine just as the cork is inserted. The bottler, well aware of my angst and premature graying hair, carefully prepares, maintains and monitors his bottling line to insure that what I have in tank ends up the same once inside the bottle.

During the winter in addition to pruning, equipment maintenance, projects and taking a holiday, it is also the time to meet with industry people at technical meetings and trade shows. In March I will travel to Charlottesville to attend the Virginia Vineyards Association's winter technical meeting and later, to Wineries Unlimited, an east of the Mississippi viticulture and enology industry trade show and technical seminar in Pennsylvania. Both meetings help to keep me up to date with the latest developments, research and technologies and also to reacquaint with industry friends and colleagues. At the VVA meeting I will participate on a panel discussion and wine tasting about growing and making Sauvignon Blanc in Virginia. In anticipation of the Charlottesville trip I have scheduled some appointments and will spend one day pouring my wines at a few area restaurants and wine shops with the hopes of opening up some new accounts.

This is all for now and please let me know the date you first hear spring peepers singing in harmony.

Best to you,

Jeff

#8 DanielK

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Posted 02 March 2010 - 10:00 AM

... maybe not too interesting reading...

Bullpockey. Don't think that just because there aren't a lot of posts in this topic other than yours, that there aren't many, many eager readers who look forward to your next post. I know nearly nothing about the wine-making process, and I am absolutely spellbound by this topic.

Please keep it up!

#9 LowellR

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Posted 02 March 2010 - 01:20 PM

Bullpockey. Don't think that just because there aren't a lot of posts in this topic other than yours, that there aren't many, many eager readers who look forward to your next post. I know nearly nothing about the wine-making process, and I am absolutely spellbound by this topic.

Please keep it up!

Ditto.

#10 JustinW

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Posted 04 March 2010 - 03:30 PM

Jeff-
Thanks for pointing me to Don Rockwell. I enjoy reading your posts here and look forward to many more. Also looking forward to my next visit to Glen Manor Vineyards.
Thanks
-Justin

#11 Jeff White

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Posted 15 March 2010 - 09:03 AM

March 15, 2010

Hello,

As I write early on this Monday morning the rain has finally stopped. It had been raining since Thursday night. Before the rain began, sunshine and moderating temperatures were slowly melting away our snowpack and almost all had vanished from the lowlands. However the higher elevations of the National Park Mountains surrounding our little valley were still covered in snow. These mountains were obscured from view by dense rain clouds until this morning and now all but the north face of a 3400 foot high mountain are bare of any snow. On Saturday raging waters were full as this trapped moisture was being released much too quickly. There were streams of flowing water through field and forest where usually there are none. All of the normally small creeks were full and out of their banks and Gooney Run which leads this valley's water down to the Shenandoah River was a brown frothy torrent with water way out of its banks and threatening some nearby homes. One of our gates got washed away. It was hanging across a small stream and stopped cattle from following the water under the state road and into a neighbor's backyard. With the ground now saturated, when this spring's heat really arrives and bud break occurs our vines will explode with growth and we will be running fast to keep up.

And spring is certainly on its way. Since my last entry, I have seen and heard flocks of Canada geese flying high in the sky heading north, saw some sap dripping from a few one year old vines, heard my first of the season wild turkey gobble and on the evening of March 12th heard spring peepers across the road from our winery entrance. It's looking like we are anywhere from 3 to 5 weeks away from bud break in our young plantings and early starting varieties.

We have all but finished pruning, with only five more rows of our oldest planting of Cabernet Sauvignon to go. With the warm days we've had recently I shifted our efforts to laying down and tying canes. When the weather cools again we'll go back to finish pruning the Cab. We have finished tying four and a half acres of one year old plantings and also one acre of two year old Cabernet Franc vines. I previously wrote that pruning is the most relaxing task I perform in the vineyard. Tying has to be the most serene and satisfying. Serene because after a cold quiet winter the weather has warmed and the air is again abundantly filled with the sounds of life. All day long we quietly work and witness the rebirth of nature. After pruning a block, the canes are all over the place, with most sticking up in the air in a multitude of angles and directions and many flopping low to the ground, looking very unkempt. Tying is satisfying because once a block has been tied, I look back over to see the order and the balance of the vines, the slowly awakening canes seemingly suspended horizontally in air, all in nice parallel lines, my mind becomes calm, knowing that we are ready, awaiting only the sunlight's warmth to continue.

Laying down and tying grapevine canes requires bare hands so we need warm days to be comfortable. Sometimes we will prune in the morning and tie in the afternoon but the weather has been cooperative and we are ahead in our pruning so now we are tying all day long. We use four items to tie, binder twine, thin copper wire, our pruners to make fine adjustments to cane lengths and a capenter's cloth apron to carry our supplies. The binder twine is used to loosely secure the trunks vertically to a bamboo stake which leads up to a horizontally running fruiting wire of the trellis system. Along this wire the cane is wrapped very tightly around and secured at its end using a short length of copper wire. This wire is very pliable and quite a bit thinner than a paperclip. The canes must be wrapped tightly. If not, once the shoots lengthen but before they reach the first foliage wire their weight in the wind can cause the cane to rotate resulting in the shoots heading down towards the ground and causing extra work for us to correct at a time we need no extra work.

Last week my nephew was home for college spring break and worked a few days on the farm. He and I spent a couple of days finishing the retrofitting of one of our vineyard's deer fence. The fence is electrified and encloses about twelve acres. Recently I watched as deer slipped through the fence at will. Apparently the fence's electrical charge was grounding out somewhere plus there were a few gaps in the recently installed chicken wire. After stitching closed the holes we walked the fence and found two places where the chicken wire was making contact with the hot wires, thus shorting out the fence. Electrified fences are high maintenance, requiring daily inspection and repair. They are not exclusionary fences but rather training fences. As deer approach an obstacle they'll first try to go under, then through and finally over the obstacle. The wires of an electrified training fence are set apart so that the deer will try to go through. Instead they receive a little shock and hopefully learn to stay away or go around. Some vineyard owners are now installing eight foot tall plastic or metal mesh fences which exclude deer. But I am also growing winegrapes in bear country and electricity pulsing through my fence is a must.

This is my 17th year growing winegrapes and I've learned much over the years. There are now two separate vineyards on our farm, one established in 1995 and the other established in 2008. These are very different vineyards, resulting from what I've garnered from my site through the years and from how winegrowing has evolved all over the world. Before we planted in 1995 soil samples were collected and tested. The soils were quite fertile, not what you really want for producing premium wine. But the soils were also very well drained and the site had about a 15% slope which would also help to shed some of the water. Back then the thinking for a potentially moderately vigorous site was to space the vines wide apart and make each grow large to fill a very large trellis area thereby reducing their energy. This did not work. We failed to take into account the large area from which the vine had to spread its roots and gather water and nutrients. Also in 1995, we kept the vineyard floor directly below the vines weed free reducing competition from other plants. This was also a mistake. Finally we did not pay too much attention to root stock selection.

Having too much water and how to quickly evacuate it from our vineyards is the single largest challenge to growing premium winegrapes in this part of the world. Our new site is planted on a 30 to 40 percent slope which during a rain rapidly sheds water off the mountain side. To control erosion and to compete with our vines for nutrients and water we have left the entire vineyard floor planted with a mix of slow and low growing grasses. The soils in the new site are less fertile and have a much higher rock content than the original site. When you have more rock you have less soil and more avenues for water to travel through the soil. So less soil means lower nutrient levels and lower water holding capacity available for the vines. The spacing of vines in our original site is 12 by 8, 12 feet between rows and 8 feet between plants within the row. The spacing in our new site is 8 by 4, that's 454 versus 1362 vines per acre. More vines per acre competing with each other for limited resources. I am now inter-planting vines in my original vineyard to double the vine density and have established permanent covercrop grasses under the vines to lessen their vigor. The rows in the original vineyard run across the slope, for safety reasons only, and each row acts as a little dam slowing the movement of water. While in the new vineyard the rows run with the slope, up and down, and I bought an Italian made track-tractor to farm this site safely.This is so, to once again help water to move off the site quickly. Lastly, the vines in our new site are grafted onto low vigor or growth restricting root stocks that help to hold back much of their excessive vegetative growth and keep the plants small.

A grape's flavor and structure profile is derived mostly from its skin. The pulp or interior of the grape is mostly water. Smaller vines produce smaller berries. Smaller berries means a higher skin to pulp or juice ratio thereby concentrating more flavor in that juice. Keeping the vines small, directing their energy not to producing excessive leaves and shoots but to producing small berries results in a more flavorful and engaging wine. Through the years to come it will be both interesting and fun as I grow wine from both sites, keeping the lots separate, tasting their differences and learning even more of each vineyard site. I believe there is a great future for Virginia viticulture along her steep mountain sides. These sites are difficult and expensive to develop and farm but the potential for world class wines coming from these areas is tremendous.

Cheers!

Jeff

#12 Toogs

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Posted 15 March 2010 - 09:14 AM

Count me in the "reading and loving this but don't have much to say" group. Thanks for this.

#13 Pete

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Posted 15 March 2010 - 10:23 AM

This blog is terrific. Thanks a ton for giving us a unique look into vineyard life.

Lisa: Do we have any food that wasn't brutally slaughtered?
Homer: Well, I think the veal died of loneliness.


#14 Jeff White

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Posted 31 March 2010 - 06:53 AM

March 31, 2010

Welcome,

I'm posting this a day early because tomorrow looks to be a very fine day and I want to be out in it all day.

Spring has officially arrived and much to my liking, grapevines always seem to be the last plant specie to wake up and help usher in the new season. I look around the farm and see beautiful daffodil and forsythia blooming, tulips and resurrections emerging from their beds and our large fields becoming green and filling with newborn calves, each discovering one another romping around together in play while their mothers quietly graze to produce their nourishment. After a particularly hard winter small herds of whitetail deer are venturing out into the open to feed on fresh grass sprouts. The forested mountains are just beginning to show some color and texture from fattening leaf buds on maple, cherry, dogwood and redbud trees. Then I walk through my vines. They look as they did back in late November when their leaves blew off in the first cold wet winds of autumn. Groggy and still too cold to start another year, they are awakening slowly.

Tying is progressing very well. We have about four acres of our late bud breaking varieties to finish. The weather forecast shows a warming trend with temperatures around 80 for the first few days in April. This will accelerate bud development and some of our young plantings may begin to push. But the nights remain cool and unless temperatures climb into and settle in the 90's for a few days we should have plenty of time to complete all of our tying before the buds become too fragile to handle.

Now is the time I take morning and evening scouting walks through the vines assessing bud development and looking for climbing cutworm damage. Cutworms are the larvae stage in the development of a moth. In early spring they emerge from the soil during the night and climb up the trunks to feed on the softening buds along the canes. Before daybreak they climb back down and return to the soil. As I scout, if I see hollowed out buds along a cane I stop and dig a couple of inches into the soil right at the base of the trunk and can usually find the fat little bugger. I'll continue to do this until the feeding becomes too severe and widespread. Weather plays a role in the severity of climbing cutworm damage. Buds are susceptible once they swell and soften, and feeding will continue until the first little leaves open and the shoots grow about an inch in length. Some years we can have a warm spell such as what is coming this weekend, which pushes out some buds. But afterwards the weather cools and the plump softened buds sit there until warmth returns, allowing the cutworms to gorge themselves for days. Once a certain threshold of damage is reached I have only two options. One is to apply a pesticide and the other which I will try first is to walk the rows at night wearing a headlamp and pick off the cutworms. My wife and I did this last year and we were successful in that I did not have to resort to using a pesticide. Chemicals can be very effective but their use or misuse can land you in a vicious cycle. Beneficial insects are usually also killed. This results in more chemicals being applied later to take care of other grape feeding pests that, had those beneficial insects still been around, would have been controlled naturally. So far this season I have not seen any cutworm damage. Buds are still too tight and hard.

A few days last week were a bit too cool for cane tying so we instead worked on our two deer fences. The chicken wire we had installed sagged between posts, hanging into and on top of the hot wires thus shorting out the electrical charge. I purchased a hundred metal fence posts which we inserted in between but a few inches away from the hot wires. We then attached the chicken wire which took up the slack and kept it from causing the short. There are though still one or more short-outs somewhere so I am taking multiple walks around the perimeter inspecting every wire, insulator and staple, looking for crossed wires or wires still touching the chicken wire or the ground. One can easily walk right past a problem without noticing it so I walk and I walk and I walk. A number of years ago I had the same problem and after many trips around without success I asked my nephew to look. Sometimes all you need is a fresh pair of eyes. He hadn't walked a hundred feet when he noticed a wire running on the ground. I must have walked by it a dozen times. It's good exercise though.

Being part of the Virginia wine industry in this time of it's infancy means to me that my vineyard in addition to being a fruit producing business is also a field research laboratory for the success of future generations entering our industry. As such I participate in or allow my vineyards to be used in studies conducted by Virginia Tech's viticulture extension and research leg. A graduate student was here this past week to discuss this year's study. This is the second year of this particular study at Glen Manor and is focused on the grape berry moth. This moth enters our vineyards to lay eggs on developing berries. The hatched larvae feed on the cluster eventually burrowing into the berry. The berry is then predisposed to infection from Botrytis and sour rots and can attract fruit flies, wasps and ants. Throughtout the growing season I will, on a weekly basis, be recording the number of moths caught in pheromone traps placed in my vineyards and in the surrounding forests. This study in part will help to determine the timing of peak grape berry moth activity so that I can accurately target it before damage occurs.

