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

Veritas Newsletter – Summer 2014

Summer Vineyard at Veritas

“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.”

We talk about “the summer of our lives,” thinking it is the happiest and most enjoyable stage of our lives. Remember when we were kids, the summer holidays seemed like endless days of freedom to play always in the sun, carefree; then it was gone, without a trace; only to look back on. It is almost as if we are unaware of being carefree until the carefree days are over.

“And summer’s lease has all too short a day”

Sonnet 18 William Shakespeare

Summer in the Vineyard
In the vineyard, summer is the time of veraison, a time when the grapes turn color from sour green apple to mellow yellow or damson black. From here on out sunshine is not everything, it is the only thing.

The more sunshine between now and harvest, the riper the fruit will be and the softer the wine. It is not so much about temperature as it is about sunlight. In fact, one of the reasons climates in places like New Zealand and Argentina are so favorable is that the grapes bask in cool sunlight – sunlight without stultifying heat. You see, heat associated with sunlight causes the grapes to over-metabolize, thereby using up the natural acids in the grape. The loss of acid equates to loss of flavor components. Altitude favors lower temperatures with a one-degree drop in Centigrade for every meter gained in height, so the higher the elevation, the better the intensity and the slower the rate of ripening.

Aerial View of Veritas

Regular readers of the newsletter know my old saw about why winegrowing in Virginia is such a challenge: it is the summer heat and humidity that are the greatest bugaboos. Hot, steamy conditions are the stuff that mildews thrive on so we spray and we spray and we spray.

Spraying the Vineyard

Then of course there are the birds that in the hot summer days will happily peck at the sweetening grapes to slake their thirst. And so it goes on, from birds to bears, to raccoons and turkeys, and then there are the Japanese beetles!

Vineyard Critters

The pictures above are from George’s Stealth Cam, a wily camera that is movement activated. He installed them to track deer and look what shows up! For George, Virginia is a sportsman’s paradise.

So up go the nets and up goes the cost of winegrowing.


Notice I am using the term “winegrowing” as opposed to “viticulture” or “grape growing.” Well it all goes back to that French word “terroir” that I keep harping on about (remember there is no one equivalent word in English).

Terroir is defined as a body of land whose natural criteria: soil, sub-soil, aspect and climate, form a unique assemblage of values that confer specific characteristics on the wines produced on that land.

Here’s the thing: it depends on how the grapes are grown and how the wine is made as to whether or not the wine expresses the terroir. For us, the expression of the terroir is paramount in giving our wine a sense of the uniqueness of our land. This sense of place is no better appreciated than in French Burgundian wines (not that we are trying to make Burgundian wines, but the principle is the same). It is only by years and years of experience with the land that a sense of the terroir can be gained. In Burgundy it has taken centuries of winegrowing to know how to best exploit the land to benefit the wine. We are getting there; we have at least a decade of winegrowing below our belts!

Enough of these musings, what news? We are on our last bottling for 2014. Of the 2013 wines we still have the 2013 VR and Petit Verdot in barrel to be bottled early in 2015. Emily is gearing up for the 2014 harvest that so far is looking good, except for some reason the crop is a little light in the Viognier and we are looking into it. We have had two light harvests in a row and usually Viognier is cyclical with a good year following a poor year.

Hey that’s winegrowing for you.

The Farmhouse

The Farmhouse business and ratings are booming and Chef Andy Shipman has been cooking local foods to rave reviews from near and far. He is joined by our latest addition to the Veritas culinary team who adds a definite Italian flourish to the repertoire of The Farmhouse cuisine.

Dear Mr. Hodson, My name is Cecily de la Peña, and I have just completed a one-year culinary arts certificate program at Apicius International School of Hospitality in Florence, Italy. The course focused on Italian cuisine, with particular emphasis on typical Italian products, traditions and regional preparations. Through my program, I also completed two wine courses, which provided an introduction to winemaking and tasting on both an Italian and international scale.

CecilyAfter Cecily graduated Magna cum laude from Boston College in International Studies and Political Science she completed her Certificate in Culinary Arts from Apicius International School of Hospitality in Florence, Italy. She joined us in early June. All I can say is: you should try her ricotta and lemon zest-stuffed French toast with warm berry compote, a taste is worth a thousand words.

Incidentally, recently I popped over to the Farmhouse and there, parked outside, was a vintage British MG TD. I cannot tell you how much I wanted to own one of these cars when I was at university. At one point there were three of these babies parked outside my flat – sadly, none of them mine.

Vintage British MG TD

Chloe, our Farmhouse Manager, is not only making our guests feel welcome and at home, she is also spreading her Yoga wings by teaching classes at the Farmhouse.

Yoga at The Farmhouse

Jill Shirey had a taste of her own expertise – she was married to Jay McKinley on May 31st this year. Jill Shirey is now Jill McKinley.

Jay and Jill McKinley

Jose and Alex who were recently featured in the newsletter have finally tied the knot. So Alex Cruz is now Alex Salazar and Joselyn, Rachel and Selena were the bridesmaids.

Alex and Jose Wedding

The Annals of Veritas weddings. Continuing in our series of the Veritas baby book, we are featuring Fred and Jill Olsson who were married at Veritas on the 18th of June, 2010. As you can see, yet another bonus of getting married at Veritas, such a beautiful picture of a newborn.

Jill and Fred Olsson



Bill and Di’s grand children are visiting which is only emphasizing how fast kids grow nowadays (is it the Internet or Facebook)? All the cuzzes (cousins) have been playing like cuzzes do. When I see the kids growing up so quickly it makes me think of that line by Kahil Gibran – On Children:

‘”They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself They come through you but not from you And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”


Tonkins Cousins

Hodson Cousins

I have given you yet another kaleidoscope of pictures from the Veritas clan where everyone, including the kids, is waiting for harvest to begin. Let the good grapes roll!

I hope you had a wonderful summer and you are not surprised when it is all over!


Andrew Hodson
Emeritus Winemaker
Retired Bottle Washer
Rconteur and Dilettante