Veritas Newsletter – Spring 2015

Spring Vines
I think one of the major reasons I enjoy Virginia is the way the monotony of life is broken up with of the ever- changing seasons –how the privations of winter are followed by the joy of spring. How the sultry summer dissolves into the rich warmth of autumn.

Spring Vines at Veritas

Bud in the vineyard at VeritasI am always thrilled when the dreary seemingly never- ending days of winter are crashed asunder with a host of golden daffodils. Life is confirmed as the grey dullness is trumped with the reawakening of verdant life. We watch as burgeoning greenness creeps up the mountains. If you get up with dawn, the air actually smells sweeter as floral aromas mix in with the bleating of the new lambs in the music of spring. The first clue for us is after the vines have been pruned they start to drip sap it is as if they are crying with joy signaling the beginning of spring. Then as prompt as your deadline for tax returns on April 15th the vines burst into life and life goes on.

If you remember in the winter newsletter I was bemoaning the severities of the winter weather and wringing my hands on the extent of damage – well for once we got it wrong! (joke). I must admit though I did say after the doom and gloom – “Mother Nature will be the final arbiter” and she is and was confirming Robbie Burns –“the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry” well the plans – (read bud damage) were totally awry as we witness blousy, blossoms of the future grape bunches filling the canopies.

Viognier flowers

Looking back on it though it was the coldest winter that we have experienced in fifteen years but I think that the reason we got away with it was because there was a long period of coldness leading up to the very cold events so the plants were not exposed to a rapid change in temperature. It is the rapid change from relatively warm to horribly cold that in the past we have witnessed to be the most injurious. Then there are the lambs – lambs, glorious lambs.

Lambs lounging with their mamas

As the plant world is re-born the birth of our lambs brings joy to the verdant pastures. Sadly the days of Eudora and Euphoria are gone there are so many now that we have to resort to number identification and so many lambs – 25 this spring, that it is hard to keep count. We lost two, one was stillborn and one just did not make it. However there is, as there always is at Veritas, a story of survival against all odds and that is the story of Pet Lamb!

Patricia and Pet Lamb

Just as the plants and the animals undergo rebirth Veritas is giving birth to new vineyards. Our Field Marshall Bill Tonkins with Alvino and his crew have planted almost six acres of vines – two of Viognier, two of Cabernet Franc and two of Chambourcin.

New vineyards being planted at Veritas.

We are planting with rows that are 8 feet wide with just over three feet between the plants in the rows – that amounts to 1220 plants per acre – when we first planted there were 740 plants per acre. In thinking about the yield of grapes one commonly hears that the vines were cropped at 3 tons an acre. Remember that the less fruit a plant produces the higher is the quality of the wine from that plant – hence the age old struggle between quality and quantity – the higher the quantity, as a general rule the lower is the quality.

Inside view of a grow tubeWhen we put the new plant in the ground it actually consists of two plants, one the rootstock derived from American grown vines vitis aestavalis that are resistant to all sorts of maladies and the scion – vitis vinifera from Europe that is sensitive to all sorts of maladies. The most important of these maladies is a pesky aphid called Phylloxera vastatrix which in the late nineteenth century devastated and I mean devastated the vineyards of the whole of Europe. It was thanks to the use of a resistant rootstock, developed by Charles Riley in collaboration with J. E. Planchon and promoted by Theodore Munson that involved grafting a Vitis vinifera scion onto the roots of a resistant Vitis aestivalis or other American native species that life returned to normal.

We deliberately use a thing called a “grow tube” – the grow tube insures that the plants grows straight up – toward the sun as a single trunk – without the grow tube the vine would develop many shorter trunks which is OK but makes it harder to develop the horizontal part of the vine that is the cordon.

New plantings with grow tubes

We now have almost forty acres on site and with our lease of Ivy Creek we are up to almost sixty acres of producing vines. And look who is coming to help us in that effort!

Hello Kubutas!

Alvino Zurita -A Man of All Seasons

Alvino Zurita

You know we like to honor our employees in the newsletter and this time we want to tell you about Alvino. You have heard me say with almost every newsletter – “the wine is made in the vineyard” – and so it is. Bill Tonkins our unflappable Field Marshall OBE – the Order of the British Empire – (but within the army community it stands for Other Blokes Efforts) and I know Bill will not mind me saying this for Veritas that the “bloke” is Alvino To quote the Field Marshall:

Our champion in this effort has been Alvino Zurita. He has led our great team of vineyard workers for 7 years now and the vineyard and team go from strength to strength and the quality of the grapes get better and better. It takes constant and consistent engagement, a process of incremental improvement that Alvino has championed. He is the team leader, organizer, and recruiter of our vineyard crew to whom we owe a huge debt of gratitude. We are privileged to have Alvino leading this most important effort.