I am also conducting my own study in the vineyard we planted in 2008 and 2009. This is a root stock/vine vigor evaluation study and will take many years of observation to come to any conclusions. Three different root stocks were grafted to our vines. We then alternated root stocks every row, so the same root stock is planted every third row. This should take soil differences out of the equation. I have not yet seen any growth differences but it should be interesting as the roots expand out and deeper into the soil strata. Ask me in about ten years. One thing we will do, at least initially, is harvest by every third row or root stock and keep the fruit and resulting wine separate to see if, how the different root stock supply the vine nutrients, contributes to flavor differences.

One aspect of farming that appeals to me greatly is the variety and seasonal nature of my work. Our focus is always changing and not precisely knowing what to expect out of each day is both challenging and rewarding. Every day, events occur that change my well thought out to-do list I prepare each early morning. I'll come across something while walking through my vines or see something on the farm in need of attention. The other day while checking the deer fence, I discovered one of the vineyard gates had somehow blown open in a wind storm and a hinge had snapped in two. So my priorities shifted slightly as I needed to secure this gate before dark when most animals are active. Our farm house is supplied with water from a spring located about a quarter mile away in the forest. Usually after a heavy rain a filter in the spring house needs cleaning. I went up there to check on it and discovered a tree had fallen across a fence that keeps cattle from contaminating our water. There are no cattle in the adjacent field right now but before there are I will need to complete this new repair job. Mechanical or machine breakdowns are also a common occurrence on a farm, especially one where some of the equipment being used today was purchased decades ago by my grandfather. While mowing a field last week, one with many hidden rocks, I guess I hit one too many and broke a couple of metal support bars for a rear tire. So it's back to the machine shed for a welding repair job. This reminds me. To be a vigneron it helps to also be a good carpenter, electrician, plumber, welder, mechanic, painter and all around fix it person.

Until next time,

Jeff

Go Mountaineers!

#15 Jeff White

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Posted 19 April 2010 - 08:02 AM

Monday, April 19, 2010

Hello,

I'm a little tardy in posting this update and this may become the norm as the growing season unfolds and my time becomes scarce.

Glen Manor Vineyard's 2010 growing season officially began on April 4th with bud break in young plantings of Cabernet Franc and Merlot and a couple of days later in a 2003 planting of Merlot. As of this writing all varieties with the exception of a 1996 planting of Cabernet Sauvignon and a 1997 planting of Petit Verdot have leafed out. We are about 2 weeks ahead of normal due to the warm/hot spell we incurred the last week of March into the first week of April. A couple of 90 degree days and 70 degree nights finally pushed the vines past the point of no return. Because of this rapid bud development cutworm damage was minimal. I did though spend a few nights walking some blocks of Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc and picked off hundreds of cutworms. In these blocks the buds enlarged but had not fully opened, rendering them vulnerable. I was monitoring the damage daily and with no warm weather in sight to push on out the buds, I finally needed to act. Wearing a headlamp, warm clothing and carrying a plastic cup we start at midnight, walk each row and catch them in the act of eating the buds and tender little shoots and leaves.

For the next few weeks our main worry is the possible occurrence of a late spring frost that could kill all exposed green tissue if temperatures dip below freezing. Since 1995 we have only experienced 2 light spring frosts in the very bottom portion of our vineyards but resulting in no real commercial loss. This area is planted with late bud breaking varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot and are kind of frost protected because their buds are usually not as developed when such an event occurs.

Our vineyards are located up high enough on a mountain side where the still nighttime and morning air is warmer than air in the lower elevations and on the valley floor. Cold air is denser than warm air and thus heavier. During a cold still night this air will sink into the valley, following gulleys and waterways in the terrain and as it moves, displaces warmer air to higher elevations. As this warmer air moves higher it too cools but there is a point along mountain sides where a thermal band exists. This is where you will find cold tender fruit bearing trees like apples and peaches and vineyards planted to take advantage of this natural frost protection. If on the other hand there is wind associated with the cold temperatures the mountain side sites lose this protective property.

We finished all of our cane tying just in time for bud break and moved right to other tasks as we watched the buds open and tiny leaves unfurl. The next tasks on our list were to flail mow the vineyard prunings left in the row middles and to do some replanting. The prunings must be either removed from the vineyard or shredded small enough so that it breaks down rapidly back into the soil. If large pieces are left in the vineyard, pathogens will begin the slow process of consuming the dead wood. These same pathogens can then also enter through large pruning cuts on the live vines causing numerous diseases, weakening the plant, reducing it's productivity and eventually causing it's death and removal. In Bordeaux France, prunings are burned throughout the winter in the vineyards as the workers progress. One will see plumes of smoke rising above the vines from wheelbarrow like carts rolled through the vines as they are pruned. Here, after pruning is complete we attach a flail mower to our tractor and drive the rows to grind up the cuttings into very small shredded pieces. This has an added benefit of putting nutrients back into the soils for the vines to use again. I am thinking of making some changes for next year though. The flail mower misses some of the cuttings because of the uneven ground and the heavy snow of last winter flattened the canes against the ground making it more difficult for the machine to operate efficiently. We had to walk the rows afterwards to pick up the missed cuttings. So I will investigate other mechanical alternatives or maybe even do as in France and burn as we prune. At least we may be a little warmer.

Every year we lose a few vines, mostly young recently planted vines that just did not make it through their first or second year. I always order a hundred or more vines than I am going to plant and then plant the extra in a nursery bed for use over the succeeding years. This year we replanted around 400 plants with over half being Merlot, my most problematic variety. I'm still not sure about Merlot's future at Glen Manor. I love the wine and what it adds to a blend but we tend to lose way more Merlot vines over the winter than any other variety I grow. One thing I have noticed though is of the vines planted on the steepest slope; I have not lost one. So it may just come down to matching site with variety, something all Virginia vignerons are learning.

After pruning, the next task we perform in the vineyard which impacts the quantity and the quality of this year's wine is shoot thinning. Shoot thinning is exactly what is sounds like. We remove shoots, either unfruitful shoots or where there are just too many. In my red grape varieties I want no more than 3 or 4 shoots per linear foot of canopy. White grapes like Sauvignon Blanc and Petite Manseng can be cropped slightly higher without sacrificing wine quality. With these I leave 4 to 5 shoots per foot. By removing excess shoots we not only adjust our yields but also increase air movement and sunlight penetration through the canopy. This helps the micro climate within the canopy remain drier, making the environment less hospitable to mildews thus reducing but not eliminating the need for fungicide applications. We started shoot thinning in a two year old planting of Cabernet Franc where the fruiting wire is located just 24 inches above the ground. I designed the trellis system in our new vineyard different than in our original vineyard. In the original vineyard the fruiting wire is a comfortable 36 inches above the ground. To try and take advantage of the earth's heat during the night to facilitate ripening I lowered this wire in all of my new red grapevine plantings but it's also back breaking work to be hunched over all day long. Hopefully it will be worth the added pain.

A few items to note in the winery. Starting the first of April and running through the end of November, our tasting room is open five days of the week, so in addition to all the farming activities we are busy here too. Kelly recently retired, after 25 years in the industry, from her career as a Chef. She is now our tasting room manager and winery gardener. Except for over the weekends this frees me to do what I enjoy most, farm my vines. I also recently contracted with a local wine importer/distributor, Downey Selections to represent our wines in Virginia and in Washington DC. I spent much of last year doing this task myself but again, I want to and need to stay on our farm growing our wines.

Our 2009 red wines completed malo-lactic fermentation and I made some preliminary blends and moved the wines off their lees or sediment into clean barrels in the rear of the cellar for a long rest. Very soon we will begin our blending trials and assemble the final blends. I'm very pleased with this vintage of wines. We did a lot more extended maceration than we have in the past. Extended maceration is leaving the fermented wine in contact with the skins for a longer time. This results in more extraction of flavor and body. These wines, having greater tannin/acidity structure and balance, complex and depth of flavors will be very long lived.

This is all for now.

And remember, have a grape day!

Jeff

#16 Jeff White

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Posted 20 April 2010 - 11:26 AM

Hi again,

Here are a couple of spring shots at Glen Manor Vineyards 2010:


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Posted Image

#17 Toogs

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Posted 20 April 2010 - 04:45 PM

Thanks! I enjoyed a visit to your place, even saying "that road up above the vineyard sure looks fun to drive." Well no kidding, it's only skyline drive. Thanks for this blog and your wines.

#18 Jeff White

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Posted 06 May 2010 - 10:09 AM

May 6, 2010

Greetings,

Things are really jumping now and the weather has been anything but normal. We've had hot days with warm muggy nights, cold days with even colder nights including morning frost, a hail storm that just missed us, high winds with blowing rain and then some beautiful crisp sunshiny spring days. Our vines are responding with green shoots elongating rapidly, each with 2 or 3 clusters of flower buds. We are trying to keep up block by block, shoot-thinning and now tucking and tying the shoots as they grow through the trellis wires reaching for the sun. We've made three passes through our one year old plantings first to shoot thin down to 3 or 4 shoots of which we will choose one next winter to be the vine's permanent trunk. We made two more passes through these vines to hand weed around their base and to tie the shoots to either a bamboo stake or the first wire, depending on how high the shoots had grown. All of our two year old plantings have been shoot-thinned and a quick tuck and tie was performed in the young Cabernet Franc and Merlot. After the initial thinning I took a walk through and decided the canopy would end up being too dense and the crop level would also be a little too much for these young vines to handle so we made one more pass through basically removing one additional shoot per vine. It looks good now. This is my first look at this year's potential crop and the first crop these young vines will produce. Excitement is in my air.

Here are a few more photos of our spring:

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In our original vineyard we have shoot-thinned the Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc and are currently working on a block of Cabernet Sauvignon with an acre of Petit Verdot still to do. We did have a little frost damage a few mornings back. But only some newly replanted vines were hit, down in the lowest section of the vineyard. The coldest air was right at ground level and these very young vines had their green leaves clipped back a bit while three feet above on the fruiting wire, the older established vines remained unharmed.

During the growing season I spend one, two or even three days a week on my tractor driving every row to either mow the grasses or to spray my vines. This provides me an opportunity to see in a very short period of time how all the vines are doing and to pinpoint blocks that need the most attention. Sometimes it's just little things that I'll see like a broken wire or cross arm, a missing bamboo or maybe a vine or even a row that got skipped from a particular task. We have already shoot-thinned our 1996 planting of Cabernet Franc but this variety tends to send out additional unfruitful shoots from latent buds. While mowing the other day I came through this block and quickly noticed that it's time to make another pass through to remove these shoots before they start to shade out this year's fruit. Now don't get me wrong, I also walk my vines almost daily to see what's what, but being perched a few feet up in the air on my tractor seat while moving rapidly through the vines gives me an invaluable overall perspective of the health and needs of our vineyards.

In addition to the 14.5 acres of vines, we have 100 acres of pastures that are leased by a neighbor for his cattle to graze. Since moving to and working on the farm back in 1990 I have been on my own little mission to eradicate a particular invasive non-native weed from our land, the Canada thistle. It actually is a pretty looking plant producing many reddish-purple colored flower cones but from these comes thousands of seeds that are easily carried by the wind and remain viable for years. I will never fully eradicate the plant but at least will keep them in check and not allow whole fields to be overrun. At this time of the year I start walking the fields, first with a hoe to dig them out of the ground and latter carry a 3 gallon capacity backpack sprayer to spot spray individual plants. I also wear one of our tying aprons filling it with popped off flower heads to be burned later. If left attached to the plant the flower continues to develop and produce seed. When I first started this practice 20 years ago there were thousands of these plants throughout our pastures. Today in most of our fields there are less than 30 each year, but from just one plant can come hundreds the following year.

With the exception of our tasting room there is nothing really going on in the winery. We have not yet started our 2009 red wine blending trials but I am preparing for a late June bottling of our 2008 red wines.

Recently Kelly and I had the opportunity to taste some wonderful Sauvignon Blancs paired with two varieties of oysters, Welfleet and Rome Point. It was kind of a mini "Oyster Riot" and included the Grand Champion, Spy Valley 2008, plus 4 other gold medalists from last years Old Ebbitt Grill competition and 6 additional wines from France, California and Virginia. All of the wines were excellent examples but I have to admit the New Zealanders paired best with the fresh oysters. Clean, crisp, tropical and long lingering these wines were a delicious accompaniment to the cold sea water flavor of the oysters especially the Welfleets.

