Virginia’s vineyards are stirring after months of dormancy. With spring comes budbreak, announcing a new growing season across the Commonwealth. Though our lives have been disrupted and thrown into uncertainty during this time of global pandemic, we find comfort in the enduring recurrence of nature’s seasons. This recurrence means Virginia’s vineyards will continue to produce grapes, and those grapes will be harvested and then put into a bottle for you to enjoy. Through uncertainty, our vineyards still demand a keen eye from Virginia’s farmers. They’ll keep listening and learning their land to provide #vawine lovers with a new vintage and adventure.
Set aside the concerns of the world for just a minute and take a glimpse into what’s happening in vineyards across the state. Winemakers and vineyard managers from many of Virginia’s distinct and diverse regions are eager to share what’s happening on their land.
Despite the quick arrival of the new growing season, Virginia farmers are excited for another chance to listen and learn from the soil they work. In Southern Virginia, Aubrey and Justin Rose of Rosemont Vineyards share that “the bud push has been very even and the shoots look uniform, meaning that they are growing at the same rate. Which is really good news this early into the game.”
Kirsty Harmon of Blenheim Vineyards expressed optimism on the state of their central Virginia vineyard. “It’s so lush and green right now and it’s really a joy to be out in the vineyard. Extremely early budbreak, but so far, things are looking really good and moving along very quickly!”
The dawning of this new vintage has vineyard managers and winemakers hearkening back to the challenges of years past. An early growing season makes fickle temperature patterns all the more distressing. The freezing temperatures from this past week have seen spring dustings of snow and the daunting potential of frost.
But Virginians are a tenacious group; we’ve learned to evolve and adjust. Jim Law of Linden Vineyards explains, “Farmers learn to live with worry. Frost, freeze, hail, deluge, drought; experienced farmers have seen it all. It hurts bad when it happens. I give myself 24 hours to grieve and feel sorry for myself and be ornery. Then come up with plan B.”
“[We] are really watching for freezing temperatures, which is nerve-wracking, but nonetheless, an exciting time,” says the team at Rosemont. “Once we are past the freeze/frost points we can then really get going into the growing season routine.”
Bluestone Vineyards’ winemaker Lee Hartman adds, “I hold my breath every year from the time the buds come out until about June 1. This year I started holding my breath earlier.” Like many growers and winemakers, Lee will be out in the vineyards lighting fires, hopeful that they will help protect the vines from frost damage.
In addition to the cold temperatures, other familiar challenges like climbing cutworms will continue to push farmers to respond to Virginia’s diverse conditions.
Whether it be new experiments, new varietals or new techniques, Virginia’s vineyards bring a sense of eagerness for winemakers and growers with each new vintage.
Rosemont is looking forward to new fruit, from a new field of Chambourcin to their first plantings of Graciano and Grenache.
Over at Bluestone, Lee is adjusting his vineyards. “We have also progressively been changing all of our vines that were previously on a highwire system to VSP. It’s easier to do handwork in these blocks now that the transformation is completed, and the fruit has better exposure to sun and air.”
Outside of the vineyard, winemakers are expertly crafting wines from the 2019 harvest. At Blenheim, Kirsty is busy working on the blends for Viognier and Chardonnay. “The 2019s are really stunning and I’m excited to get them into the bottle.”
Virginia’s vineyards are constantly expanding and new plantings are taking root. Blenheim has planted an additional 4,000 vines. Kirsty shared her excitement for a new planting of Menica explaining, “It’s a Spanish variety that is grown in similar places to Albariño. Since Albariño does so well here, we thought we might see how this red does.”
Lee is excited for vineyard expansion; plantings on neighboring sites and Bluestone’s new Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Manseng blocks.
At The Williamsburg Winery, in the Hampton Road region, they have eagerly planted new vines, sharing an inside look on the process.
A sense of familiarity
Despite the disruption felt throughout the world due to the novel coronavirus, the vineyards are persevering.
“Work has not slowed in the vineyard due to COVID-19. This is one of the most important times of the lifecycle of the vineyard and what happens now affects what will happen the rest of the vintage,” says the team at Rosemont. “This will determine what grapes we pick in the fall, crop loads, and the wines that we will be selling over the next year to four years from now.” Vineyards are maintaining social-distancing practices but are grateful to be outside, following the lead of the vines.
And then there’s the reminder of why this is all worth it in the end. “Recent news cycles have included many interviews with farmers. Disappearing markets, prices free falling, lack of harvest help, and supply chain disruptions,” muses Jim Law. “But still, I can always catch a bit of cautious optimism, even when they are down. It’s in our nature, because we know just how lucky we are. To be doing something we love.”
So, the work in the vineyard will continue, in the effort to ensure that Virginia Wine will always find a way to your table. We hope that each local glass brings you a moment of ease and a sense of familiarity.