The Veritas Crew

In the cellar the 2014 Cabernet Franc and Viognier have been bottled much to the relief of many of our loyal customers. This is a relatively quiet period for the cellar crew – today we spent time going through barrel samples, blending and working through the best combinations of our reds to come up the future blends for Merlot, Claret that will be bottled this year and our big wines like the Cabernet Franc Reserve, VR and Petit Verdot that will stay in the barrel until early 2016.

Easter was early this year co-incident with school spring- break. We did an Easter Sunday brunch for over 200 people along with the chickens and the lambs. My favorite Easter treat is roast lamb with mint sauce and peas – forget Easter eggs. Here’s a picture of Patricia and I and Bill and Di – notice no kids-that’s because of Spring Break!

Di, Andrew, Bill, and Patricia on Easter

Almost as spring follows winter Mother’s Day follows Easter and yes we had our Mother’s Day brunch adorned with flowers and all the best Mom’s in the world. We were lucky enough to have Elliot’s Mum.

Chloe, Elliot, Maureen, and Patricia on Mother's Day

…and this is an important cross -cultural reference here – in the UK and in Singapore your mother is your Mum not as in the US where your mother is your Mom. So Elliot’s Mum- Maureen was born in the UK and currently lives in Singapore – a strong outpost of the British Empire- she was visiting to help plan Chloe’s and Elliot’s wedding in November and enjoyed being here for Mother’s Day. Did you know that Hallmark sells more cards on Mother’s day than they sell for Christmas!

The Farmhouse Retreat

We held our second The Retreat at Veritas in April to everyone’s delight Chloe organized it – Yoga (Lynsie), breakfast (Andy), hike and vineyard tour (Patricia) and wine tasting (Andrew). Chris and Janina Parker were able to join us – they help us with our UK sales, we met Lisa Morrow a ticket carrying sea captain and a couple of rocket scientists for whom we exceeded expectations. Lisa Morrow was so impressed with our Retreat that she invited Patricia and I to do a wine dinner at her marina Stingray Point Marina.

Lisa and Patricia

Family Stuff

Patricia and I with Dennis and Christine Vrooman of Ankida Ridge went on a wine tasting tour of the Piemonte in Italy- we took along Bruce Zoecklein (Emeritus Professor of Enology) and Tony Wolf Professor of Viticulture at Virginia Tech together with Pascal Durrand Professor of Enology University of Burgundy just to make sure we didn’t miss anything- it ended up being to quote Bruce Zoecklein “being quite a wine and gastronomic marathon!”

Christine, Andrew, Patricia and Dennis

Amelia, soccer girls, Charlie, and Emily, George, and Chloe

Mark your calendars – First Starry Nights June 13th with Jimmy Smooth and the Hit Time Band. For all you good guys out there: Opportunity Ball Awareness Week is July 13-17th with Sponsor Appreciation Day on July 15th at Veritas.

As they say on Looney Tunes – That’s it folks- all the news from the Veritas family. Veritas where all the men do what a man has to do and all the women roll their eyes whilst all the kids are busy on their i Pads.

Happy 4th of July!

Andrew Hodson
Raconteur and Dilettante
Bottle- Washer Emeritus

Veritas Newsletter – Winter 2015


This was the winter that seemed to drag on forever. I have to confess I was getting SADD (Seasonal Affective Depressive Disorder) but now I am GLADD (Grinning Affective Delighted Disposition) it’s over! After the ever-present sense of threat of survival, now we can spread our wings and fly to the promises of Spring.

Winter-March-3 at Veritas

Winter Vineyard at VeritasThe fact is, Spring is literally around the corner, and that is why I have to get this winter newsletter out. I usually manage to get it out before the clocks spring forward but this year I have to admit it was so cold I went into hibernation and I am still trying to wake up.

Many people have asked me how the winter affected the vines. Well it got pretty hairy out there when we got down to minus 19 degrees Celsius, (that’s minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit), just before dawn on the 19th of February. It was so cold that the vines can actually be killed by the cold – I am talking loss of vineyard plants! We can always take comfort in the fact that if the vines do not die then we will only lose a good part of the 2015 crop.

Not all vines are equally sensitive to “winter kill,” some are more cold hardy than others. For example, hybrids like Traminette and Chambourcin are vines that have more diverse genetic backgrounds and thus survive better than the European vitis vinifera, the grapes that give us Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Naturally, our most vaunted white grape, the state of Virginia’s own white grape Viognier, is one of the most cold sensitive. So to check out the Viognier after Freeze-ageddon we took a whole bunch of samples from our Viognier and did a bud count. To do the bud count, we take a razor blade, one of those old fashioned single bladed sorts, and carefully cut across the bud. With a healthy bud, one usually finds a nice, green central bud with surrounding secondary and tertiary buds. When there has been moderate damage, the primary bud, which is the largest and subsequently the most sensitive, turns brown and can be seen with the secondary and tertiary still nice and green.