Kelly and I also participated in Downey Selections annual Winemakers Reception and Portfolio Tasting. Held in the Hendry House at Fort C.F. Smith Park in Arlington, it's an opportunity for the trade to taste Downey's latest selections and to talk with the winemakers. Mostly from Italy but there were winemakers or their representatives from France, California, Spain, Uruguay and even one from Virginia. With all the great wines in the rooms, at first we were not too busy :lol: but by mid afternoon a buzz was circulating that the lone Virgina table was well worth a visit. :D It was an important time for me to not only meet with potential clients but also to taste some wonderful wines and to talk with my counter parts from other wine regions. One in particular is Mauro Fracchia from the Piedmont in Italy. Like I am, he is a fourth generation farmer but a hundred years ago while my Great-grandfather was growing apples, peaches, corn and wheat, his planted a vineyard and began making wine. I hope to visit him in Italy some day soon.

Well it's time to get back outside.

Cheers!

Jeff

#19 Troy McHenry

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Posted 17 May 2010 - 09:14 PM

Jeff,
I'm so glad I finally joined and was able to read through your whole thread this evening with only brief interruptions from son #2, Jackson, who turns three weeks old on Thursday. A neighbor took my out for cigars a week ago and we decided to bring along a bottle to enjoy and I ended up picking a 2007 Hodder Hill, which incidentally was the year my first son was born and tasted fantastic!

There is a ton of great information in this thread. I always thought Merlot was rather easy to grow, now I know that's not the case. One question for you - when you are making your blends, do you try and produce a similar blend in taste and style as prior years or just making the best with what each season gives you? Also, since you are making in essence a Bordeaux blend do you try to model it after a particular region (Pommerol and St. Emillion come to mind)?

Thanks and keep up the good work!
-Troy

#20 Jeff White

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Posted 18 May 2010 - 06:13 AM

Jeff,
I'm so glad I finally joined and was able to read through your whole thread this evening with only brief interruptions from son #2, Jackson, who turns three weeks old on Thursday. A neighbor took my out for cigars a week ago and we decided to bring along a bottle to enjoy and I ended up picking a 2007 Hodder Hill, which incidentally was the year my first son was born and tasted fantastic!

There is a ton of great information in this thread. I always thought Merlot was rather easy to grow, now I know that's not the case. One question for you - when you are making your blends, do you try and produce a similar blend in taste and style as prior years or just making the best with what each season gives you? Also, since you are making in essence a Bordeaux blend do you try to model it after a particular region (Pommerol and St. Emillion come to mind)?

Thanks and keep up the good work!
-Troy

Hi Troy,

Welcome aboard and congratulations on the arrival of Jackson!

On making our red blends we do not try to produce a similar blend in taste or style year after year. I'm interested in tasting the differences in what Mother Nature provides to us in each vintage. Because of our much varied seasons the wines are usually quite different from year to year. We want a blend that will hold the tasters interest, is a balance of power and elegance and will develop in one's cellar for years. 2007 was an extremely hot and dry year and the Hodder Hill blend is 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 15% Petit Verdot and 7% Cabernet Franc. In 2008 it was a very cool year with more typical rainfall. The Hodder Hill to be bottled next month ended up being 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 15% Petit Verdot and 12% Cabernet Franc. Having said this though, there is a common flavor and feel from year to year that is derived from our particular site, terroir, and from my particular way of handling the fruit, juice and wine each year. Because I love Cabernet Sauvignon and believe it works quite well here, I am aiming for a Left Bank style and so the Hodder Hill will probably always have this grape as it's largest percentage.

Thanks for the questions and for everyone else out there, once again I am a little late with my latest post but I am now working on it so maybe by the end of this week.

Jeff

#21 Jeff White

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Posted 20 May 2010 - 04:56 PM

Thursday, May 20th 2010

Hello,

Much to write about as it's been quite an event filled couple of weeks. I began writing this on a rainy Monday afternoon, a little rundown after a particularly exhusting 3 days and 3 nights during which I slept only about 12 hours total. Up at 3am and to bed a little past midnight. With all this weeks rain in the forecast our vineyards needed to be protected so I was on my tractor spraying every morning and then as luck would have it, driving to Mount Vernon in the afternoons for evening wine tasting events arranged back during the winter. The tasting event was well worthwhile, the vineyards are safe and now I have a few rain filled days to catch up on office work including this post.

As a rule I do not participate in wine festivals for it takes me and my focus away from my beloved farm and vineyards but this event held twice a year at our nation's first President's home is one for which I made an exception. Set in his backyard overlooking the Potomac River, it's 3 fast hours of Virginia wine tasting and buying for about 1500 attendees each night for 3 straight nights. Held in May and October only 18 out of our 160 Virginia wineries participate, all chosen through a lottery except for a handful, grandfathered in from the early days of the event. For me it provided a venue to showcase a couple of our wines to people who may not have known about us before and hopefully will now pay us a visit here on our farm. Luckily for me we were chosen for the spring event. The October event would not be doable with harvest and crush commanding all of our labors, energy and attention.

Frost; Glen Manor Vineyards dodged another big one. If you have not heard, a frost event on Monday morning the 10th damaged several Virginia vineyards exposed foliage and fruit. We were also cold that morning, around 30 degrees and I did see just a few vines with singeing around the edges of some leaves but we had no commercial loss of fruit. Once again a little luck and our high mountain side site helped to protect us from an otherwise catastrophic event.

A few recent photos:

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We have finished all of our shoot thinning and are now focused on keeping the shoots growing straight up through the trellis wires and not crisscrossing thus shading one another. This means that for the rest of the spring and summer we will be making multiple passes through all of the vineyard blocks tucking and tying the shoots to the wires. This work can become monotonous but it is very important for wine quality and once finished a block looks particularly well managed and beautiful...well at least for a few days until the shoots grow out some more.

On May 13th, flowering began about two weeks earlier than normal, resulting from this year's early bud break. A 2008 planting of Cabernet Franc and Merlot are in full bloom with some older blocks in partial bloom. Grapevine flowers are not anything of real beauty to see though they are quite fragrant, producing a honeysuckle like aroma. Many times I will know that flowering has begun even before I enter the vineyard, just by the sweet scent in the air. The flowers are self pollinating requiring only a little dry wind. Unfortunately rain during flowering can interfere so I am concerned about the wet weather we are now experiencing and how it may affect these early flowering varieties. I will update on my next post after I see the percentage of fruit set.

From bud break through harvest the first thing I do in the morning is check the weather, mainly looking for rain. I check multiple internet sites and watch the local news for their weather report. Later as harvest approaches I monitor this internet site, http://www.crownweat...com/?page_id=29 that tracks tropical depressions as they form off the west coast of Africa. During the growing season rain is the catalyst for mildews to grow on our leaves and fruit. To protect all of our green tissue it must be sprayed with fungicides. We minimize applications by keeping the canopy thin and open, exposing the fruit and leaves to sunlight and drying breezes. Some growers spray before a rain and some wait and spray after the rain as the water washes off much of what was applied. I like to but cannot always spray just before a rain so the mildew cannot get a foothold and then reapply just before the next rain system arrives. The ground is dry and firm before the rain and soil compaction from my tractor is a major concern. Right now I am without one of my tractors. While operating it last week in the early morning I noticed the headlights were dim and an electircal warning light was on. Not being a particularly skilled mechanical diagnostician and with much other work to do and knowing I also had a diesel fuel leak that I've been unable to stop, I sent it off for repairs. I'm now nervously awaiting it's return.

Our set up here is a little different than most wineries in that the winery is not located amongst our vines. The vineyards are up high on the mountain side and our winery is located in one of our lower pastures about a quarter mile away and 300 feet below our vineyards. However our vineyards are in view across our farm from the winery. The 26 acre field surrounding the winery once was an apple orchard originally set out by my great-grandfather in the early 1900s. There are only a few apple trees left now and about ten years ago my father and I put this parcel into a federal program called WHIP, Wildlife Habitat Improvement Program. This program was created to re-establish habitat for and to encourage the return of Virginia's bobwhite quail. Once plentiful on our farm when I was young, I have not seen one in decades. In a large portion of the field we changed over from non-native cool season grasses like Orchard grass and Kentucky 31 Fescue to native warm season grasses like Indian Switchgrass and Bluestem. These grasses grow in small clumps and to heights of more than 7 feet producing a very large seed head at the top. The clumping nature of their growth allows small animals to travel freely through the field and the tall height of the grasses provides protection from overhead predators. Winter snows weigh down and bend the grass over putting the seed on the ground for consumption and again providing safe passage through these newly formed tunnels. As part of the management of these grasses we burn half the field every 3 to 5 years which keeps the clumps from expanding into one another making passage though impossible for small wildlife. I have yet to see any quail return but it is common to see deer, turkey, bear, fox, rabbits, groundhogs and many species of songbirds in the grasses and hawks circling above them. The black bear arrive in mid to late June when a nearby and very large wild blackberry patch begins to ripen. I am researching having wild quail brought in and released back on our farm.

On a related note, since the time of my childhood I have hunted game animals on our farm. Although I was not raised on the farm my family visited here most weekends and all holidays. My brothers and I even spent two summers on the farm when my mother went back to college. Many times when I was young, after school let out on Fridays my parents would take me to the Continental Trailways bus station in Camp Washington, Fairfax and I would jump on, sometimes carrying my hunting rifle, for a weekend with my grandparents. Try doing this nowadays. I grew up watching and participating in the slaughtering and butchering of our livestock so the act of hunting animals for food came naturally. Currently in my freezer at home is a side of grass fed beef from our farm and some bear, venison, turkey, squirrel and dove also taken off our farm. April and May is spring gobbler season in Virginia. In addition to rising early for chores I also awake at 3am so I can turkey hunt a little before my workday commences. I've been watching an old tom turkey strut in one of our upper pastures all season but was either too busy to try or he'd give me the slip when I did go after him. One day last week he finally failed to out fox me and after 24 hours brining, I boned him and now he is also in my freezer. He has left this world now but there are around seven hens on our farm sitting on nests full of eggs he helped produce.

I hope this does not offend but out here on the farm we enjoy living as close as possible to our food source whether it's growing in our gardens, grazing in our pastures, aging in our cellars or living in our forests.

Best to all,

Jeff

#22 Jeff White

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Posted 04 June 2010 - 06:44 AM

Friday June 4, 2010

Hello,

The 2010 growing season is in full swing and has us working virtually non-stop to keep up. I even had my first harvest nightmare which happens every year. I dreamt that it was still late spring or early summer and when I entered the vineyard in the morning all of the fruit was ready for harvest, but of course I was not...panic!

We are still running 2 weeks ahead of normal but much will happen between now and harvest so this could change. As it stands now, this could mean that we'll have a longer than normal ripening season which in turn could raise wine quality. Normally, flowering begins around the first of June with our late bud breaking varieties setting their fruit by mid June. As of June 1, all of our varieties except for the oldest plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot have finished flowering. These last two are in full to a little past full bloom and should be finished and set their fruit by the end of this week. My worries of wet weather having a negative impact on fruit set were unwarranted as all of our vines have set their fruit. This summer we will be dropping to the ground half of this fruit as it is way too much for the vines to fully ripen. But I'll write more on this later in July.

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Years ago when I was a child my parents took my brother and me to Cape Canaveral, Florida where we toured the Kennedy Space Center building used to construct rockets. This is a very tall and large building and I remember the guide saying that the building is constantly being painted. Once finished it is time to start again at the beginning. This is how we work our vineyards in the summer, going from block to block to block and back again tucking and tying. Once all of the blocks have been tied it is again time to start at the first block. From mid May through mid August this is our main task but in about a week two additional tasks will be thrown into the mix. Again I'll write more on this later, as it happens.

Last week I mowed for the first time this season our new vineyard plantings and my crew, using weed whackers cut all of the grass under the vines where my mower cannot reach. We also had just made a pass through tying and now it is quite pleasing to the eye. We are currently working on the original plantings and should finish by early next week...just in time to start back again in the young vineyard.

It's been a hot time spraying lately. When spraying, I must wear over my clothes a white plastic overall suit with a hood, elastic ankle and wrist cuffs plus rubber boots and gloves, an enclosed helmet with it's own filtered air supply fed by a motorized fan and hose attached to my waist and plugged into my tractor. I start early in the morning while it's cool but do not finish until noon or a little after. A couple times last week when the temperature reached into the 90's I could feel myself overheating and getting a little light headed so I had to come down twice, take off my helmet and suit, drink some cold water and even run the hose over my head and back. After a few minutes I could return and finish the job. I probably lose 5 to 10 pounds in water because afterwards my clothes are drenched and seem to weigh an extra 5 to 10 pounds. I'm also usually whopped for the rest of the day.

Now is the critical time to protect the developing fruit from disease. For the next 4 to 5 weeks I will be out on my tractor spraying every 7 to 14 days, depending on the amount of rainfall. If I can get the fruit and vines through this period disease free, which has always been the case since 1995, I can put the sprayer away for the season about 30 to 45 days before we begin harvesting. So far this season I have only applied fungicides, neither herbicides nor insecticides have been required. We've been monitoring grape berry moth levels in the developing fruit clusters which are around 2% infected in the interior of the vineyard and 6% around the perimeter. If these levels rise to around 15% I may have to take action.

