Sorry about the break – in my last post we were halfway through harvest and tomorrow marks the last day – Hallelujah! You can guess with harvest and a few other thousand things, I have been either working in the cellar or I have been too knackered to write. So we are back in business where I left off – doing an in-depth description of how we grow the grapes and how we make the wine.
I am moving on from Sauvignon Blanc to our next most favorite white grape which is Viognier.
What fascinates me about wine growing and wine making is the incredible diversity not only between different wines but also in the same wine from different corners of the globe. This could not be truer than with Viognier, the white wine varietal that Virginia adopted in 2011 as its signature white wine. Many people commented that it was a brave step for Virginia to take on a single grape variety that Jancis Robinson considered as almost going into extinction. At one point in the late 1980s, there were a mere 82 acres of vines in the entire world, with resurgence in the Rhone Valley the Guigal family lead the way to popularizing Viognier in the form of Condrieu. The grape is now widely planted from the Rhone Valley it has spread to California, Australia, South Africa, South America and, thanks to Dennis Horton, to Virginia.
We have a total of 4 acres of Viognier that we planted back in in 2001. The first two acres were planted on the Wingfield- which is that field to the left as you drive into Saddleback Farm. We did a second planting of Viognier on the other side of the road more recently in 2010 of roughly two more acres and we have an acre at Ivy Creek.
Viognier is a finicky grape to grow as it just is not so robust and strong as say Traminette. The vines look anemic with sort of yellowish green leaves that are the first to show signs of nutrient deficiency or water deprivation. We spray the vines with what are called foliar (meaning “on the leaves”) nutrients that are, for many complex reasons, not available through the root system. We actually use an organic spray called “Nature’s Harvest” which smells terrible – and which is made up from kelp (aka seaweed). It provides all sorts of goodies that promote vine growth and there is no question that it perks up the Viognier vines. It is rather like putting on one of those skin patches for medication when you cannot take them by mouth. You will read in the books a lot of reasons to not to grow Viognier: it suffers from early bud abortion and bunch stem necrosis but you know if you read all the bad stuff about any grape in the world you would never get around to planting anything. That is certainly the case with Petit Verdot which has no business growing in Virginia.
We have it planted east west on the left side of the road and north south on the right side of the road – the reason – experience or that is how we like to explain it.
We grow the vines on the simplest trellis system, vertical shoot positioning, known in the trade as VSP. It is pretty much the trellis system that we have used throughout our vineyards with all grape varieties. VSP is probably the most common trellis system used world wide – and the reason for that is that VSP is best suited to mechanical harvesting.
I am sorry but this is getting pretty boring – at least I am bored, so it is time to switch topics and come back to Viognier on the next post.
I want to talk about Ralph, a dear friend of Lisa McCade and her husband Dan. Lisa and Dan designed our website. Lisa does the graphics and Dan does the techie stuff. Many times I have said to people in the tasting room – “What brought you to Veritas?” answer – “you have the best website”. Lisa, Dan and our family had known Ralph since the early days of Saddleback Farm and the founding of Veritas Winery. We could always rely on Ralph being there for us in times of need. He was the sort of guy’s guy. He loved hunting and chasing women until like all of us he had to hang up his gun and retire. Even in retirement he could be found on the Downtown Mall with that old country far away look in his eye. He was not one for idle chatter, with Ralph – what you saw is what you got. As far as achievements were concerned, he valued friendship over any degree from UVA or Virginia Tech – it did not matter to him – he never met a guy he did not like; he was a down to earth kind of guy who never forgot his country roots . He will be missed by all the people, and there were many whose lives he touched.
Ralph you will be missed.
It is hard to follow a tribute to Ralph but keep tuned in for more of the on- going saga of Veritas Viognier when we will consider the nuances of how we make the wine, what it tastes like and what to drink with it.