The worst situation is when we cut across the bud and the primary, secondary and tertiary buds are all bright brown. We know from experience that certain positions on a cane are more sensitive than others. Typically the buds closest to the cordon or the primary cane are the ones that are most resilient. It sort of makes sense that the further out the cane you go the more likely is it that the bud will be damaged. To make matters more complicated, the amount of damage is also related to the size of the cane, and this is sort of counter intuitive because the thicker the cane the more likely it is to be damaged. The good guys are the thin, scrawny ones. As Darwin pointed out, it is not size or strength that determines survival, it is the ability to adapt.

Bud NecrosisSo our Field Marshall Bill Tonkins took representative samples of different varieties of different vineyard blocks with canes of different sizes and we all sat down – Emily, Elliott, Bill, Patricia, and Chris Hill (our vineyard consultant since Veritas began), and cut buds in an attempt to evaluate how badly we had been hit by the freezing blast. I have to emphasize that these techniques serve more to appease our sense of helplessness than anything because when it really gets down to it Mother Nature always has the final say. Our guesstimates only served to confirm our worst fears. But remember, I am an optimist and as you all know, an optimist is a person who is not aware of all the facts. That was my excuse when I was practicing neurology because no one knows how the brain works, so I had to be an optimist!

What news?

Well winter is a time when the only thing happening in the vineyard is pruning, but Emily, along with Paul, Elliott and Jolie have been busy in the cellar bottling our 2014 wines. So far we have bottled the 2014 Sauvignon Blanc (this vintage has more complexity as the result of more clonal contribution from Toby’s field), good old faithful Red Star NV (non vintage), and the gems of 2013, Petit Verdot and Vintner’s Reserve. We will be bottling Viognier and Cabernet Franc on April 22nd, so hang onto your palates guys, the goodies are coming.

Since the Autumn Newsletter it’s hard to think that we have celebrated /survived Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and Valentine’s Day. Boy time flies when you’re having fun, or as they say at Frog’s Leap Winery, “Time’s fun when you’re having flies.”

The Masked Ball was quite an affair with lots of people having lots of fun lots of the time.

The Masked Ball
Followed six weeks later by more people having lots of fun lots of the time.

Patricia at Valentines Dinner

The Farm House

Di Tonkins, the anchor of the wine club, has weighed anchor and is now to everyone’s delight running matters at The Farmhouse and Chloe has morphed into co-Events Manager, working alongside Jill.


Chloe and Elliott

To our ultimate delight, Elliott proposed to Chloe and Chloe accepted, so we will be having a wedding in November to celebrate!

Chloe and Elliot are engaged!

Bill and Di in Singapore

Like my dear wife Patricia, Bill and Di spent most of their formative years in Singapore. So Bill and Di went back down memory lane to the point that Bill forgot if they were still married, so to make sure they decided to renew their vows from 43 years ago. Yes folks, 43 years! A huge coincidence is that Elliott’s parents live in Singapore, so they were the witnesses – small world!

Bill and Di in Singapore

The Kiddos

Here they are: the main reason most people read this newsletter is to see how these monsters are growing. This time we sort of got them off guard – this is the picture Patricia has on her phone – it has a lovely sense of their comfort with each other.

Grandchildren Hiking to the Winery
Sledding in the Vineyard

So folks, that’s all the news – I want to say “from Lake Woebegone,” but at Veritas we are not so much “Woebegone” as we are “Lovecomeon,” especially now that winter is over and Spring is around the corner. That is the news from Veritas, where all the women wear boots, and all the men pay for them.

From all of us here at Veritas, have a Wonderful Egg-Shaped Easter. Remember, “Happiness is Egg Shaped.”

Andrew Hodson

Emeritus Bottle Washer
WSET Diploma Candidate
Raconteur and Dilettante

Veritas Newsletter – Autumn 2014

Autumn at Veritas
There is something about Autumn that is reflective, moody almost plaintive – as in

But I miss you most of all my darling
When Autumn leaves start to fall.”

There is finality to Autumn; the leaves are falling and at last the earth has given up the swollen gourds and dripping cider and now the barren stubble is left to the twittering of swallows as they prepare to migrate.

But it is OK – the reassurance is that we as humans are merely a miniscule part of that inexorable life cycle of nature that is a part of the universe of life, as we know it. As you all know I love to wax prolific about this time of year when we have the satisfaction of reaping the grape harvest, the reward of the year’s work.

Season of Mist
The 2014 harvest was the best we have had since 2010. Is this the effect of climate change? I think not, it is just the usual variability that we have come to expect.