My nephew Jack worked with me a couple days recently. We started out in the early morning walking all of the pastures hoeing thistles. I enjoy doing this although I'm not sure he was as thrilled. When finished our pants were soaked from walking through waist high grasses still wet with dew. In the Ken Burns Civil War documentary there was a veteran who after the war went home to "wage war on the standing corn". Well I enjoy waging war on my standing thistles. Later that morning Jack helped me collect petiole samples from various vineyard blocks. A petiole is the little stem which connects a leaf to a shoot and is collected, dried and sent to a lab in Richmond for analysis to discover what nutrients the vines might be deficient. We collect petioles at bloom and remove the leaf and petiole opposite the lowest flower cluster on a shoot. Walking through a planting, 15 vines are chosen at random and 10 petioles are selected from each vine giving us 150 petioles as representative of the block, usually just one acre and always by variety. After receiving the results I will make soil amendments, usually just a little nitrogen and/or phosphorus, in the next few weeks.

Next, we spent the afternoon in the cellar tasting through the 2009 red wines in barrel. Jack just turned 21 so can now legally taste his family's farm product. I'm going to start blending trials next week so I wanted to taste through these wines one more time to better understand them, their potential and their needs. After opening all the barrels to taste, the barrels were topped off or filled full. These barrels had not been opened since early April and each had lost around 2 bottles worth of wine through evaporation. I keep 1, 3 and 5 gallon glass containers of wine in the cellar just for this purpose.

Usually when working in my vineyards I'm surrounded by the noise of my tractor, mower or sprayer, although I do wear earplugs. So when I'm not on my tractor and am doing something else, it's a joy just to be working from my feet and to be able to hear all of the sounds of the countryside. Mostly what I hear are birds. The other day I was being serenaded by many and in particular a mocking bird, one of my favorites, singing all of the other bird's songs. We are also greeted every year by returning barn swallows that nest under the exposed upper floor joists of our bank barn. They fly through the air, twisting and turning, darting here and there like acrobatic stunt pilots. When I am mowing it doesn't take them long to find me and start circling and diving at all the insects disturbed by my passage. They also make sounds similar to those made by dolphins, so similar in fact that I believe these two species if ever they could meet might be able to communicate with one another. Later this summer the adults will take their young out for flying lessons and in between flights, the family will be all lined up resting on our vineyard trellis wires.

Black bears are starting to venture out and we saw two last week just outside the vineyard fence walking along the forest edge. A couple of my neighbors who operate bee hives in their backyards have also had bruin encounters lately. June is black bear mating season and when females who are receptive to mating, wean off their two year old cubs. So males are out seeking females and females are out seeking males and cubs are out searching on their own for a territory in which to live. It seems bears are everywhere.

I went off the farm twice since my last writing, first to a grower meeting at a neighboring vineyard and later to a vintner's dinner.

Every growing season two people from our industry, an agriculture extension agent from Rappahannock County and our state Professor of Viticulture, put on a series of grower meetings at vineyards throughout the state to discuss current vineyard issues or problems as the season unfolds. These meetings are very informative and useful and I try to attend all within a hours drive from my farm. These meetings are also my only chance during the growing season to see how other vineyards are doing and to meet and talk with my fellow winegrowing friends.

On Saturday, May 23rd, I participated in my first vintner's dinner. Actually it was a cooking demonstration at noon by Chef Jacques Haeringer of L'Auberge Chez Francois in Great Falls followed by the meal which he demonstrated. My wines were well received and paired well with Jacques cuisine. He is quite affable and entertaining and I was kind of the straight-man. During the cooking demonstration the guests enjoyed a glass of our 2008 Sauvignon Blanc. Then, for the first course grilled prawns on an exotic salad of orange, grapefruit, mango and avocado was paired with our 2007 Sauvignon Blanc. A fresh and crisp green salad followed this and then a very refreshing palate cleanser of lemon sorbet with whole vanilla bean. The main course was a succulent grilled fillet mignon in a red wine broth with little pearl onions, potatoes and peas. The red wine used for the broth and paired with this course was our 2007 Cabernet Franc. Lastly, Chef Jacques made Strawberry Napoleon with crushed black pepper for dessert. I do not often leave my farm during the growing season but it has been an honor to have my wines served at the Haeringer's restaurant and this day of course was quite special for me.

Until next time,

Jeff

#23 Jeff White

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Posted 10 June 2010 - 04:24 AM

June 10, 2010

Here are some current shots:



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#24 Jeff White

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Posted 14 June 2010 - 11:15 AM

June 14, 2010

Hey! Hey! I'm early,

We are plugging away during this, the most critical time of our growing season. Our daily workload still mainly consists of tucking and tying but we've now added hedging and leaf pulling to our canopy management efforts.

Everything we do in the vineyard affects both wine quality and wine style. From here on out to harvest we use the canopy to shade, light, heat and cool the fruit, influencing wine style and flavor. When I make a decision to alter the vine's canopy, I'm not thinking about the grapes per se but instead I am thinking about my end product, what it is I'm really growing, wine. How I want the wine to feel in one's mind, once it is in one's eye, nose and mouth. It's similar to the process of the great photographer Ansel Adams. When he viewed a landscape he did not only see the natural beauty of the land. He imagined what he could do with his camera, film and darkroom to share with others what he was feeling about the landscape before him. What made him a renowned photographer was how he could picture in his mind his end product, the print.

When we alter the vine's canopy we communicate to the vine or send signals which stimulate responses from the vine. Sometimes I want the vine to respond but other times I try to manage the canopy without stimulating a response from the vine. Hedging is one of those tasks where at first I do not want a response. Basically, hedging is cutting the shoot top off once it has expanded a certain length above the trellis. I make many passes through the vineyards hedging shoots but rarely do I hedge any particular shoot more than once in a season. I call my hedging process selective or surgical hedging for only 2 to 4 shoots per vine are selected, those that are very long, 4 to 5 feet above the top wire and are just starting to bend back downwards to the ground. Once hedged the vine's energy is redirected back down into the plant and lateral or side shoots develop along the main shoot just cut. This creates a dense canopy, restricting air movement and increasing shading more than I desire. I have learned through working with my vines over the years that if I selective hedge, the vine is less stimulated to grow out these lateral shoots. Later in the season, say by mid July I'll take a more ruthless approach to hedging as the response from the vine at that time is to send energy to ripening fruit instead of growing more leaves.

Hedging is quite physical as I do it non-mechanically, walking the rows swinging a pair of 3 feet long Christmas tree shearing knives. One of the knives has a hook on the end so I use this to select a shoot, bending it away from others to safely cut it with the other knife.

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Hedging is also a great upper body workout and I start in the morning before the sun comes up while it is cool and peaceful and the mountains are just starting to awake. One early morning last week I was fortunate to hear a pack of coyotes way up in the National Park begin to bark, yip and howl just as the sun came up over the mountain tops. I imagined pups being excited as the adults returned to the den after a successful night of hunting. This was a treat as I know coyotes are around but seldom do I hear or see them.

On a related note, we had two more black bear sightings recently. Both were older cubs just weaned by their mothers and out foraging on their own for the first times in their lives.

We also started leaf pulling last week. Leaf pulling involves removing leaves in close proximity to the grape clusters or fruit zone and has a tremendous impact on both wine quality and wine style. We begin pulling leaves about 10 days after fruit set and those removed have finished their job of converting the sun's energy into successful grape flowering and setting fruit and are no longer really of any value to the vine. Other younger leaves on up the shoot will now finish the job of ripening this year's fruit. With Virginia's usually hot and humid summer it is of vital importance to open up the area directly around the developing grape clusters to facilitate drying with adequate air flow and sunlight penetration.

In general shade equates to acidic or tart green vegetative flavors with astringent hard tannins while sunlight equates to fresh berry fruit flavors with lower acids and sweet supple round tannins. But it is not all black and white and much like Ansel's work, it is all about the grays. With Sauvignon Blanc one would expect some greenness and high acidity so some shade is good. With Chardonnay maybe a little extra sunlight would bring out more ripe fruit and less green apple and soften the acidity a tad. With Bordeaux reds, lots of sun is desirable. But in our heat, too much too fast and the grapes will sunburn. We acclimate the clusters to our heat and sun by making many passes through the vineyards pulling a few more leaves with each pass. Our rows run north to south and from east to west so we pull more leaves on the cooler wetter east and north side of the canopy and less leaves are removed from the hotter west and south sides. We also start by only pulling leaves from under and in between the clusters, leaving leaves above as protection like an umbrella or cap from the summer's intense sun and heat. Later, in September and October as the earth tilts towards the north and the sun's rays are less intense we remove leaves from above the clusters and on the west and south facing side of the rows.

In the winery we started our blending trials of the 2009 red wines. From 20 barrels we are assembling 3 wines. First, we focus on our Cabernet Sauvignon based Bordeaux style blend labeled Hodder Hill, named after our vineyard and later 2 varietal wines, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. 2009 marked a bit of a departure from previous year's red wine making in that we performed more extended maceration or letting the grapes continue to soak in the fermented wine for an extended period of time. This creates more intense, structured and concentrated wines. Petit Verdot, a grape which provides ample tannic structure and depth to the blend, played a significant role in our past Hodder Hill vintages, usually around 15% of the wine but with 2009 only 5% was used as the Cabernet Sauvignon had enough mid-palate weight and structure to stand tall on it's own.

"Wine is sunlight, held together with water" - Galileo

Take care,

Jeff

#25 Troy McHenry

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Posted 14 June 2010 - 12:41 PM

Jeff,
What is your typical yearly time table for when wines get released to the public? The current Hodder Hill is 2007, right? When will the 2008 come out, etc?

Thanks,
-Troy

#26 Jeff White

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Posted 15 June 2010 - 04:20 AM

Jeff,
What is your typical yearly time table for when wines get released to the public? The current Hodder Hill is 2007, right? When will the 2008 come out, etc?

Thanks,
-Troy

Troy,

So far we do not have a yearly timetable for wine releases. In general our SB and Rose are bottled in late winter following the harvest and released within 6 months. Our red wines spend 1.5 to 2 years in barrel and then an additional 6 months to a year in bottle before being released. Release date is dependent on evolution of bottled wine and past vintage supplies. We have bottled our 2008 CF and 2009 SB and these will be released sometime late this summer. We bottle the 2008 HH next week, so I do not look to release this until at the earliest sometime this fall or at the latest next spring.

Thanks,
Jeff

#27 Jeff White

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Posted 02 July 2010 - 11:27 AM

Hello,

Yes I know that I'm late posting. I'm in my vineyards during these beautiful cool sunny days. I'll post the latest installment next week during our next heat wave. In the meantime here are a couple more shots from the farm.

Enjoy and have a happy and safe Fourth!

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VIEW FROM WINERY



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#28 Jeff White

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Posted 05 July 2010 - 03:08 PM

July 5, 2010

Hello,

Well, we're half way through this year, this growing season and this thread. Time surely flies. It seems like just the other day we were blanketed with 3 feet of snow. Now it's near 100 degrees, the ground is bone dry and all but our warm season grasses have turned brown and crackle under foot. We have not received any significant rain in well over a month. If this were September or October I would be quite happy but right now the vines could use some moisture, especially our young vines with their still very shallow roots. We do not use any form of artificial irrigation as usually in this part of the world the problem is we have too much rain and cannot turn the water off. Older established vines like in our original 1995 planted vineyard with their very deep root systems fair well during a drought and will produce exceptional fruit. But some of our young vines are now showing signs of drought stress with shoot tips no longer expanding and some yellowing of leaves. To relieve some of this stress we have begun to reduce the amount of crop that these young vines are carrying. Normally dropping excess fruit or green harvesting would not begin for another 2 or 3 weeks but this vintage is running about 2 weeks ahead of normal and with this drought we now are concerned about protecting the vine's health for future vintages. We are also mowing and weed-whacking the grasses very short between and under the rows to reduce competition with the vines for water.

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We are still tucking and tying although this is almost complete and leaf pulling and hedging are progressing. We've made two passes through the vines to remove leaves from around the grape clusters and will continue to do this right up until harvest, although for the moment we have suspended anymore leaf pulling until the temperatures lower some, later this week. I've made three passes through the vines selectively hedging and unless we get some rain soon, I am probably finished with this task for the year. My spray program has not come to a halt but with this dry weather, disease pressure is weakened and I am able to stretch out my spray intervals to two weeks or more. Usually at this time of the year I may have to apply my first insecticide, for Japanese Beetles. I have seen a few feeding on the vines but most are struggling to emerge from the dry hard ground so it looks like they will not reach the threshold triggering the need for any chemical control measures.

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Late June and early July is the time when another grapevine pest emerges from the ground, the Grape Root Borer and there are high numbers of this insect in the old vineyard. Like the name suggests they feed on the vine's roots, spending two years under ground as grubs burrowing into and tunneling through the roots and up into the base of the trunk. Over time this feeding weakens and eventually kills the plant. At this time of the year the grub form emerges from the ground, morphs into a flying wasp like insect and goes searching for a mate. The mated females lay eggs on the vine, which after hatching into larvae, drop on the ground, quickly burrowing in and commence feeding on the roots again for another two years. There are two generations and every year one emerges to mate while the other remains under ground feeding for another year. I do not spray chemicals for this insect but instead, starting in 2007 hang traps, 5 per acre, throughout the vineyards to catch them. These traps contain the female pheromone lure which attracts the males. Once a week through July and August I'll check the traps to clean them and record the number of caught males. Not sure yet whether or not this is helping but it is a good feeling taking some of the males out of the mating population. So far I have not seen a reduction in the captured males but it may be just too early to tell. I recently checked the traps just 5 days after setting them and had already captured 105 males. Over the next 8 weeks I'll probably capture somewhere around 2000.

