Archive for September, 2011


2011 Virginia Grape Harvest a Challenge

Posted on Sep 30 2011 | By

Cool, Rainy Weather Forces Wineries to Scramble 

Within the wine industry, one is reluctant to speak of a poor harvest. The world of wine is centered on the romantic image of undulating rows of vines hanging heavy with ripe fruit, ready for transformation into gold and ruby nectar.

But this year in the Old Dominion it will be a challenge to elicit praise from proprietors and winemakers as to the quality of their grapes. Virginia’s climate will have its way from time to time and acceptance of a poor vintage is a worthy trait among the state’s vintners.

“At the end of August we had good fruit hanging in the vineyard.  We were excited with its potential.  But in September, much of the crop failed to mature given the cool, wet weather.  This is my thirty-second vintage and you need to accept that Virginia’s climate will not produce an ideal harvest every year.  One needs to respect each vintage for what it is,” explains Jim Law, owner and winemaker at Linden Vineyards.

In fact, such a lament is periodically heard in most wine growing regions, including France, the home of world-class wines.  Even California’s harvest is two to three weeks behind schedule this year due to a cool and rainy early season.  Growing wine grapes is farming and farming entails risks.

The delicate Eurasian grapes that produce over 80% of Virginia’s wines need relatively dry weather in the final weeks prior to harvest; a touch of drought is ideal.  Such conditions increase sugar levels with a corresponding decline in acidity.  A balanced grape harvest leads to balanced wine.

In Charlottesville, vineyards were exposed to 12 inches of rain in a nine day period in September with episodes of hail damage also occurring.  First Hurricane Irene dumped heavy rains followed by the slow moving tropical storm Lee.  “Legally you must cease spraying for a period of time prior to harvest.  This year the weather left the fruit exposed to fungi leading to sour rot and Botrytis.  We lost much of our Viognier and other varieties were also hard hit,” said Stephen Barnard, winemaker at Keswick Vineyards.

What’s a winemaker to do?
Experienced vineyard mangers try to anticipate the vagaries of weather by employing strategies such as aggressive leaf pulling to expose the fruit to more sunlight and encourage ripening.  “We’ve closely managed our Chardonnay crop this year.  And while this is not a great vintage that fruit is hanging nicely.  Now we need some dry, sunny days to successfully bring it into the cellar,” says Chris Pearmund, owner of three Fauquier County wineries. 

Given the potential of poor harvests, experienced wineries react to such conditions in a variety of ways.  An obvious tact is to simply not produce as much wine in a poor vintage year.  Other approaches involve making more Rosé wines in lieu of full- bodied reds or blending different wines to build depth and complexity.

“This is a year to focus on ‘pretty wines’.  Such wines are lower in alcohol, more delicate, with a bit more acidity and mineral notes and not as long aging,” explains Law.  “I anticipate years like this and hoard some of my full-bodied reds.  My 2006 and 2007 Hardscrabble reds are pouring nicely.  I will release them next year,” he says.

Another important strategy is to aggressively drop underripe or rotten fruit in the vineyard, enhancing the potential for the grapes that are harvested.  While this reduces overall production, it enables quality wine to be made in off vintages.

Most Virginia wineries only use only Virginia grown fruit but state law does allow up to twenty-five percent of out-of-state grapes to be blended into their wines.  In difficult vintages, this provides an opportunity for winemakers to craft wines that are fuller-bodied while still reflecting the state’s terroir.

A good portion of the state’s red grape crop is still in the vineyard.  If the weather cooperates, good quality fruit can still be reaped.  “We are using every technique in the book to produce good wines this year.  It’s challenging,” says Pearmund.

 Published in the September 30, 2011 edition of the Fauquier Times-Democrat.

Philip Carter Winery Vineyards



Categories : WINE ARTICLES

Elegant European Stemware Comes With Impressive Guarantee…But

Around this wine writer’s house, wine glasses have a limited life span.  High quality glasses enhance the beauty and flavor of wine but they’re more delicate than a bride’s emotions on her wedding day.  Both must be treated tenderly or they’ll get hurt.

But a quality vessel is so important to enhancing the wine drinking experience one should be willing to buy and set aside a few special glasses.  Think it doesn’t make a difference?  Try sipping your next fine wine out of two different vessels; a crystal glass and a fruit juice glass.  Then draw your own conclusion.  Like all products, quality makes a difference.