This year we had a favorable spring with good fruit set followed by a summer that was fairly unremarkable except for the fact that we really had no bad weather. We had roughly 2,500 growing degree-days within our usual range. So what is a growing degree day? Vines will only grow when the temperature is above 10 degrees Centigrade (base temp.) so we calculate growing degree days (GDD) by working out the average temperature during the day – viz. T min. plus the highest temperature during the day T max, dividing by two and subtracting the base temperature: for example if the high for the day is 23 C and the low is 12C: 23+12/2 =17.5- 10 = 7.5 GDDs. Growing degree days are different for different plants for example corn requires more GDDs to fully ripen than grapes. The number varies of course, for different types of grapes typically – as you would expect red grapes require more than white grapes. This year we had more growing degree days than last year.

There were no hurricanes and no infestations of locusts and their likes – so it was more the lack of negatives rather than the overwhelming number of positives in the growing conditions for 2014.

A number of pundits have heralded 2014 as a great harvest year for Virginia but the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. It is really too early to say, but we can be cautiously optimistic – the glass is always half- full as far as the optimist is concerned, half empty as the pessimist and for the engineer, the glass was not designed correctly.

We owe a debt of gratitude to our vineyard workers who every year work so hard in bringing in the harvest.

Hard at work during Harvest
We celebrated the end of harvest by going out for lunch with all the crew.

Harvest Crew Lunch
Red and white wines did equally well, more in quality rather than quantity as our yield was pretty much the same as last year but the fruit was riper. The Viognier is very promising and it is hard to believe that we are getting the Sauvignon ready for bottling in a couple of weeks – there is that life cycle again. 2013 VR and Petit Verdot will be bottled in early January.

Our cellar crew delivered as they always do with Paul Shaffer completing yet another harvest. He said his last was 2013! Paul volunteers himself selflessly, making sure that everything runs at just the right pace.

Brycen and Paul

Paul was aided and abetted by Elliott, Britain’s answer to Moet Chandon. We thank Brycen, our harvest intern, who is making his career somewhere in the wine industry – in which there are so many opportunities in so many parts of the world that it makes me wish I was young again – Hang on! Well perhaps not.

Emily, Chloe and Patricia
The Opportunity Ball

Yes folks, we completed the NINTH Opportunity Ball on October 24th and as I remember Tommy Stafford of Blue Ridge Life made the comment next to a picture of me saying –“Why is this guy having a Ball?” So you could ask why are we all having a Ball? The answer of course is “to Care and Share” and in so doing everyone had a Ball. Our thanks go out to everyone who gave so generously at the Ball and particularly the chairwoman of the Ball Ika Joiner and her right hand woman Diane Tonkins.

We had awards for the best costume and there were some pretty fancy birds – but American Gothic is my pick!

The Opportunity Ball

With the impending slow down our Kitchen is down – regulating for winter and Jill and Jill’s intern for the year Hattie are happy to complete the 2014 wedding calendar.

Jill and Hattie


Not much family news. Our grand girls continue to grow like vines reaching for the sun and just like vines they like to be stressed.

The Grandkids

Pet’s Corner

See Goose the black labrador grow!

Goose with Elliott and Chloe

Big Birthday!

Paul Shaffer, who by now is part of the family (you know, the guy on the Petit Verdot bottle), celebrated his 57th birthday (anyway that’s what he told us) with the cellar crew at the Farmhouse.

Paul's Birthday Dinner

The Masked Ball

Don’t forget the next event at Veritas is the Masked Ball – the tickets are going fast!

The Masked Ball at Veritas

Wines for Thanksgiving

There really is not any one wine that is a stand out to go with the turkey.  Turkey for the most part is fairly Cardbordeauxbland, there just is not that much flavor in the meat, so typically a white wine would be best to bring out the subtle flavors of the meat. You don’t want anything too aromatic, so in the Veritas line up Harlequin Reserve Chardonnay would be the pick. However because of all the ‘fixins’ – cranberries and marshmallows, an off-dry wine like White Star would do if you have the slightest of a sweet tooth. Quite a few foodies recommend a Riesling or a Gewürztraminer on the same logic of providing an off-dry wine. For those amongst us who crave a red wine, a light to medium-bodied red such as a Cabernet Franc or a Pinot Noir is the choice – of course there is no Veritas Pinot but Ankida Ridge just down the road from us would fit the bill. If you want to go outside of Virginia for your wine, Chianti or Beaujolais would also work. Try and stay away from boxed wine.

Season of Mist

Well folks, that’s all the news from the Veritas family, where all the men are manly and all the women are womanly and all the kids have iPads. Be thankful for so much of what we have – we are the lucky ones.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Andrew Hodson
Redundant Bottle Washer. Raconteur, Dilettante & Nelson County Celebrity