Archive for February, 2012


Virginia Vintage 2011

Posted on Feb 16 2012 | By

Frank Sinatra’s 1965 classic, “It Was a Very Good Year”, bears a title most winemakers hope to murmur after each harvest. Not so last year.

Rainy and cloudy skies framed by cool weather took its toll on vineyards in Virginia. In some cases, wide swaths of ripening fruit were lost to black rot and other fungi breeding in the gloomy days of September and October.

So let’s fast forward six months and reflect on what kind of wines are now sleeping in tanks and barrels across the Old Dominion. Is 2011 a bust? The answer is either unlikely or no with an emphasis on “no”. Talented vineyard managers and winemakers will dictate who produces gold medals this year and who won’t.

Generally speaking, 2011 will be a decent but not great vintage. Wines will tend to be a bit lighter in both color and taste and off-flavors might appear from time to time. This will occur because at the crucial growing period when wine grape sugars were rising and acidity falling, cool, wet weather put the brakes on the process. An unfulfilled grape can result in an unfulfilled wine.

So what’s a winemaker to do? Actually, lots of things. For white juice that is low in sugar content and high in acidity at fermentation time, boosting sugar levels both before and after the wine is made can create a balanced and lively white. This can be achieved through additions of cane sugar or grape concentrate. Acid can also be precipitated out of the wines to reduce tartness. Fortunately, white grapes sourced from many parts of the state benefited from ripening in late August, producing good fruit, including Petit Manseng, Viognier and Chardonnay.

Red wines can be more difficult to deal with. One technique employed by experienced vintners is to “bleed” the crushed fruit prior to fermentation. This process removes some juice and increases the ratio of juice to skin contact, enhancing depth of flavor and color. It also creates opportunities for making more Rosé wines, since the bled juice is light in color and produces tasty dry and off-dry wines. I predict we will be seeing more Rosé in tasting rooms this year and next.

Other cellar alchemy includes greater or lesser use of oak aging and tannin additions and enhancing color using grape extract produced from the skins of Vinifera grapes.

Hagarty Cellars 2011 Whites

At Hagarty Cellars, I have now bottled all of my whites; some thirty-two cases or 384 bottles. My cellar is stocked with Pinot Gris, Dry Riesling, Chardonnay, Viognier and a Viognier-Chardonnay blend. It promises to be a very nice summer, indeed, as Jean and I and our four adult children and their spouses work our way through these clean tasting whites. And yes, we will not be able to consume them all. But my whites will last three to five years in the bottle before oxidation begins to set in.

So this amateur winemaker is generally pleased with his white wines this vintage. While my Riesling was high in tartaric acid I balanced it out with an addition of residual sugar to a level of slightly less than one percent, still producing a dry version. German Rieslings are considered dry up to 0.9 % residual sugar.

I did a side-by-side comparison of my 2010 and 2011 Chardonnays and found the 2011 was clean and flavorful, albeit not as full-bodied as my 2010 rendition, one of the best vintages in Virginia the last decade.

As of this writing, I am also happy with my reds. My Virginia blend of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot is lighter on the palate than last year’s companion. But I also sourced some California Cabernet Sauvignon fruit that I blended in with it to make a Meritage, in addition to the Cab Franc. All my reds are clean and aging nicely. I will begin bottling them in May and June to prepare my cellar for the arrival of fresh fruit in September.

Winemakers in Virginia will be fully employed this year and I prophesize the critics will be impressed with the overall quality of wines they produce given the challenging harvest. As with any profession, education, skill and talent will prevail.

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