Exploring VA Wines, Wining & Dining

The Vintage Continues…

By Doug Fabbioli

The Vintage Continues…

2020 has certainly been a challenging year across the board. We always try to make the most we can of what Mother Nature gives us but this year, with the late spring frosts and heavy summer heat, nothing has been fruitful or easy. Years from now when we drink the vintage 2020 wines, hopefully it will mean something more than the challenges we have had to overcome. Maybe we will taste the success we had in making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

The season of crushing grapes continues to move closer, so our plans need to be built for success. First we need to look at the amount of fruit coming in, where it is coming from, and for what wine it will be used. I have not only the fruit from my own vineyards to plan for, but I do some custom crush for a couple of other operations. I also bring in a bit of fruit from California, and need to prepare for that arrival as well. The timing on receiving these grapes is based both on when they are ripe and when we are able to accept them. Fortunately with our operation, not all the grapes ripen in the same week, and some varieties of grapes can hang on the vine an extra few days if needed.

The next logistical step is figuring out what vessels these grapes will ferment in. Last season, we had some space issues with our red fermentations. Usually I can press off an early batch of red grapes to open up some bins. Crops were big last year, though, and grapes were ripening at similar times so I had to crunch-order some more bins to have the space needed for the grapes. Some wineries have held off on picking for a few days in order to buy time for the previous batch to finish fermenting. Then the grapes are pressed off into a holding tank allowing room for the fresh grapes that are still on the vine. There are always challenges to figure out as we try to bring in the crop.

The barrel program is the third critical consideration for managing the space for our wines. Most of the white wines will ferment in tanks, but some will ferment in barrels. Petit Manseng and Chardonnay will be fermented in neutral French oak. I’m glad I have barrels available from last year as there is no easy way to get these barrels. I did order a few new ones but those will be for our red program. Eventually most of our reds will age in barrels, so having enough barrels is always a key part of the end game.

By the end of October, all the grapes should be in and have a place for fermentation. Many have already moved to barrels. My first bottling, post harvest, will be in December, so I can move some wines out of the cellar in order to make some breathing room. If I am short on barrels, I can bottle some of the previous-vintage wines to open up some barrels for the new vintage. Sometimes this process is like Chess, other times it’s like Tetris. On the worst days it feels more like Jenga!

As I look back on almost four decades in this industry, I admit I enjoy the challenge of mixing art, science, agriculture, business, logic, and marketing and coming up with a product that folks can enjoy, both every day and on very special occasions. Thanks so much for giving people like me a chance to do what we love.

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