April Really is the Cruelest Month.

World Temperature Map

March Temperature Differences from 1951-1980 Baseline (NASA).


April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

– T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land (1922)

That dreaded Grim Reaper, the late spring frost, made an appearance again this year.  The map above was produced by the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA), and it tracks March temperatures around the globe.  The areas shown in orange and red are indicative of temperatures well above the norm, illustrating that the planet is essentially “running a fever” over the last 29 years.  Yet eastern North America appears blue, “shivering under a cold regime which seized control in January,” wrote Jason Samenow in The Washington Post on 16 April 2014, “The eastern United States: A lonely cold pocket on a feverish planet.”  Mr Samenow notes,

The wave after wave of bitter cold that has walloped the eastern half of the U.S. since the start of 2014 has truly been an anomaly set against the temperature pattern around the rest of the world. Incredibly, the eastern U.S. is the only region of the world that has been colder than normal each of the first three months this calendar year.

What is going on here?

On 11 April 2014 the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office issued an urgent notice advising of a threat of frost on April 16 and 17.  A company called WxRisk.com is particularly skilled at weather modeling (note that they seem not to spend much time on their website while keeping things current on their WxRisk Facebook page).  They provide detailed weather forecasting for businesses, commodity traders and investors.

AREAS IMPACTED:

  • Southwest VA
  • Shenandoah Valley
  • Northern Piedmont
  • All of Western and Central Maryland
  • All of Central and Eastern West Virginia
  • Western North Carolina Mountains

The air mass behind this front is quite cold and many areas Wednesday morning will see temperatures down into the middle 30s. Some temperature readings in Central and Eastern portions a West Virginia, Western Maryland, Southwest Virginia and the mountains of Western North Carolina will see temperatures drop into the middle and upper 20s. Wednesday night into Thursday morning will be even colder. Right now the data indicates much of the Shenandoah Valley as well as all of Central Maryland and the entire Southwest third of Virginia, Eastern half of West Virginia and the Western North Carolina mountains will drop to it least 28 degrees, if not lower.

A check (at the time) on Weather.com showed some disturbing numbers, especially for the Shenandoah Valley.  Monday had nighttime lows in the low 60s, but by Tuesday lows were projected to be 24°F in Staunton, Raphine and Fishersville, and 28°F further north in Front Royal and Winchester.  The Shenadoah Valley, incidentally, has 29 wineries, two cider producers, and one mead producer, according to virginiawine.org.  There must be other vineyards, but information on them is not readily available.  Wineries in the vicinity include Rockbridge Vineyard, Barren Ridge Vineyards, and Glen Manor Vineyards.

Factors like wind (or the lack of it) and individual area micro-climates will figure into whether or not a particular vineyard will suffer.  One thing that distinguishes the valley  are the flanking mountain ranges, the Blue Ridge Mountains on the east and the Allegheny Mountains to the west.  The growing season can be distinctly warmer and drier than other parts of the Commonwealth because of the rain shadow created by these two mountain ranges.  Winters, however, can be brutal, with heavy snowfall and winter vine kill, and that same topographic advantage turns deadly with the pooling of freezing air on the valley floor during events like this.

At first we were hopeful we’d avoid it, but the closer we got to the event the more dire the situation looked, because it is becoming clear that most of the region will be affected.  South Central Virginia was looking at lows around 32°F or 33°F both days, and Charlottesville is expecting 30°F on Tuesday, 34°F on Wednesday.  Asheville, North Carolina was faced with 26°F on Tuesday and 32°F on Wednesday, and Elkin, North Carolina in the Yadkin Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA) was looking at the same temperatures as Charlottesville.  Further north, Frederick, Maryland was expected to reach 28°F on Tuesday and 31°F on Wednesday, and Middleburg in Northern Virginia was faced with 29°F on Tuesday and 32°F on Wednesday.  All of West Virginia was no better.

Coincidentally, last Friday we had a meeting with a contractor and the structural, civil and electrical engineers we’ve retained to work on our tasting room and wine storage addition (more on that at a later date), who mentioned that a few years ago he was touring the vineyards at Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina, and asked about their extensive sprinkler system in the vineyard — and this was after being told that their vines are dry-farmed.  He was told that the sprinklers are for frost protection, and it looks like that system got a workout last week.

The results – and some soul searching.

