September 20, 2022

Harvest 2022: Vineyard Update

Vineyard Update

The Growing Season

Cultivating grapes is never easy, and each year we’re reminded of that. It’s the little things about weather and climate during the growing season that inform the farmers how to manage the vineyards, care for the fruit and harvest the grapes. 

Most recently, vineyard managers have been monitoring higher than average summer rainfall and experimenting with techniques like cluster pruning to ensure the fruit maintains its concentration in its last few weeks on the vine. 

The impacts of weather are also felt drastically different from region to region, elevation to elevation, soil type to soil type, and so on. Benoit Pineau, winemaker at Pollak Vineyards, is reminded of the importance of site selection, citing “a microclimate created by the Blue Ridge Mountains” responsible for keeping their vineyards drier than average for the area this year. 

While many escaped the harsh effects of late spring frost events, Hamlet Vineyards in Bassett, VA (Southern) has succumbed to frost damage in recent years. “We thought we had escaped with about 5% damage but as the season progressed, we realized the damage was more significant,” said Virginia Hamlet, owner of Hamlet Vineyards. 

Sometimes the true impact of the growing season can only be felt much later in the process– throughout harvest, fermentation, bottling, and eventually, in your glass. The ever-changing conditions keep winemakers on their toes and make each vintage an exciting tasting opportunity for wine lovers.

The Timeline

After each growing season of careful vineyard management, it’s time for harvest. In most years, harvesting grapes in Virginia begins toward the end of August and runs into mid-late October. Now, many wineries find themselves in the midst of the busy harvest season. 

According to Pineau, “The 2022 growing season is progressing at a rate 10 days slower than standard, though our grapes are still ripening to the level we want to see for harvest.”

And Hamlet: “Our early ripeners have been consistent with previous years almost to the day. Viognier can fluctuate more and we harvested it a bit earlier this year. We look forward to favorable weather and a manageable hurricane season so we can let the reds hang a bit.” 

The timeline of harvest isn’t a perfect science and is determined by a number of factors, but the season is well underway in Virginia. 

The Process

It’s hard to fully understand what goes into Harvest without being a part of it, but a few representatives within the Virginia Wine industry describe it best: 

“We start lab testing in early August to track the chemistry and sugar content of the grapes. Based on lab reports, tasting the fruit, weather reports, and consultation with the winemaker, we select a harvest day for each variety.”

“Around the middle of August, we begin to look at the chemistry of early ripening varieties like Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc. We’re looking to pick at an optimal level of ripeness when the brix and pH are in balance.”

“Once the grapes have reached their peak, we harvest in the early morning hours to reduce the chance of fermentation starting from the sun’s warmth before we can move the grapes into the winery.”

“It’s the most exciting time of the year for winemakers and grape growers, but it’s also really hard physical work daily.”

“Harvest consists of early mornings, and long days that turn into night.”

“For a planner like me, harvest at times can be a nightmare. You might have a plan in the morning for your day, and before lunch, it has already changed three times. Timing is important, so when it’s time to pick, it is all hands on deck and speed is key!”

“Harvest is the culmination of a year’s worth of work for us and we look forward to bringing the grapes to the finish line.”

“Harvesting fruit by hand is a time consuming, but rewarding, process and we often share the harvest with our friends and neighbors.”

The Next Step

From the time the grapes are harvested all the way to the final bottled product, there are many more decisions that need to be made. Depending on the grape and style the winemaker is going for, the fruit will go through a variety of processes, including when and how to press, time to age, selection of storage (barrel or steel tanks), and more. 

Immediately following harvest, Pineau explains that at Pollak Vineyards they “allow the grapes to cool overnight before pressing and beginning fermentation.” After the rush of harvest, grape growers and winemakers can take a short pause. 

Ivy Hunt, vineyard and cellar manager at Jolene Family Winery, says that rest is the next step after harvest— “For me and the wine!” Between November and January, wineries and vineyards across the state quiet down in preparation for production and the busy travel season to come once spring returns.

Though, work in the vineyard never ceases. During the quieter months, vineyard managers take to the vines to experiment with new methods and prepare for the colder season ahead. 

Hamlet describes the process of making preparations for the next growing season: “We are currently removing grow tubes from young replacement vines in order to get them a little heartier before winter sets in. We’ll be looking at how many vines need to be replaced and mark those for winter removal.” 

Pineau notes that it’s important to keep protecting the vines even after the grapes are picked, until the leaves fall off the vines. 

The Vintage Outlook

The overall outlook for the 2022 vintage is positive. While most white grape varieties have been picked, many red varieties have some time left on the vine. There’s still a ways to go, but winemakers are hopeful and eager for what’s to come.  

“I think this year will have some really fantastic wines coming from all around the state,” said Hunt. “I’m excited to see how our red fruit matures as they still have a few more weeks to go on the vine.” 

Regardless of how the rest of harvest shapes out, Pineau says that he will continue to make the best with what they have, “Our goal is to produce high-quality, estate-grown wines each vintage. The specific wines we make vary depending on the growing season, but we expect to produce wines that we’re excited about sharing in the future.”

Vineyard Update

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