As the seasons change so do the sounds and sights throughout our farm. Some of the wildflowers that are now blooming are tiny Daisies, Black-Eyed Susan, Queen Anne's Lace, Common Mullen, Crimson clover and some Canada Thistles that I missed. Tree frogs and crickets are chirping and big June bugs are buzzing all about looking for love. We have a resident Mockingbird who perches on top of the winery cupolas and calls all summer long. I feel for the Mockingbird. They call and call for all or any of the other birds but it seems no one will talk with them and I've never seen two Mockingbirds together. Something I recently learned about Mockingbirds is that they not ony mimic other birds but also insects and amphibians.


Bears are still roaming. I saw one feeding on wine berries, a type of wild raspberry, along the road and a neighbor had one break through a screen in an open kitchen window to steal some old bananas left in a compost bucket. She has also seen three mothers with a total of six new cubs. Normally around this time of the year we see bears near the winery heading towards a very large wild blackberry patch. But these plants were flowering at the time of the late spring frosts so there are no blackberries for the bears this year.

I met with a Virginia State wildlife biologist to discuss possible improvements to our warm season grass planting. Apparently our grasses are doing too well and are choking out other food source plants for quail chicks. He is preparing a plan which will include prescribed burning and discing half of the field this fall, then in the spring, planting a blend of wildflowers and other important food source plants for quail and also some shrubs. This will be repeated on the other half of the field the following fall. We'll also plant small islands of trees out in the field and later disc narrow strips nearby these resting areas to establish additional food source plants like Browntop millet, Buckwheat and Partridge pea. One other suggestion he made was to hinge cut a few trees growing along the edge of the forest with this field. This entails cutting partially through the tree just until it starts to slowly bend and ease out of the forest overhanging the grass plantings. These trees will serve as protection for the quail as they move from forest to field. The one potential problem with this is that the trees and forest belong to my neighbor but I think they'll be okay with it. We will only select for cutting poor quality tree species and I think they would also like to see quail return. But I will ask before I cut.

Warm season grasses in foreground:

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I kind of went home one afternoon a couple of weeks ago. I called my former employer and still mentor and friend Jim Law of Linden Vineyards. I asked if I could come over and walk through his vines where I worked for 13 years to just see what's new. He is, in my and many other's opinion, the most progressive and passionate winegrower in Virginia. He keeps tabs on what mainly the Bordeaux Vignerons are doing and then implements what he thinks might help improve wine quality in his vineyards and cellar. For me it was a time to walk over ground I hadn't walked in five years, maybe pick up a few things that will help improve my wine quality, see old friends and bring home some great wine. I was successful on all counts.

In the winery we bottled our 2008 red wines. Both are Bordeaux style blends, one having finesse and elegance and the other being more robust and structured. We are also gearing up for the upcoming harvest, ordering barrels and lab testing chemicals and creating a long "harvest/crush to do list".

My best to all,

Jeff

#29 Jeff White

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Posted 15 July 2010 - 04:03 PM

July 15, 2010

Hello,

Rain, finally some rain. We got some relief from the heat and drought by receiving a little over 2 inches in one storm and another inch a few days later. The drought is not over for sure but this will help the vines tremendously. Shoot growth is probably over for the season and this is just fine because the moisture will go a long way in feeding much needed nutrients to the vines as they change emphasis and begin to ripen grapes. We were running about 2 weeks ahead of normal but because of the drought and heat wave the vines shut down, conserving resources and thus we are more on track with a normal year. Our Sauvignon Blanc grapes should come in somewhere around the last week in August.

Crop estimating has begun so decisions can be made as to how much fruit to drop before the vines waste too much energy trying to ripen all of it. And the vines will try. Every year the vines produce more than twice as much fruit as I know can ripen fully and make a great wine. Basically, what I do is randomly walk each variety planting and count the number of clusters on 30 or so vines. With this number I can calculate an estimate of the total number of clusters in the block and using collected average cluster weights from previous vintages, estimate the tonnage. For example, our 1996 one acre planting of Cabernet Franc is currently carrying 8 tons of fruit but over the next couple of weeks this will be reduced to around 2.5 tons which is what I shoot for with my Bordeaux reds. The vine only wants to produce as many seeds as possible for birds to scatter. It cares nothing about wine.

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We have already completed green harvesting in our newer plantings and because these vines are very young and growing on extremely steep slopes in low water holding capacity soils, we dropped most of the fruit. The 3rd leaf vines are now carrying 1 ton per acre while the 2nd leaf vines are no longer carrying any fruit.

Another vineyard task being performed is walking the rows looking for and cutting out diseased and dying vines. Older plantings of vines eventually can be weakened by various pathogens causing such diseases as Eutypa Dieback or Esca. These diseases enter the vine through large wounds made during pruning or by mechanical damage like tractor or mower hits. During the growing season symptoms are expressed in the growth patterns of the shoots and leaves and the infected parts of the vine can then be cut out before the disease spreads throughout. Fortunately, these pathogens travel relatively slow through the plant tissue. Another more rapid tissue traveling disease is a kind of bacteria called Grapevine Yellows. It is caused by a phytoplasmas which is brought into the vineyard by a leafhopper insect. The leafhopper feeds on native grapevines and other native plants which are hosts to the bacteria and then infects our vines while feeding in the vineyard. Some varieties are more susceptible than others like Chardonnay and Riesling. Once, over half of my original 6 acre vineyard was planted with Chardonnay but because of a high incidence of Grapevine Yellows, I was forced to pull out the entire variety planting. Other varieties that I grow will sometimes show symptoms but I can quickly cut out the infected part and save the vine. This was not possible with Chardonnay. Now Grapevine Yellows symptoms are appearing in the young planting of Petit Manseng. 26 out of a 2042 vine planting or about 1.3% were infected and had to be removed. This is not too severe though as around 10 percent of the Chardonnay vines were lost each year. We'll have to see.

Grape Root Borer numbers more than doubled during the second week of trapping with 226 males caught.

In bear news, Kelly and her friend Jen went for a morning hike in the park just above our farm and ran into bears three times. One was just a little guy who upon seeing them hugged the base of a tree until they passed on by. They never did see it's mother. Jen also now has a rather large bear in her garden eating all of her corn, just as it was about ready to be harvested. I also had an encounter one afternoon on my way back to the farm from town. As I crested a hill I noticed black on the side of the road about 50 yards ahead and I knew right away that they were bears. A large mother bear with 2 small cubs were about to cross the road. When she saw me she was in the middle of the road and rose up on her hind legs to about 10 feet. She then went quickly back down on all fours, continued on across and started running through a cut hayfield that had turned golden in the recent drought. Her 2 cubs made chase and tried to keep up. The mother would stop, look at me, look for her cubs and then run a little farther before stopping again. Finally, they all went down over a hill and into some trees. As I started to drive on I looked down the road and saw more black, but not very much. It was a third cub, the runt of the litter. He was quite smaller than the first 2 and was struggling to keep up. He was right on their trail but when he got to the pavement he got confused. He started across then went back, then crossed and walked into the hayfield, then came back and started walking towards me right in the middle of the road. And all the while he is bawling for his mother. At one point he sat down in the road and just started wailing. Bears have a terrific sense of smell and cubs are all head and nose, not much else. Slowly and unsurely and bawling the entire time he picked his way across the hayfield with his nose to the ground and went out of sight right where his mother and siblings had just been. If he survives his first year of life he is going to be one tough bear.

Farming is ranked number 10 when it comes to dangerous occupations. Working with large mechanical equipment on uneven terrain is the main reason. To make a long story short, I used up number four of my nine lives and crashed my tractor into the front of our Ford F-250 farm truck. Tractor is fine. I'm fine. But I took out an end post and smashed the heck out of Ol' Betsy. I had attached a front end loader with forks to the tractor and was carrying down my broken bushhog mower for some welding. When something is lifted with the front end loader some of the weight of the tractor comes off the back tires, where the brakes and forward thrust are located. I started out very slow in a low gear which normally would keep the tractor from traveling too fast, but the rear tires must be firmly in contact with the ground. The grass was also very short, worn down and slick from a morning rain, so I was doomed. As soon as I started to head down the mountain the rear tires lost traction and the tractor started to gain speed, sliding straight, then to the left and then to the right. I went about 125 yards and somehow managed to hit the one thing I could, our truck. If I hadn't smacked the truck I would have gone through the deer fence and over and down a steep embankment. I'm quite happy to be able to be writing about all this. Many thoughts were entering my brain as I was sliding down the mountain. At one point the tractor started heading into the vines and I thought "No, not my grapes" and corrected to steer in another direction. As my mentor would say, "It's all about the wine".

I'll write again soon.

Jeff

#30 Troy McHenry

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Posted 15 July 2010 - 06:35 PM

Jeff,
Glad you saved the vines and your life, but what a bummer about the truck. I like all things in nature, but I've never been able to warm up to bears. I think it started when I was backpacking in the Smokey Mtn's and a bear came up and sniffed around our tent in the middle of the night. Since then I always give them a very wide birth.

Thanks for also solving the mystery as to why you don't grow chardonnay, I've always wondered, but then again your Sauv Blanc is so good, I probably wouldn't grow chardonnay either :)

-Troy

#31 Jeff White

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Posted 20 July 2010 - 11:20 AM

Below are two recent shots of our vineyards in the drought stressed landscape.

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#32 Jeff White

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Posted 01 August 2010 - 07:14 AM

Sunday August 1, 2010

Hello,

In a word, birds. Our vines are now entering a stage called veraison. Shoots have stopped growing and are hardening, looking like winter canes but with leaves as their exterior sheaf changes from green to brown resembling tree bark. Starches within the grapes rapidly convert to sugars, malic acid degrades, herbaceous aromas are replaced with fruity aromas and the grape changes from hard pea like to a berry with a soft but firm feel. Berry color also begins to change, from green to golden for the Sauvignon Blanc and Petit Manseng and to dark purple for all of the Bordeaux reds.

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As soon as the skins turn to a faint shade of red birds begin the attack. And they do not eat just one berry but instead will peck many berries through the skins testing for sweetness. If not sweet enough they'll try another and another and another. Once the skin is pierced the grape is lost to becoming wine, attracting ants and bees and may spoil the entire bunch. So as the berries turn color and a little bird damage occurs, we drape netting over the vines, tacking it securely to the ground. We have already netted three and a half acres and have enough netting to do another two acres if need be. Of course I can always purchase more, too. But if we can protect these early ripening varieties including our young vines, then the birds will usually move on to find other sources of food. We always see a little pecking in our Sauvignon Blanc but not enough to warrant netting. I believe that this variety is too acidic and just does not appeal to the birds. By mid September all of the netting can be removed as most of the birds will have left the area and are well on their way south for the winter.

We have finished green harvesting and now have the crop load down to a level that can be fully ripened and will ferment into a wine that once bottled, I can proudly put my name on. Most of the blocks required two passes through. I made an initial crop estimate and calculated how many clusters needed to be removed. After dropping this fruit I then made a follow-up estimate which indicated that there was still a little too much crop hanging so we removed a few more, sometimes just 3 or 4 clusters per vine. After veraison is near complete we will make one final pass through removing clusters that are lagging behind in development and are still all or mostly green. If not removed now while they stand out, these clusters will eventually turn purple but will not have enough time to fully ripen and if harvested along with the ripe grapes will impart green vegetable flavors into the wine.

We are putting the final touches on the canopy with a quick pass through all the vines tying and tucking some errant shoots, cutting out a few laterals and hedging shoots that made one last push after receiving some much needed rain. Leaf pulling is also continuing on the east side and in the interior of the vine canopy. But because of this summer's heat we are leaving a few extra leaves in hopes that these will help keep the fruit cool and reduce the loss of too much acidity as we wait and taste for flavor development. As September and October approach and temperatures lower we will remove additional leaves, both on the east and west sides so that the clusters may bask in the autumnal sunshine.

We have worked hard and fast all summer long to keep the canopy open and disease free but from here on through harvest this year's wine quality is now in the hands of Mother Nature. In a perfect world we would receive one or two more brief showers and then no more rain through the end of October. Daytime temperatures would be in the low 80s and nighttime temps in the 60s. But this is Virginia and our weather is anything but predictable or perfect. Hurricane season peaks in September right in the middle of our harvest. So far, knock on wood, the Atlantic has been quiet, producing only two named tropical systems that traveled west. However, we will make the best the season has to offer and a wine reflective from when and where it grew.

I've started tasting the ripening Sauvignon Blanc. It is still a ways off, tasting green and acidic right now, but when veraison begins I like to start sampling to gauge the expected harvest date and this year's wine quality and style. I begin by tasting every few days but as we get closer to picking I will walk the blocks in the morning and again late in the afternoon sampling the grapes. With each variety I look for a particular flavor profile to emerge that signals it is time. When I start tasting apricot and butterscotch in some of my Sauvignon blanc grapes, it's ready to come in.