The results?  WxRisk circulated a follow-up report that showed temperatures were in the low- to mid-20s throughout Central Virginia, with dew points in the middle and upper 20s, which when combined with the wind was in a range that did not support the development of frost conditions in many areas.  With bud break holding off because of the late start of the season, many vineyards — including ours — survived the event relatively unscathed.

What can we learn from this, in light of what we are learning about our changing climate?  Climate scientists are coming to realize that there is a dipole force at work — the resilient ridge of air pressure over the Pacific that is being blamed for California’s drought has a an effect “downwind” causing the extreme cold affecting the East Coast by diverting the jet stream south.

A summary of a recent study put it this way: “The research provides evidence connecting the amplified wind patterns, consisting of a strong high pressure in the West and a deep low pressure in the East [labeled a 'dipole'], to global warming.”  See “Bombshell: Study Ties Epic California Drought, ‘Frigid East” to Climate Change,” by Joe Romm in Climate Progress, 15 April 2014).  The study concludes that these patterns are intensifying, which is not welcome news for either coast, although it is seen as a precursor to an E; Niño year, which typically brings increased rain to California, certainly a welcome development should it come to pass.  Other scientists have noted that the melting of polar ice is the cause of the ridge over the Pacific — just Google “ridiculously resilient ridge” for a whole plethora of news reports.  

Dipole

Illustration Courtesy of Climate Progress.

Bear in mind this is computer modeling, albeit very sophisticated computer modeling, so a “grain of salt” is in order.  But if this pattern is a “new normal,” then coping means most Eastern wine growers need to put serious thought to installing frost protection.  The conventional wisdom among Virginia growers is to expect to be hit by frost and lose a crop to it once every seven years.  Looking back, after losing a crop in 2012, and nearly doing so in 2014, and looking forward to the prospect of increasing and intensifying cold weather events like this one, it seems prudent to start pricing frost protection systems now in advance of the next growing season.

We've been there before: frost damage at Annefield, 15 April 2012.

We’ve been there before — frost damage at Annefield, 15 April 2012.

 

Visiting Annefield? Here’s Where to Stay.

The House at Berry Hill, South Boston, Virginia.

Berry Hill Resort, South Boston, Virginia.

“Where can we stay?”

Southern Virginia is terra incognita to most people, so we have a visitor’s guide that includes a list of accommodations and attractions on our website.  We’ve published this list before, but it seemed time to revise and update it with new additions.  We’ll point out a few of the highlights here — all unique places that are sure to tempt (or perhaps horrify) the adventurous traveler.

This list is organized by distance.  There are a range of choices, from simple motels to the expected bed and breakfast, and one luxury resort, all within 30+/- miles.   We’ve noted dining options convenient to each, and the mileage from Annefield.  There are additional dining options noted on our website if these don’t tempt you.  This list is not comprehensive, so please see our website for additional places.

Diamond Hill (13.4 miles).  Closest to us is  Diamond Hill, which recently opened in the heart of the Charlotte Court House Historic District, offering two guest rooms.  Down the road you will find Mimmo’s Italian Restaurant.  Since they are brand new, no doubt they’ll try harder to please you than many other places.

The Henry House (13.8 miles).  Just up the road (and around the bend) from Diamond Hill is The Henry House Bed & Breakfast in Charlotte Court House.  One of the owners, Paul Masselin, is a graduate  of Les Ecole des Arts et Meitiers, the Swiss Culinary Arts Institute, and on request can prepare dinner for you.  They also have a hot tub.

Sheldon’s Motel (18.5 miles).  During the two years it took to renovate the house, we visited every two or three weeks to meet with the contractor and inspect the work.  We needed an affordable option so our usual place was Sheldon’s Motel in Keysville.  It’s a good, solid clean place; the restaurant serves an excellent breakfast, and the fried chicken is outstanding.  Dinner there is a hearty, simple affair, but if you want something fancier, you’ll have to travel a bit.  Traveling up the road to Farmville would be your best bet, where you will find one of our favorite restaurants,  Charley’s Waterfront Café, serving great food, great beer, and it has an expansive wine list. Spend some time with the bartender and you won’t want to leave.  Very close to Keysville (but not walking distance) is Badeaux’s Cajun Kitchen.  New on the scene is The Fishin’ Pig between Keysville and Farmville, which serves sophisticated and innovative Barbecue, and the homey and the very satisfying and homey Cruis-in Cafe in downtown Keysville.

