Archive for September, 2012


Virginia grape harvest commences

Posted on Sep 04 2012 | By

Early reports point to fruitful vintage 

On August 25, I received an email from my wine juice supplier in Charlottesville: viognier and chard to you next week. 

That was my cue to convert my basement family room into a fermentation farm. It was time to start making wine again.

Late August is a bit ahead of previous white harvests but there’s been a trend in the recent past for early ripening fruit in the Old Dominion. This is especially true this year given the sweltering July heat.

Doug Fabbioli

Word from winemakers around the state echo my experience. Doug Fabbioli, owner of Fabbioli Cellars in Loudoun County, says, “Things are early and moving along well. Chard came in from Charlottesville two weeks ago; Viognier is coming in as we speak.

“I see Merlot coming off next week if the moisture from Isaac does not mess us up too much.” The tropical storm dumped much needed rain in the Midwest but generally avoided Virginia. Doug’s Merlot must be pleased.

Fabbiolo also opines that, “I am hoping to get some separation between varieties so we can press one grape off the skins without holding up harvest on the next grapes going into the fermenter.” Simultaneous ripening of multiple varietals can be a headache for winemakers.

Too much fruit coming in too fast with too little capacity makes for a cranky vintner; not to mention the endless hours of physical labor spent on the crush pad. Harvest is the most demanding time of the year for winery workers and a blitzkrieg harvest is hyper-exhausting.

Rick Tagg, winemaker at Barrel Oak Winery in Fauquier County, says, “I am excited about our Chardonnay; the fruit is clean and I anticipate a nice yield—four to five tons. This is the most uncertain time of the year when all the hard work we do to grow great wine comes to fruition. We need a little more time to get the grapes in while they are not soaking wet.”

Heavy rains in 2011 reduced the quality of the red harvest. Too much water swells the berries reducing sugar levels and creating opportunities for black rot and other unwelcome fungi.

Tagg goes on to say, “Things always look great this time of year. Let’s all hope they continue to look good for the next two months. It helps if I don’t check the weather forecast every 15 minutes.”

As for Hagarty Cellars, my email alert to pickup both Viognier and Chardonnay was a bit premature. The Viognier did come in and was beautiful at 23 Brix—or 23 percent sugar level—and decent pH and acidity. I am hopeful I can duplicate my 2011 Viognier. It was one of the best renditions of that grape I have created in the past eight years.

Barrel Oak Winery

Conversely, the Chardonnay harvest did not materialize. An unusual dump of six inches of rain unrelated to Isaac slowed the maturing fruit. But today, I received word it has arrived at the winery. I will be in C’ville tomorrow morning with four empty pails in tow.

Meanwhile, my Viognier is bubbling along nicely. The five six-gallon pails are fermenting slowly to help retain aromatics and palate flavors. I keep the nascent wine at about sixty degrees by immersing each pail in an insulated tub of cold water. Ice and blocks of Blue Ice motors my refrigeration units. The big boys use glycol jacketed stainless steel tanks to achieve even cooler fermentation temperatures.

This vintage I will trim back production given my bumper crop of fruit last year. I will produce about 300 bottles of white and a somewhat lesser amount of reds for a total of 45 cases of wine. I will pick up the slack in wine production by continuing to pursue my new hobby of home brewing.

Do I have a problem or what?

Fermenting Viognier

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