Jeff White

The Virginia 2010 Vintage

76 posts in this topic

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

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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... 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!

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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.

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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

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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

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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!

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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

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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.

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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:

tn_005.jpg tn_017.jpg

tn_019.jpg tn_gmv vineyard 2010.jpg

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

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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

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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

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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:

tn_014.jpg tn_009.jpg

tn_2010-06-08 019.jpg tn_2010-06-08 022.jpg

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.crownweather.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

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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

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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

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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

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