Harvesting Through a Hurricane

By Doug Fabbioli

Harvesting Through a Hurricane

This game of grape growing and winemaking in the Mid-Atlantic region has its ups and downs. For the record, I believe this has been the hardest growing season I have encountered of my 22 seasons in Virginia. The rains, the heat, the humidity, the rain, the lack of sun, the extended cold winter and the again with the rainy weather have all added up to substantial challenges throughout the year.

When the major threat of Hurricane Florence appeared in September, in was enough to push most folks over the edge. We have struggled all year to keep the grapes healthy through the season so they have a chance to ripen to a maturity level that will work to make a good wine. 

At the later part of the season, heavy rains can cause the berries to split because of the high moisture in the ground. That split berry will spread juice through the cluster and cause a rot that can destroy the cluster from the inside. It is not a pretty picture, but it is a reality. So our process is to carefully evaluate each cluster and drop any that show rot. I rely on my nose as I go through the rows to smell any off aromas or sour rot.

I will also make some very hard choices to pick around the rainstorms hoping to bring in dry, healthy fruit as ripe as makes sense. We accept that we will bring in less crop than we planned on and it will cost us substantially more in order to do it.

As for quality, I have been pleasantly surprised with the aromas and structure of the wines so far. We have also learned a lot of different techniques to make the best out of a challenging year like this. The Virginia Wine Board has invested in the Virginia Winemakers Research Exchange in order to test methods and products that can help us in years like this. The Virginia Cooperative Extension has done a lot over the years as well. 

The emotional challenge of continuing to fight a retreating battle can be a heavy toll. We hearty souls will stick it out and make the best we can from what we have. The end message I have for the Virginia vintage 2018 is we will have substantially less yields, but the flavors and quality should be quite pleasant if the winemakers are willing to make the hard choices. We spend more to make less. Not quite a successful business model, but this is our reality of certain years.

Visit the wineries and celebrate Virginia Wine Month! Bring home the wine you enjoyed at the tasting and please continue to support us all. We will hold the ground!

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