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January 30, 2005

Barrel Tasting

Last night we visited neighboring Windham Winery for a barrel tasting. Our friend/consultant Doug Fabbioli, winemaker for Winham hosted the 6pm event. Seemed to be about 24 people there, which considering the weather (wintry mix) isn't bad, plus there was an 8pm session which was delayed because of an accident on the road heading to Windham. Anyway the tasting was quite interesting, consisting of four flights of four different wines. The first flight was the Sauvingnon Blanc with two 2004 barrels (one each from vineyards 2&3) and the 2003 and 2002 vintages. Very interesting to smell/taste the differences between the two barrels from the different vineyards (same grape varietal in different soils and microclimates == different wine.) The 2002 was particularly nice, even being slightly past it's prime, while the 2003 was crisp but with noticeably less fruit.

The second flight was the Chardonnay, but to be honest the nose on the first wine (2004 new French barrel) affected us so much we were basically unable to do much with the other three Chardonnays. At this point in the winemaking process (I believe Doug indicated it was in the middle of malolactic fermentation, the process by which malic acid is converted into lactic acid) a very strong chemical compound results which basically smells like burnt rubber. Very close to the smell when your vaccuum cleaner gets stuck and burns up the belt - that's what this smelled like. It was one of those compoinds that just sticks in your nose, but accepting those compounds along the way and knowing that the wine is being transformed is part of the challenge of the process. Scared the shit out of me though - I think the first time I smell something like that come out of one of our barrels I'll pour it in the pond to kill the algae...

Next up was the Cabernet Franc, highly anticipated by Shannon and I due to being one of our first acres in a few months. And we were not disappointed! Very nice wines these Cabs - especially the second 2004 being aged in Hungarian barrels. Such a smooth texture, much different than the American barrels which had a bit of a bite to them, although Doug indicated this is important to the final blend, taking characteristics from each to create the final wine. This is going to be a great wine, we'll be getting a case of it upon release.

The final flight was the 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2003 and 2002 Vintner's Reserve, and a port which Doug is experimenting with. Obviously the 2004 Cab was quite young (and a touch vegetal I thought...) but the Vintner's Reserves were nice and the port, considering it is the first attempt was quite enjoyable. Not nearly as nutty as a Sandeman's or other Oporto port, but still nice.

Perhaps even better than the educational experience of the barrel tasting was the new people we got to meet. Doug mentioned a few times during the tasting that Shannon and I are new growers and that got some good conversation going with the other two couples at our table, both from Middleburg. Actually one of the guys, Stirling Young, is the vineyard manager at Boxwood Winery, the new venture of John Kent Cooke. Stirling and his friend Andy were great to talk with, and we chatted about vineyard startups, labor, etc. Looking forward to dropping in on him at Boxwood soon.

And the funniest moment of the evening, was when Shannon spotted Dave Collins, winemaker at Breaux Vineyards with a Jars of Clay hat on. Funny because I toured with Jars from '96-'97 and we had just seen the band the weekend before at a close friends' wedding. So we tapped Dave on the shoulder and told him about my association with the band, and had a wonderful conversation. Dave has been making wine in Loudoun County for nearly 20 years, having planted the first vines at Breaux long before they even owned the property. He was very interested in our venture, and knows the area and will drop by sometime. I told him I'll be getting him a picture signed by the band and he was really happy about that!

Posted by Stephen at 11:14 PM

January 11, 2005

Vineyard Data

So before I left for India I went out to the vineyard and downloaded the data from the three temperature/humidity data loggers we put out. With the raw data on my laptop, I've been able to play around with the data and graphs a bit. It's fascinating to see some of the temperature variances that can occur in a single field. True to our predictions, the low spot (position 2) of the vineyard tends to be the coolest area. But it was surprising to see temperature differences of up to six degrees F between the three loggers. They are only a few hundred feet apart, and yet the temperature variances can be quite dramatic.

View the layout of the data loggers.

View position #1.

View position #1 data logger from ground up (looking under the rain shield.

I'm in the process of redesigning the Web site, but in the interim I've posted the data. Check out the .pdf files, particularly the "variance" ones - pretty interesting stuff. In the years to come, it will be even more interesting to perform analysis on this data during the growing seasono to see the effects of temperature etc. on the resulting brix, pH, and tA (titratable acidity) of the fruit at harvest. In addition, this data should give us an idea of potential winter damage to the vines - vinifera can be severely damaged or killed at -10 degF, while hybrids are more cold tolerant with some being able to withstand temperatures as low as -20 degF.

Posted by Stephen at 2:07 PM

January 3, 2005

Turning the Rows

So another required task in preparation for vine planting is sub-soiling each row. What is sub-soiling? Essentially it is the cutting of a groove in the soil to break through the layer between topsoil and sub-soil. This layer is called the hardpan. This requires the use of an implement (aptly named) a sub-soiler, which connects to the back of the tractor and cuts the groove to a depth of 10" to 14" depending on how many rocks you happen to find. The purpose of breaking through the hardpan with mechanical implements means the young vines don’t have to break through it. This will allow the roots to reach deep into the sub-soil during the first year of growth, which is critical to establishing healthy root systems early, particularly in the absence of an irrigation system.

(OK quick time-out. I’m writing this entry from my hotel room in Delhi, India. I’m over here on a business trip, it’s 3AM and I’m jet-lagged as hell. So as I write this I have the India MTV on, and who should happen to appear but a band called Plumb who I mixed in 1997 while I was touring with Jars of Clay. Plumb was the opening act. Kind of weird to be writing my vineyard entries, and as soon as Tiffany sang the first line I knew the voice, looked up and said to the TV "nice to see you again.")

So back to farming - what is the process? As in all tasks at this stage of the game, "measure twice, cut once" is the credo. As we were laying out the rows, you may recall that we placed marking stakes at 100’ intervals. The purpose for this is to give a guide that one is to aim for on the tractor, in the hopes of cutting a perfectly straight row. But once I got out there and looked at each interval, it seemed to be too far a distance to ensure a straight path. Note the above statement about rocks – when you’re pulling the sub-soiler through the dirt it will invariably become hung up on large sub-surface rocks. This tends to push the tractor to one side or the other, causing irregular rows. So in order to minimize the irregularities, we opted to spray paint some lines in between the 100’ marks so I’d have some smaller intervals to aim for. Glad we did! They were a tremendous help and the rows turned out great. Incidentally, thanks to Ryan and Brandon Badura for the help in marking the rows. Good comedy – several times I’d turn around on the tractor to find them spray-painting each other...

Here's what it looks like when finished - check it out.

Posted by Stephen at 8:17 AM | Comments ( 1 )