And so it was that for several months I eyed an ad in the Wine Enthusiast catalog for a glass called the Fusion Classic.  It came in six different models depending on the type of wine you intended to use it for.  I elected to purchase the Chardonnay glass because I think it’s useful as an all-purpose vessel…whites and reds look and taste great in it.  I paid $49.95 for four, including free shipping.

Equally important, the glass was touted as break-resistant.  Specifically, the ad read:  “European crystal is fused with super-strong magnesium to form a durable, lightweight, graceful wine glass.  Science meets sophistication, and the result is shatterproof.”   Hmmmm.

But I couldn’t lose with the purchase since the stemware came with a 10-year replacement policy. Ten years.  Break a Fusion glass and get a replacement at no cost.  So I placed my order and waited eagerly for the UPS truck to come lumbering up my driveway.

Fast forward two months after my original purchase.  I have now broken four of the glasses.  I cannot say they are the original four since I was being sent replacements almost as fast as I was breaking them.  And how did they meet their demise?

  • Glass #1 was pulled from my overhead glass rack with a piece missing.  I have no idea how it broke.
  • Number #2 was tipped over as I reached for a piece of cheese on our deck dining table.  It was no violent lunge. My hand simply grazed the glass, it tipped over and I was back on the phone talking with my growing number of friends at Wine Enthusiast.
  • Glass #3 was being withdrawn from the dishwasher when an adjoining plate bumped it.  Krack!
  • The fourth casualty occurred as I gently hand washed the inside of the victim with a sponge.  Pop!  “Hello, customer service?”

The most amazing thing about this experience is the folks at Wine Enthusiast could not have been more helpful and responsive in sending me a replacement glass.  No questions.  No challenges. No arguments.  Simply, “Is the mailing address the same as the original order?”

At the moment, I am waiting for the arrival of my fourth replacement.  I hope it comes quickly.  I’d love to have all four of the glasses in my house at one time.

Before I posted this blog, I contacted Wine Enthusiast and advised them I was going to write on my experience.  Here’s the response I received back the same day:

Dear Mr. Hagarty, 

We apologize that you are not happy with your Fusion glasses.  We rarely hear of so much breakage from one customer, and more often than not we hear how happy customers are with these glasses.  Although the glasses are break resistant, they ARE still glass, so they still must be handled with care indicative of glass, not polycarbonate glasses.  These glasses are covered under warranty, so if you would like replacements to be sent to you please feel free to call 800 648 6058 and someone will be happy to assist you. 

Thank you,

/s/ a customer service manager

Impressive, eh?  I certainly will continue to do business with the firm in the future.

But, if we happen to meet in the year 2021, ask me how many Fusion glasses I have gone through.  By my rough calculation I could be on my 160th replacement by then.  Yet again, my treatment of the stemware is getting gentler each day. 

How It All Began

Categories : WINE ARTICLES

Delaplane Cellars in the Pink

Posted on Sep 08 2011 | By

2010 Rosé Going, Going…

The Wine
Jim Dolphin, owner and winemaker at Delaplane Cellars, has created a summery Rosé that is as colorful to the eye as it is on the taste buds.  Slightly off-dry at 0.9% residual sugar, it is beautifully balanced with bright acidity creating a dry wine experience.

In the glass, vivid red hues lead to delicate watermelon aromas that intensify on the palate as strawberry and watermelon. The overall effect is a clean, finely balanced wine that mysteriously keeps disappearing in the glass.

The bottling has been extremely popular and its original 145 case production has dwindled down to a precious few; it is no longer available for tasting.  Limited supplies are waiting to be enjoyed during our coming Indian summer. But buy only one bottle and you’ll regret it.

Now the good news.  Expect a higher production of Rosé next year at Delaplane.

The Food
An evening on the deck with an easy to prepare crab imperial was the perfect match for this bright Rosé.

  • 1 pound crabmeat
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning TM
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 3 tablespoons butter


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).
  2. In a medium bowl, combine crab meat, mayonnaise, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, Old Bay Seasoning, salt, cayenne pepper, dry mustard, and beaten egg.. Mix thoroughly.
  3. In an 8″ pie dish, spread mixture and lightly coat the entire dish with bread crumbs. Then sprinkle the top with paprika. Dot the dish with the butter.
  4. Bake in a preheated oven for 20 minutes.
Categories : WINE ARTICLES