Well our insurance company totaled the farm truck I crashed into with my tractor. It's not as bad as it sounds though. We're keeping it and having it repaired and received an insurance claim check that just about covers this cost. The truck is 13 years old but rarely goes off the farm so it has only been driven about 41K miles. All of the damage was to the body and we actually never stopped using it on the farm since the accident occured.

Our 2009 reds have been blended and transferred from newer French oak barrels into older or neutral barrels to age for another year before bottling. We have 8 barrels of our Bordeaux style blend Hodder Hill, 6 barrels of Cabernet Franc and 5 barrels of Petit Verdot. After completing the blending trials but before actually making the blends, I always make a bottle of the blend to take home and have with dinner. I want to accomplish two things: tasting the wine removed from the winery environment and having it with food. Kelly and I invited a couple of our friends over for this dinner which also included 6 additional wines. Notes on these wines are posted here: My link . Friends, food and wine all went together very well and this confirmed that our blend was ready to be assembled.

A couple of weeks ago I attended a Bordeaux viticulture practices workshop held at Blank Ankle Vineyards in Mt. Airy, Maryland. Co-sponsored by Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences and the University of Maryland Extension, the featured speaker was Jean-Philippe Roby, a professor of viticulture at the University of Bordeaux and a consultant in France as well as here in Virginia. After a tour of the vineyards looking at soil pits dug throughout the vines and discussing Blank Ankle's soils and vine management practices we went back to their winery for tastings of Bordeaux, Virginia and Maryland red wine blends and for continued discussions of viticulture practices in the three regions. Increasingly, growers throughout the mid-Atlantic states are producing wines using the Bordeaux red grape varieties and because of similarities of climate are looking not west to California but east to Bordeaux for winegrowing and winemaking knowledge and techniques. I do not come away from such meetings with vast new information that radicalizes my viticultural approach but usually one or two items do jump out that helps me to improve the quality of my wine.

Until next time,
Jeff

#33 Jeff White

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Posted 15 August 2010 - 07:51 AM

Sunday August 15, 2010

Hello,

After a quiet and relaxing week at a bay front cottage in a rural southeastern Virginia county virtually unchanged in forty years, I'm back on the farm and quickly gearing up for harvest. The next two and a half months are the most exciting, invigorating and also stress filled time of the year for winegrowers...and their spouses. I'm not, as of this writing 100% sure but we may bring in our Sauvignon Blanc later this week and if not, then definitely by the end of the following week. The grapes taste very close to being ready and lab analyses performed on a sampling I recently collected also comfirm this. Normally, our Sauvignon Blanc comes in around the first week in September but because of this year's early bud break and the high number of summer days when temperatures climbed above 90 degrees, we are running about two weeks earlier than normal.

This year's extreme heat and drought will result in some 2010 white wines having powerful weight and texture while lacking finesse and elegance. In overly hot vintages, sugars accumulate fast while acids diminish rapidly, outpacing the more slowly developing and delicate aromatics and flavors. The more balanced white wines of 2010 will come from those growers who paid attention to this year's weather trends and responded by trying to keep the clusters cool and not removing too many surrounding leaves, thereby allowing natural flavors to develop in harmony with sugars and acids. Red grapes are in a similar situation as the whites but maybe not as severe. To a point, lower acids and higher alcohols are acceptable in red wines. Leaving a few extra leaves shading the red grapes is helpful though, slowing their development and allowing the fruit to make it into October still ripening on the vine when hopefully we'll have sunny dry days and cool crisp nights to bring them to optimum and full flavor and structure with complexity and balance.

A few more shots of our dry vineyards:

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The morning after returning from my holiday I walked the vineyards to inspect the condition of the vines and ripening fruit. Looking for bird and other animal predation, disease and rot and tasting Sauvignon Blanc berries, it was on this walk that I discovered how far the Sauvignon Blanc had developed during the week I was gone. Still a little too much on the green side but a higher percentage of berries exhibited tropical flavors and a few even tasted of butterscotch and apricot. The next morning I walked the block again, this time to take a random sampling of berries to be analyzed down at the winery. When sampling I walk a few rows and select 15 vines at random and pluck off one berry from 10 different clusters on each vine giving me a 150 berry sample. I also choose the grapes from different locations on each of the clusters, top, bottom, interior side, exterior side, north and south side, as studies have shown that individual berries ripen differently depending where on the cluster they are located. Once back in my little laboratory I'll crush the berries and strain the juice into a mason jar. A little of this juice first goes into a wine glass so I may evaluate it's aroma and taste. With this sample I detected kiwi, melon and a little green banana both in the aroma and on the palate, but the acids were too high, feeling like it was taking the enamel off my teeth. The remainder of the juice was used to test for sugars, total acids and pH. These values confirmed my earlier sensory evaluation that the grapes are getting close but are not quite ready for harvest.

The decision when to pick is also predicated by other factors like the forecasted weather and the condition of the grapes in the field. Birds are pecking our Sauvignon Blanc a little more than usual and bees and ants follow to scavenge these damaged berries. I have also noticed just a few clusters that have developed some sour rot. Because of this and while we are waiting for the crop to ripen we make passes through the block every 2 or 3 days to pick out the pecked on fruit and cut out any rot we see. This is necessary because of the thin skin, compact and tight nature of Sauvignon Blanc clusters, causing sour rots to spread quite rapidly from berry to berry and cluster to cluster. Later, when we do harvest this block we will have less culling and sorting to perform at a time when we want to move quickly to get the juice safely from berry to tank.

We draped bird netting over 5.5 acres of our red fruited grapevines and I did purchase more, enough to do another 2 acres. Lately, I have noticed fewer birds in the vineyards but the still exposed blocks are receiving a little damage, just not enough yet to warrant additional netting. Animals of all kinds are interested in our grapes once they begin to sweeten. There is a 7 foot high electrified fence surrounding the vineyards which keeps out most of the larger mammals and attached to the bottom 3 feet is chicken wire which keeps out most of the smaller animals. This fence is not an exclusionary fence but is a training fence, using electricity to train animals to keep away and travel around the vineyards. Every year at veraison I purchase 40 or so little aluminum pie pans, creamy peanut butter and soft marshmallow spread. We mix the 2 ingredients, spreading this in the pie pans and hang these along a hot wire of the deer fence. At night animals investigate, receive a little shock and learn to stay away from the fence and my grapes.

Activity is now starting to happen in the cellar with the approach of harvest and crush. Last week we got out all of our processing equipment, the destemmer/crusher, elevator, sorting tables, presses and red fermentation bins to clean and test for readiness. We also receive our new oak barrels around this time of the year. I ordered 10 French oak barrels from 3 different cooperage houses which will represent about one third new oak influences into our 2010 red wines. Having barrels coopered by different firms helps to add some complexity to my wines and slightly different oak flavor nuances each vintage.

I recently attended one last seminar before harvest, the annual Virginia Vineyards Association Summer Technical Meeting. Held at Linden Vineyards, the featured speaker was Dr. Alfred Cass a highly regarded and respected soil scientist and vineyard consultant, originally from South Africa but now living and working in California. This was a nuts and bolts class on soil properties and how these properties influence vine health and fruit quality. Four soil pits were dug in Jim's vineyards and Dr. Cass explained how to identfiy the soil type, (sand, loam, and clay), percentage of rock content, the soil's water drainage capabilities and it's ability to restrict and direct root penetration and growth. This meeting was well worth my time, providing me with both answers and additional questions that I will now research about my own vineyard soils. Dr. Cass was also able to identify a rock that I brought to the meeting which is prominent in my vineyards. I first noticed these rocks as they were brought to the surface while ripping the rows in preparation for planting. They are whitish and actually are an aggregate of many smaller rocks. They appear hard and solid but upon handling, will crumble in your hands. He identified it as a very old and weathered piece of granite with veins of quartz running through. This rock, as it degrades becomes sand particles which have great water draining properties. Because of Virginia's wet environment and from a vine health and wine quality aspect, fast water draining soils is the most important attribute to have in a Virginia vineyard.

Well, until I write again,

Jeff

#34 Jeff White

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Posted 01 September 2010 - 06:19 AM

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Hello,

So, let's see. It's now harvest time in Virginia and right on cue the Atlantic Ocean is churning up violent tropical storms, some of which can track close enough to dump three to six or more inches of water in a very short time. Most recently, two hurricanes, Danielle and Earl and tropical depression Fiona have formed with a medium probability chance of another tropical depression west of the Cape Verde Islands forming over the next two days. Fortunately, the first three systems will not impact our vineyards. Danielle stayed out in the middle of the ocean and it appears a low pressure system moving east over the US northeast will push Earl's track just off the eastern seaboard while Fiona will also stay out at sea. Got to love viticulture in this part of the wine world, it's never dull.

It seems summer's heat is not going to let up for at least another week but there are a few signs of autumn's approach. Every day this week the daytime temperatures are to be in the mid to upper 90's but with lower humidity levels and the nighttime temperatures down in the mid 60's. Hopefully the lower humidity and nighttime temperatures are now trending towards fall. Up in the trees of our forests, katydids are quieting their chants during the nights while crickets are gaining momentum, both of which for me are signs that summer is slowly loosing grip. I did notice just the other day that our resident families of barn swallows have left for the winter. Every year it amazes me how noticeable they make themselves once arriving in the spring and all through the summer only to suddenly vanish all at once. Never do I see a couple of stragglers hanging behind. Someone chirps it's time and they all take off together, I guess. Many other migratory songbirds species have now left, leaving our lands eerily quiet as they know of the coming force. There still are though, a few birds hanging around and trying to feed on our grapes. We netted one additional acre, leaving just one last acre of grape bearing vines exposed. So far this block of Petit Verdot has not been preyed upon.

We were spared some torrential rainfalls recently, receiving only 2/10s of an inch while areas north and east of our farm received three inches, but last week we were hit by a storm over night and got an inch of rain. The other day a photographer from our local newspaper was here to get some shots of me in my vineyards for an upcoming article. He commented on the appearance of my vineyards, with long uncut grasses and weeds everywhere and how he had just come from another vineyard that looked like a golf course with a short manicured lawn. He was not too happy with how my grounds looked. I explained to him that ten years ago I too kept things high and tight but had learned a few things and now just let the grasses go towards the end of the growing season. I have not mowed my vineyards since mid July so the grasses and other plants will grow and suck up water from rains that would otherwise be taken up by my vines, ending up in my grapes and diluting flavors in my wines. He understood but I could tell he was still not pleased with the shots he would be taking.

We did harvest our Sauvignon Blanc on August 21, the earliest picking date here since planting in 1995. I am quite pleased with the quality of fruit. It came in clean, meaning no rot, with some very appealing flavors and the appropriate amount of natural sugars and acids to make a balanced wine. On the day I planned to pick, the temperatures were forecasted to be in the mid 90s but the night before and predawn morning was to be only in the 60s so my crew and I arrived at the farm at 1 a.m. to begin the 2010 harvest. Wearing headlamps and working in the still of the night we had most of the fruit harvested by sun up and all of it in by 9:30 a.m., just as the temperatures were starting to climb into the 70s.

Immediately upon picking, the Sauvignon Blanc grapes were brought to the winery to be weighed and then placed in a large walk-in refrigerator to cool for 24 hours before being processed. Chilling helps to ward off wild and uncontrolled fermentations, spoilage and also preserves delicate aromatics and natural acidity in the grapes. The following day, the chilled grapes went across a conveyor belt/sorting table where we removed unripe and damaged berries and also culled out any rot and material other than grapes like leaves and insects. From here the whole cluster grapes went up an elevator/conveyor belt and fell into our press where we separated the juice from the stems, skins, pulp and seeds. The juice was pumped into tank and the pomace went back out on the fields. After a day of settling out solids, the juice was racked off this sediment and into another tank where cultured wine yeasts were introduced. And this is where our 2010 Sauvignon Blanc is currently, slowing fermenting at around 55 degrees and will be doing so over the next 30 days. Nothing else to do as it ferments other than sniffing and tasting it every couple days or so.

Merlot and our 2008 plantings of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon are up next for harvesting but probably not for another three or four weeks. I've just started to walk these blocks to taste the fruit. The flavors are green, the seeds are green and bitter, the acids are high, the skins are not releasing any color and the tannins are dry and astringent. In a word, they are unripe. But all this will change, slowly, as the days of summer end and fall begins.

After some quite slow and extremely hot days of summer, traffic is picking up again in our tasting room. September and especially October are our busiest sales months of the year. It's that last dash out to the country before winter sets in and of course fall brings that vibrant splash of color all around us, as the mountains change from top to bottom, green to orange, yellow, pink and red and then to brown and finally gray. Lastly, we recently sold out three of our wines and released two new wines. The new wines are from the 2008 vintage, a long and very cool year resulting in wines with bright acidity, firm tannins with delicate and evolved aromas and flavors. These very structured 2008 wines should age beautifully. We released our 2008 Cabernet Franc and a new Bordeaux blend labeled Vin Rouge. Vin Rouge, what I'll call my California style steak wine, is mostly made up of Cabernet Sauvignon but with a big wallop of Petit Verdot to give it added depth, power and structure. Both wines should gain some popularity as summer wanes and fall and winter arrive bringing cooler temperatures and the need for heartier meals and accompanying hearty wines.