The Chandler House Bed & Breakfast (25.9 miles).  The Chandler House Bed & Breakfast offers two rooms and an impressive breakfast on the outskirts of South Boston.

Cooper’s Landing Inn (26 miles).  We must not forget Cooper’s Landing Inn & Traveler’s Tavern in Clarksville , with its own restaurant and an idyllic setting in the heart of the Clarksville Historic District.  For something more pub-like, visit The Lamplighter for dinner.

Cage’s Bed & Breakfast (27.4 miles).  In Halifax we have Cage’s Bed & Breakfast, which is walking distance to Molasses Grill in the Mountain Road Historic District.  Just two rooms are available.  We see firsthand a tradition of hospitality here, because this inn is owned by the mother of Barbara Cage, the co-owner of Bistro 1888.

Charles Bass House (27.6 miles).  When the house was being restored we stayed one weekend at this particular charmer, the Charles Bass House Bed & Breakfast in South Boston.   It’s a great location on Main Street near downtown South Boston, with just two suites available  – and a hot tub, if that’s your pleasure.  South Boston’s Bistro 1888 is a 15 minute walk from here.  Dare we ask, what’s with all the hot tubs?

Falkland Farms (29.9 miles).  Another interesting place is Falkland Farms, a plantation and hunting preserve comprised of over 7,600 acres, the largest single tract of privately owned land in Virginia.  You don’t have to shoot things to stay there.  Accommodations include breakfast, but for dinner reservations your best bet is either Halifax or South Boston, where you can find a number of restaurants in addition to those noted in this post.

Berry Hill Resort (31.8 miles).  On the far side of South Boston is Berry Hill, the incomparable Greek-revival style mansion now transformed into a resort.  We’ve written about it in the past — see Our Very Own Parthenon: Berry Hill. Dining options at Berry Hill include the resort’s own restaurant, Carrington’s, which is excellent, and the more casual Darby’s Tavern, located in the mansion’s former kitchen house.  This is without a doubt your most luxurious option for a Southern Virginia wine country weekend.

Longwood Bed & Breakfast (36.7 miles).  High Street, with its turn-of-the-last century palatial houses In Farmville is home to the Longwood Bed & Breakfast.  The house dates from 1880 and has six luxuriously-appointed guest rooms, each with a private bath.  It is a 15-minute walk from Charley’s Waterfront Café,

Join Us For Our Spring Bacchanalia on Saturday, May 17, 2014.

Chef Paul Anctil, Jr.

Chef Paul Anctil, Jr.

We are thrilled to announce that we are hosting our annual Spring Bacchanalia on Saturday, May 17, 2014.  We will introduce our new releases at this sumptuous feast.

The evening begins at 6 pm on the terrace with passed canapés paired with the apértif of your choice.  We are then seated under a tent in the garden at 7 pm to enjoy a six-course dinner featuring expertly prepared, locally grown foods paired with our wines.

Our Chef is Paul Anctil, Jr.  Paul’s passion for great food and wine began at an early age while living in North Africa and Italy as the son of a Marine.  Before moving to Virginia, Paul was Executive Chef and Owner of CUVÉE, a wine and tapas bar in Ormond Beach, Florida.  Since relocating to Virginia to help with his family’s winery, he has operated Epicurean Underground, a pop-up supper club and is now Chef de Cuisine at the Drug Store Grill in Brookneal.

If you are in need of accommodations, visit this link for our recommendations.


Annefield Vineyards

presents

Spring Bacchanalia

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Drinks at 6 pm, Dinner at 7 pm

Menu

Burrata with Melon Cream, Prosciutto & Arugula
2013 Annefield Vineyards Viognier

Charcuterie and Cheeses with Sorrel, Honey & Fruit
2012 Annefield Vineyards Merlot

Mako with Herbs, Almond, Mushroom, Tomato & Butter
2012 Annefield Vineyards Cabernet Franc

Smoked Ribeye with Bernaise Sauce, Puff Pastry with Cheese & Vegetable Ragout
2012 Annefield Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon

Lavender Panna Cotta with Chocolate Ribbons & Gjetost
2013 Annefield Vineyards White
2012 Annefield Vineyards Red

125./person
50./person for Read or Jameson Wine Club Members and their guests

Space is limited and reservations are essential.  Reserve online at www.annefieldvineyards.com

Photograph of Paul Anctil, Jr. copyright © 2014 Studio Luxe Photography & Design.  All rights reserved.

Some Thoughts on the Vineyard Shortage in Virginia.

