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Jeff White

The Virginia 2010 Vintage

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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

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

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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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CLOSE-UP

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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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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

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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

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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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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

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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

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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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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.

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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

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[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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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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