Ciao for now and,

Think dry,

Jeff

#35 goodeats

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Posted 11 September 2010 - 11:44 PM

Many, many, heartfelt thanks to Jeff White for chatting with me upon my visit to Glen Manor. I can only hope that these photos do some justice.

This is a terrific time to visit the vineyard for an afternoon, bringing some nibbles, hanging out, sipping some wine and then watch the sun start to set. I definitely am planning on doing that soon.
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#36 Choirgirl21

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Posted 13 September 2010 - 04:20 PM

I don't remember the chairs and shade canopy being there last time. Nice addition. :(

Jen, part time pourer at Black Ankle Vineyards

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#37 Jeff White

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Posted 14 September 2010 - 03:45 PM

Tuesday September 14, 2010

Hey,

Just a quick note to say that we are busy harvesting and crushing grapes and that I have not had a chance to work on the next installment for this thread. Over the last two weeks we brought in our Merlot from Hodder Hill and our Petit Manseng, Merlot and Cabernet Franc from our new vineyard established in 2008. The last two were harvested today. Both the fruit and the weather are beautiful! I think I can find some time to write about all this later in the week and over the weekend, to be posted early next week.

Wow! With this post I made to grouper class.

Thanks,
Jeff

#38 Jeff White

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Posted 18 September 2010 - 07:54 AM

Saturday September 18, 2010

Hello and sorry for the delay,

Harvest and crush is the most exciting, exhilarating, sleepless and compressed time of the year at a Farm Winery. Since my first harvest/crush in 1993, these few days are by far my most enjoyable. All year long I farm or grow wine but for only two months of the year do I actually make wine. It's exciting because what we do during this time of the year is so very much different than what we do the rest of the year. It is also simply a great joy to at last see, smell and taste the fruits of one's year of sweat, muscle aches, bruises, sunburns, dehydration, smashed fingers, cuts and scrapes, long days, short nights and missed meals and time with family and friends. Late summer and early autumn all over the world farmers bring in their last or in my case only crop. This is the bountiful season on farms and in the wilds. Plants bear fruits while man, animals and insects harvest these fruits for survival of the body and of the soul. Some animals store the land's fruits in their body fat by eating much of it immediately and converting it into energy later when food sources are scarce. Other animals stash it away for consumption later during the long cold days and nights ahead in winter and early spring. We do the same thing. We eat fresh much of what the land produces and then also preserve for tomorrow by freezing, drying, canning and by fermentation. Basically all that a winemaker does is use an agricultural product and through fermentation adds value to it and preserves it for later consumption by body and mind.

We are in the thick of harvest now and out of ten and a half acres we have four and a half still to pick. The weather has been ideal, cooling slightly although we still are about ten degrees warmer than normal. Colder air is trying to make it's way here but the warmer air seems to be entrenched causing a daily battle between these two opposing forces, resulting in very turbulent and windy conditions. The soils are still quite dry having only received four tenths of an inch of rain divided between two small cold fronts which quickly passed through the mountains over the last two weeks. The air is also now quite dry with humidity levels down in the comfortable fifty to sixty percent range. The Atlantic continues to actively produce hurricanes but fortunately all have, so far, either travelled west into the Gulf or have moved north and remained out to sea. All of this is good for the vintage. It is an early vintage and we will probably be finished harvesting in about two more weeks, but it is also shaping up to be an extraordinary one, producing small berries highly concentrated with wonderful flavors.

Our first ever harvest from our new vineyard happened on September 5th with the picking of our Petit Manseng. This grape is primarily grown in southwest France in the region of Jurancon near the Pyrenees. The tiny thick skinned white grape clustered loosely together is well suited for Virginia's hot and humid climate. It attains very high sugars while still maintaining bright acidity, lending itself ideally for either a refreshing off dry aperitif or as a botrytized late harvest dessert wine. We started picking these grapes at 4 a.m. when only a lone Barred owl way up in the forest was calling out in it's familiar hoot, "Whoo, Whoo, Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you?". The grapes were sweet and golden and many were shriveling into raisins with off the chart sugars and moderate acids. One and a half tons were harvested from one and a half acres producing around 660 liters of pineapple, mango and honey tasting juice.

Here are a few shots of our Petit Manseng harvest.

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Next up on September 9th was Merlot from our original vineyard, Hodder Hill. Harvested earlier than expected, the flavors were fresh and crisp, the acids and tannins were in balance and again the sugars were high. It's looking like a high sugar year. There is going to be some big Virginia 2010 reds coming to a store near you!

Red grapes are processed and made into wine very differently than white grapes. With white grapes we separate the juice from the skins quickly, get it into tank or barrel, inoculate with yeast and basically forget about it for a month. Red grapes require a lot of hands on or "in" care while they ferment. It's kind of like white grapes are cats and red grapes are dogs. We do a double sorting of the red grapes, one before destemming to remove leaves, insects and unripe or damaged berries and one after destemming to primarily remove little stem fragments or "jacks" as we say in the biz. Our German made destemmer knocks the grapes off the stems dropping them onto a sorting table below and kicking the stems out a side opening. But no machine is 100% and when you are dealing with ultra ripe fruit with lignified stems that have become brittle, small stem pieces fall with the berries onto the sorting table. At the opposite end of this sorting table is a fermentation bin where into the grapes will fall. Before they do, we sort out ninetysome percent of these jacks which if not sorted out would impart green herbaceous flavors into the wine. Once full, this bin of grapes and juice goes back into the cooler for a four to five day cold soak. Twice a day using my hands I stir up the cold grapes so the ones on top get shuffled down into the juice. The bin is covered with a small fitted bed sheet and a solid plastic top. We also put a blanket of CO2 on top of the grapes to help protect them from spoilage while they soak. After this soak, the bin is brought into the cellar to a heated room called the red fermentation room. After a day of warming, the grapes are inoculated with yeasts and kept warm, around eightytwo degrees while they ferment for about ten to fourteen days. During this time twice a day, in the early morning and again in the late afternoon I punch down the cap. The cap is a mass of grapes pushed up to the top of the bin and out of the juice/wine by CO2 gas, a byproduct of fermentation. Using my hands and arms I punch down or push these grapes back into the liquid. I prefer using my hands for I can feel temperature variations in the grape must and can better evenly distribute them, moving warm grapes to cold pockets and vice versa.

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There is much more to the processing of red grapes but I'm not to that point yet and will write about it in the next installment as it happens. For right now, we have two bins of Merlot fermenting in the warm room and two bins of Cabernet Franc cold soaking in the cooler. These latter two, along with a little Merlot were harvested from our new vineyard on September 14.

The surrounding mountains are starting to show some fall color, just a few scattered reds, pinks and yellows amongst a vast green backdrop. But if one ventures into the forest and under the tree canopy there is now much more color to be seen as the light there is less and leaves are already beginning to drop. My advice to anyone wanting to see the fall leaf show: Do not wait until peak in mid October when people come out by the thousands and by the carloads. Now through the next couple of weeks is the time. Go for a solitude walk into and under the sea of changing color. You'll find beautiful and vivid color, plus peace and serenity now.

Later gator,

Jeff

#39 DonRocks

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Posted 18 September 2010 - 12:31 PM

?

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#40 Jeff White

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Posted 22 September 2010 - 04:09 AM

?

:( Thank you Don, I can only humbly say that your thoughtful gesture itself is way more than award enough.

#41 Tweaked

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Posted 22 September 2010 - 01:59 PM

wow...this might be the best thread ever on DR...thanks Jeff for taking the time to post such regular, lengthy, and informative posts! and good luck with the harvest and crush!
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#42 Jeff White

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Posted 04 October 2010 - 06:54 AM

Monday October 4, 2010

Hello,

One thing about farmers, we're gamblers. We don't necessarily want to be gamblers but this is the hand we are dealt, so to speak. We gamble on what to plant, where to plant, when to plant and how much to plant. If we plant soybeans for instance, and too many other farmers also plant soybeans, the price for soybeans drops. We gamble on beef steer prices, buying them at one price and weight then fattening them up for six months to a year and hopefully selling them at a price and weight that will generate a profit. It does not always end up that way though. One of the riskiest wagers all farmers, including winegrowers make is on what the weather will be and based partially on the weather, we must decide whether to pick or not to pick. As you probably know we got a little rain last week and it's raining right now. On our farm a total of seven inches fell, spread over two storm systems a couple days apart. I made the decision to harvest two of our varieties the day before the first storm. Luckily for me this decision was an easy one as the grapes were dead ripe. We harvested one and a quarter tons of Cabernet Sauvignon from a one acre 2008 planting in our new vineyard and almost a ton of Petit Verdot from a half acre 2004 planting on Hodder Hill. That left me with an acre and a half of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes and another half acre of Petit Verdot grapes still hanging in the vineyards. This is where the gambling and difficult decisions occur. These grapes tasted fine but the flavors and tannins were not quite where I desire them to be in order to make a great wine. They would have made a good wine but I'm aiming higher. Knowing that these older vines can better handle rain, I decided to let them weather through the two storms, now three. They will take a step back in the form of dilution and I will loose some clusters to rot but I'm gambling on better weather that usually comes in early October to take the remaining grapes to a higher level of flavor and texture maturity. In short, I would rather make less of a great wine than more of an good wine. We'll see.

Below are a few shots of our Cabernet Franc at harvest:

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I walked the vineyard on Friday the day after the big rain to see the condition of the grapes and of course to taste them. They actually looked pretty good and had not swelled up to the point of pushing off the cluster which was one of my concerns. But they did taste watery and will need at least a week to a week and a half of dry weather to recover. Something wonderful happens to Cabernet Sauvignon in it's final days of very slow development. In October the days are usually bright and sunny and with summer and it's haze now gone from the sky, one can see forever. The temperatures are cooler, down in the upper 60s and low 70s and at night the air is crisp and invigorating with temperatures down in the upper 40s and low 50s. This is perfect late season Cabernet Sauvignon ripening conditions. Sugars and acids are pretty much where they're going to be and do not change much now, but flavors and textures will. I'll walk the blocks in the morning and again in the evening to taste and it's hard to describe but on one of these walks I'll be tasting and just stop flat in my tracks and know they are ready. They've changed and evolved to that harmonious dimension with flavors, textures, sugars, tannins and acids all dancing together in perfect balance. But for right now we are in a holding pattern with regards to harvesting; waiting, hoping and betting on some early autumn Indian summer weather to complete the 2010 vintage.

While waiting we do have other tasks to perform. This past Saturday we aggressively leaf pulled around the clusters from the three blocks where grapes are still hanging. At this time of the year the sun's rays are not as intense and the days are getting shorter so now we want as much sun on these grapes as possible to push them just a little further along in ripening. We are also starting to prepare for winter here on the farm. We're hand weeding around the base of the vines to remove grass that if left, becomes winter habitat for mice and other small rodents as they chew on the bark and surrounding tissue of the trunks. All of the bird netting has been taken down and packed back into large canvas bags. For now they are stored in our old hay barn but mice are chewing into and setting up winter quarters in a few of the bags. As soon as harvest is over and we are no longer using the walk-in cooler over at the winery, we will relocate these bags there, but first have to unpack and repack the bags that may have become mice burrows. All of our pastures are being mowed at this time of the year. The cattle eat the grass but leave behind other plants that do not appeal to them. These larger weed plants are unsightly and we try to cut them down before they can produce a seed. Once all the grapes are in I'll give the vineyard floor a final mowing just to tidy things up a bit and to make it easier to walk through the rows this upcoming winter pruning season. We also recently brought in from the vineyards and packed away for another season the sixty insect pheromone traps that were scattered throughout the vines.

Stink bugs, has anyone not heard about or smelled them yet? They are quickly becoming a problem all through the eastern states and in vineyards at harvest. Supposedly arriving in the country by hitching a ride on a container ship from Asia, their numbers are increasing every year. While not yet a severe problem at my winery, I am fighting them at my home. At this time of the year they leave the forests, fields, orchards and vineyards, seeking out a warm place to mate and ride out the winter. That warm place is a building or maybe some equipment sitting just outside the building like a wine press or destemmer. They do not bite or sting but when agitated or smashed, emit a terrible odor. I have read that ten or more stink bugs per twenty-five pounds of grapes will taint the wine. They also arrive at the winery riding inside grape clusters just harvested from the vineyards. We are quite skilled at smelling for them as the grapes pass under our noses and over the sorting table. Once detected, we stop everything and search for and remove the little bugger before it enters the fermentation bin.

Below are three photos showing first what we sort out and last what we ferment:

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I now have the first of the 2010 red wines in barrel, our Merlot from Hodder Hill.

