Summer in Virginia’s vineyards marks a time of growth as vineyard crews begin to see the “fruits of their labor.” The vines go through the critical stages of fruit set—when the flower forms into a small berry— and move into veraison— the transition from berry growth to berry ripening often characterized by a change in color.
Aaron Hark of Hark Vineyards spoke on the encouraging midsummer conditions and tell-tale signs of a strong harvest to come with “fruit developing toward closing bunches and showing promise of veraison and the development of sugar.”
Many wineries across the Commonwealth are happily reporting an abundant crop with drier than normal conditions, which is a sharp contrast to last year’s difficult growing season that required many long days in nights in the vineyards.
Jake Blodinger, winemaker at Chrysalis Vineyards, found it difficult to compare two incredibly different vintages. “Last year we dodged three frosts and had cooler days during our ripening period. So far this year, it’s looking like hot days and heavy afternoon showers.”
An essential producer of Norton in Virginia, Chrysalis Vineyards is no stranger to adapting to the ever-changing climate. “It’s always a game of tug-o-war with Norton, but this year it seems incredibly explosive,” Blodinger said of the difficulty and pay-off of working with Norton. “Bud break growth initially seemed slow, but in the course of a weekend our Norton vines had easily grown around 6 inches.”
Meanwhile in Central Virginia, Hark Vineyards is feeling grateful. “Vintage 2020 saw a frost that took 95% of our crop and left us farming leaves, whereas 2021 has us in full crop and heading towards an abundant harvest,” said Hark.
Coming off of a difficult vintage, vineyard managers are setting their sights on a plentiful harvest and focusing on canopy management to ensure the best possible grape ripening conditions.
Hark Vineyards details this work, sharing “canopies are at their full heights gathering sunlight and we are hedging back excessive foliage and pulling leaves and new growth from around the fruit zone.” This season, they’ve “implemented a series of canopy changes that mirror soil type to more closely manage vigor and fruit quality.”
Chrysalis Vineyards is emphasizing canopy management, as well. “Our goal is to make sure there is a balance between the number of leaves and fruit clusters,” said Blodinger. “By maintaining a clean canopy and removing any lateral shoots from growing around the cluster, this allows dappled sunlight and free flowing air to move throughout the vineyard.”
Vineyards across the Commonwealth continue to streamline growing processes and adopt more sustainable practices. Hark Vineyards utilizes technology that helps them multitask while maintaining growth, “We are mowing and managing weeds simultaneously as well as doing a sustainable spray for Japanese beetles with a spray nozzle in addition to our canopy hedger,” said Hark.
Chrysalis Vineyards is taking extra care to research and understand all of the chemicals used at their sites. “We only do light peripheral insecticide sprays and never use roundup,” said Blodinger. “In the last 3 years, we’ve seen an increased honey bee population around the vineyards and crush pad during harvest.”
While vineyards are optimistic of what’s to come, there’s still a way to go before vintage 2021 makes it into your glass. “We are heading into the Fall in great shape with good momentum: balanced vines and a good quantity of loose clusters with small berries,” reported Linden Vineyards. “However, the most crucial months are ahead.”
What to Look For
Overall, vineyards are seeing idyllic conditions across the Commonwealth. Summer vines set the stage for harvest, but the next three months will continue to shape the story of the 2021 vintage. Here are a few keys to success for a bountiful harvest:
Sometimes being ordinary is a good thing, and in this case, it’s the best thing. Vineyards want to see warm and sunny days with nothing too cold or too hot.
Dry but not too dry
There’s a sweet spot between some rain and not enough rain. In order to keep the grapes healthy, there needs to be some accumulation. However, too much rain and there could be concern for flavor and sugar dilution, mold and mildew, and overall damage to the fruit.
Different grapes are ready for harvest at slightly different times. A key indicator that the climate is optimal for growth is that the grapes mature at the expected time. Vineyard managers will be closely monitoring the vines from mid-August through October to begin harvesting at the perfect time.
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