The key word in red wine making is extraction. Through the temperature of fermentation, the quantity of punch downs and the length of maceration time we extract from the skins and into the wine; color, aroma, flavor and structure. How much to extract or when to stop extracting is the wine makers personal preference of wine style. During this process I taste the developing wine twice a day at punch down time. I must taste and evaluate these young, rough and raw wines now, but think and imagine how they will taste and feel in a couple of years from now after the flavors have evolved and mingled together and the tannins have lengthened and softened while aging in barrel. After fermentation of the sugars into alcohol is complete, the wine rests for a week or two while still in contact with the grapes. During this time punch downs only occur once a day but I still taste morning and afternoon to guage the wine's development and eventually make the decision to press it off or separate forever the wine from the grapes. When it's time, the bin is moved outside to our press pad and the grapes and wine are bucketed into the press. The wine that comes out of the press is separated into three lots. First, most of the wine simply flows through the press without any pressure being applied. This is called free run wine, the highest quality and goes into our single vineyard designated wine, Hodder Hill. The next lot to come out is called light press for only a moderate amount of pressure is needed. This wine is usually very fine and all or most can later be blended with the free run. Last to be squeezed out of the grapes is called press wine or hard press and it is not used but later sold off as bulk wine. While pressing, I taste for flabbines, bitterness and astringency that signal me to make the cut between light press and hard press wine. After pressing, these three separate lots rest over night to settle out solids and the next day the wine is racked or pumped off this sediment into barrel. Currently in our cellar we have two barrels of free run wine from two different plantings, one barrel of the light press fraction and a barrel half full of the hard press fraction. This last barrel will eventually be filled full with hard press wine from other grapes as they are processed and pressed off.

I want to back up just a bit and touch again on fermentation as this is the most crucial phase in the wine making process. It is said that man does not make wine, yeast make the wine and to an extent this is true. If this is true, then man is the nursemaid to these yeasty wine makers. Yeast are temperamental, finicky, have strict requirements in order to perform their duty and will become stressed if their environmental conditions are not ideal. If overly stressed they will stop working and die and can produce ethyl acetate and hydrogen sulfide that fouls the wine. To keep them happy, productive and not making model airplane glue or rotten egg smelling wine, I must keep them warm but not too warm, periodically provide them with a little oxygen and just as people cannot survive on sugar alone, I must feed them a complex diet of nutrients including amino acids or organic nitrogen. These actions are needed most when trying to ferment very ripe and high sugar content must, for as grapes ripen on the vine to the level required for our wine making desires they loose much of their nutritious value. On a daily basis while the bins of grapes are fermenting, I take their temperature and move them outside if they get too warm, bringing them back inside once they have cooled and early on give them a little oxygen through a small pond aerator and feed them a little yeast food. So far so good this year, all of my yeasts are happy and merrily making wine for me.

So for now we wait, work with the grapes we have harvested, prepare the farm for winter, walk the rows of still to harvest grapes tasting their progress, watch the weather and gambling the entire time.

Keep thinking sunshine!

Jeff

#43 Troy McHenry

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Posted 04 October 2010 - 11:15 AM

Jeff,
It's interesting to know that the stink bug problem we've been facing in Lynchburg has gotten to you as well. I can only imagine what subsequent years are going to be like after this one with them.

I hope you get some sunlight to dry out your vines.

-Troy

#44 Tweaked

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Posted 04 October 2010 - 12:22 PM

Jeff,

With the publication of Todd Kliman's book on the history of the Norton grape there has been some buzz over the past several months about the Norton grape and Norton wines...do you plant any Norton and what is your opinion on the grape/wine?
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#45 Jeff White

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Posted 05 October 2010 - 04:26 AM

Jeff,

With the publication of Todd Kliman's book on the history of the Norton grape there has been some buzz over the past several months about the Norton grape and Norton wines...do you plant any Norton and what is your opinion on the grape/wine?

Hi,

I do not grow Norton and have only tasted one that I really enjoyed, last year, a 1994 Horton Norton. For me Norton needs 10 to 15 years for tannins to resolve themselves and for flavors to mature and evolve. Being an American native vine, it has adapted to our environment and thus much easier to grow than it's European cousins more widely planted in Virginia.

#46 Jeff White

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Posted 07 October 2010 - 04:23 AM

Jeff,

I hope you get some sunlight to dry out your vines.

-Troy


Of course this chould change :(

#47 Troy McHenry

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Posted 07 October 2010 - 06:54 PM

Of course this chould change :(

Very nice! Our forecast is very similar but warmer, which I'm now starting to get concerned over as fall wine shipping season commences!

-Troy

#48 Jeff White

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Posted 18 October 2010 - 05:14 AM

Monday October 18, 2010

Hello,

Our 2010 harvest here at Glen Manor Vineyards came to a happy and successful end on October 10th, with the following day being our last day of crush. With this ending and except for a hopeful look for snow, I am gleefully but temporaily no longer concerned with the weather. We hurriedly brought in 4.2 tons from two acres of our oldest plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot the day before a forecasted rain that actually never materialized. Because the vines had pretty much shut down before the big rain of October 4, very little water was absorbed into the grapes. Five days of sun and heat dried them back out and bought enough time for the flavors to further develop and mature. I am quite pleased with my gamble.

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Ripe Cabernet Sauvignon

Any additional rains would have impacted flavors by promoting rot but these grapes all came in clean and concentrated with ample fresh flavors and sweet tannic structure. Over the next few weeks we will work with these last four fermenting bins of grapes, press them off and put the wine into barrel. This past week we also pressed off a couple of bins of Cabernet Franc and a bin of Petit Verdot and after a night of settling, these wines filled a total of six barrels.

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Pressing Petit Verdot

The next phase in red wine making is putting the freshly filled barrels of wine through a second fermentation called Malo-Lactic fermentation. This fermentation converts malic acid to lactic acid which gives the wine a more soft and supple texture or mouth feel. We inoculate the wine with a bacterium which like wine yeast, does the job for us. If we did not inoculate, the wine would still go through this fermentation as the bacteria occurs naturally and is already present in the wine. Our red wines are usually not filtered, so we want to control this fermentation and make sure that it happens now while the wine is still in barrel and not later when it's in a bottle resting in my or your cellar with a caged Genie inside, ready to blow the cork.

I've recently been working a little with our two white wines from this vintage. Our Sauvignon Blanc finished fermentation and after a couple of weeks of settling I pumped it off it's lees and into a clean tank. I fermented it in two separate tanks, each half full and with two different yeast strains to maybe add some complexity. So now the two have been blended and completely fill this single tank. Here it will rest until being filtered early next year, just before bottling in March. Our Petit Manseng is still slowly fermenting and I'm testing and tasting it's progress every two or three days. Right now it has around 12.7% alcohol, 9% residual sugar with bright acidity and lovely tropical flavors of mango, melon and pineapple, Once complete, this should make for a very appealing dessert or after dinner wine.

We continue to prepare for winter. On a rainy day last week we gave all of our crush equipment a thorough cleaning, removing and soaking in a solution of bicarbonate of soda, the stainless steel parts and the belts from the two sorting tables and elevator. Once cleaned all were reassembled, greased and are now ready for the 2011 season. With our walk-in no longer running we brought over the bags of bird netting, checked them for mice and stored them on pallets inside. We also are still in the process of mowing the pastures and vineyards and weeding and hoeing around the vines. At this time of the year I check the radiator fluid's level and strength in our farm trucks, tractors and cars. I also must winterize our two vineyard sprayers by draining the water and pumping a couple gallons of antifreeze through. It can be a real drag to start up your sprayer in the new spring only to see and feel water spewing out from cracks in hoses and piping. Obviously this has happened to me.

Fall finally feels, looks and sounds like it has arrived. Leaves are changing color rapidly and with just a little wind in the air they fly off from their hold, whirl around and around and splash the lanes and lawns with vibrant yet fleeting color. Currently dogwoods are the prettiest, a deep crimsom but poplars and oaks which are in the majority here, are gaining quickly with bright yellows mingled with a little orange. The other evening I was leaving the farm when an unexpected rain storm blew through. While the sky was clear to the north, this cloud burst came over the mountains from the west southwest and quickly moved east southeast. While I was walking to my truck I was struck by the beauty of this weather; clear to the north, dark clouds to the south, the sun sliding low just over the western mountain tops and to the east reflecting through the rain, a rainbow across the valley over my vineyards. Then I glanced back west and for a few seconds the sun's light was diffused through thin clouds and rain, causing a bright orange glow in the sky surrounded by dark grey storm clouds. I stood there and just watched in awe as this played out in our natural little theater, Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, where we call home. And twenty seconds later it was over. The storm kept driving east, leaving clear skies, crisp air, pastoral lands bright and clean and a fulfilled and warm feeling in my soul. It was a lovely ending to a rewarding and satisfying workday on our farm.

Below are a few fall shots on our farm.

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A couple of animal related stories to tell. A lone Mocking bird on his way home south for the winter, stopped by the farm and for a little while serenaded the countryside. He perched on the top branch of a large holly tree in the farmhouse backyard and sang to an audience of one I think, me. Also on our farm, the pastures are quickly filling again with newborn calves. The cows are bred so they give birth either in the spring after the bitter cold of winter has warmed or in the fall before winter's cold takes hold. Point being is not to subject the weak and wet newborn calves to their new home at the most severe and brutally cold time of the year. They're coming fast right now, one or two calves each week and by mid morning the fields are abundant with peacefully grazing cows while scattered all throughout are curled up sleeping little newbie calves. It's quite a sight.

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I'll write again soon,

Jeff

#49 DonRocks

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Posted 18 October 2010 - 08:46 PM

[Good news - Jeff has re-submitted all his photos as thumbnails, and this thread now loads a L-O-T faster. I honestly think that I may celebrate New Years Day 2011 by going back through and reading this thread in its entirety.]

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#50 Jeff White

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Posted 31 October 2010 - 08:52 AM

Sunday October 31, 2010

Hello and Happy Halloween!

There's a shift in the mountain winds, our farm is quieting, the forest leaves are bright with color but fast being pulled to the ground and we are entering a time of rest and reflection. For another year the excitement and sweat of harvest has come and left. Our year long efforts are in barrel and tank, needing only a weekly tasting. It's a very satisfying feeling but at the same time can be a bit of a downer, for in just a couple of days we went from going one hundred miles per hour to going under one. Mounds of paperwork lie on our desks, piles of laundry on our floors, emails went unanswered, our dogs are hungry for a long run and someone appears to be living inside my truck. So we attack all of these procrastinations as if a storm is coming and grapes are ripe for picking. But like a litter of Brittany pups at the backdoor screen, we also charge outside to split firewood, clean out gutters, rake leaves or mend fences. Oh to do anything, just to be out of doors in the sun and in the air, moving and alive.

The last lots of 2010 grapes have finished primary fermentation and are soaking in bins while I taste to decide when to press off. With these I decided to inoculate with malo-lactic bacteria right in the bins instead of waiting until after the grapes are pressed and the wine is racked into barrel. This will move up the date when this fermentation completes and while soaking, the carbon dioxide generated will help protect the wine from microbial spoilage. We did press off the 1997 lot of Petit Verdot, filling three barrels. Because of it's high concentration of tannins and flavor, Petit Verdot does not require extended extraction time on it's skins after alcohol fermentation is complete. In fact, a little too much time on it's skins and this wine can quickly become over extracted and out of balance.

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Office work, oh how I love my office work. I love looking at it so much it piles high on my desk, currently about a foot and a half and then I dive in on one cold or rainy day. I am now making plans for a March 2011 bottling of this year's white wines and some 2009 red wine. Our capsules are custom made and have about a twelve week turn around time so these are priority one. We are also looking at various bottle designs for our new Petit Manseng wine. A winter "to do" list is being prepared. We do not start pruning until mid December so for now other farm projects can be completed. So far I have a couple of fences that need to be constructed on the farm, one allowing cattle to graze in the warm season grass field near the winery and another excluding cattle from a narrow stretch of forest. I also plan to build a work bench and install a sink in the pesticide building so these two will be wet weather day projects.

Before and after sundown, warm season grasses:

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The fall leaf season has peaked and it appears the drought did impact this year's show. The surrounding mountain tops went from green to brown while along their flanks and bottom, colors were much more pronounced and lasting. I assume this was so because the high mountain tops and steep side slopes held much less water than down at lower elevations and on less angled ground. Our vineyard leaves are just now starting to show their fall colors, mostly yellows and I'll post more photos in the coming weeks but here are a few taken recently.

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We were inspected recently by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, VDACS. This surprise inspection happens once a year, usually around harvest and mainly looks for general cleanliness, insect and rodent infestations and also tests our well water for harmful bacteria. We passed with honors.

With the end of summer and harvest come autumn and the start of Virginia's hunting season. It's a grand time to be afield. The air is crisp and cool, while the sun brings welcomed warmth and as more and more leaves fall to the forest floor the mysterious dark mountains open to reveal some of their secrets. Sitting on the spine of a ridge top one can witness nature a quarter of a mile away as bear, deer, turkey, coyotes and the rarely seen cougars make their way across nearby ridges and mountain sides. Shots ring out all through the mountains and valleys as people take to the woods and test fire rifles in their backyards. I hunted dove back in September and now Kelly has requested a rabbit and a few of them live amongst my vines, eating low hanging grapes. I figure it's an even trade. So as I have since childhood, I'll take gun in hand and venture out into our wilds in search of game for our evening dinner table. And as I enjoy this annual pastime and season, but void of the pleasures of harvest, the pile on my desk grows a little higher.

My best to all,

Jeff




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