Vineyard Row

Summertime view of a vineyard at Annefield.

A recent news item had us thinking about an important issue facing the Virginia wine industry — an apparent shortage of quality wine grapes.  The most recent was an observation relayed this month from Claude Thibaut on the release of the Thibaut-Janisson Xtra Brut, as quoted by Dave McIntryre in his blog, Dave McIntyre’s WineLine (we’ve always enjoyed Dave’s wine column in The Washington Post.  As an observer of the local wine scene, Dave is without peer.)  He wrote:

Claude told me he will be able to release about 200 cases next year, but he has a dilemma — the same one faced by many Virginia winemakers.  There simply aren’t enough grapes.  “There are too many wineries and not enough vineyards,” he said.

In November 2013, a report released by Morgan Stanley reported that international wine consumption was rising and wine production falling, creating a global wine shortage.  A journalist writing an article in The Washington Post (Gaitlin Gibson, “Virginia winemakers question ‘global wine shortage’ but acknowledge challenges,” 13 November 2013) interviewed a handful of winemakers in Loudoun County who put a local spin on the issue:

“We are already known in Virginia for wines that are a little bit higher in price,” he said [Doug Fabbioli, owner of Fabbioli Cellars].  “We’re craftsmen, and we have smaller operations, and we have brand-new infrastructure that we’re still trying to pay down.  We don’t want prices to go higher than they already are.”

Still, he said, “my prices aren’t going to go down, I guarantee that.”

Mackey [Steve Mackey, president of the Loudoun Wineries Association and owner of Notaviva Vineyards] said winemakers will simply have to adapt — and plant more vines.

“Wineries are growing faster than vineyards are being planted, and that can’t continue,” he said.

IN 2012, another article, this time appearing in Leesburg Today Online (“Expanding Wineries Fuel Rural Economy, Grape Shortage,” 16 August 2012):

“We need another thousand or 2,000 acres of vineyards,” Jim Corcoran, proprietor of Corcoran Vineyards and chairman of the Virginia Wine Council.  “It’s a big concern.  If we just look at the growth of the wineries themselves, it’s been tremendous.  We haven’t seen that same growth in the planting of vineyards.”

The March 2014 issue of Virginia Farm Bureau News featured this cover story: “Wine industry creating opportunity for new vineyards.”  This story didn’t get into any specifics — just that the farmer could grow grapes just about anywhere, but said nothing about the specialized equipment, the shortage of skilled labor or the costs of production.

You get the point.  Time and again, we read and hear the refrain: “There is a shortage of good quality grapes!”  If there is such a need, why aren’t more farmers taking wineries up on this “opportunity”?  The answer is pretty simple, and can be summarized in three little words: “It isn’t cheap.”  Let’s look at the numbers, which we have handy from just planting a new three-acre vineyard so we can increase our own production.

Preparing the land — lime, fertilizer and other soil amendments most likely will need to be added.  Then depending on what was done with the land before, the soil will need to be tilled.  In the case of our farm, the land was cultivated in tobacco since the 1770s, then dairy cattle after the second World War, and most recently beef cattle.

For simplicity’s sake, figures are rounded.  And the cost of land is not considered.

Vines: The vines for this three-acre parcel were ordered last year from a nursery in California at a cost of $8,650.  We have reservations about the current vogue in high density planting; we allow the vines to express themselves with six foot spacing in ten foot rows, which results in 726 vines per acre.  High density planting would call for 1,600 vines per acre, which would have cost about $18,000.

Preparing the field: Plowing and disking the field: $1,800; lime and fertilizer: $950; surveyor to lay out the vineyard: $1,500.  Trellising (posts and high-tensile wire): $9,200.  Deer Fencing is a necessary evil, if you want to keep what you plant (this can be deferred one year; the vines will be protected by their grow tubes).  Our first three-acre vineyard cost $25,000 to fence.  We’ll assume the same cost for the new vineyard, though it is likely going to be higher.

Still unknown: the cost of labor for installing the posts and wire, which will take about three days — a minor expense, in the scheme of things.

The total for three acres: $50,100, or $16,700 per acre.  So that additional 1,000 to 2,000 acres of vineyards the industry needs could cost $16.7 million to $33.4 million.

These costs will be capitalized and depreciated over time.  Apart from these capital costs, let’s consider cash flow from operations.  Out of pocket expenses include labor, fungicides, herbicides, bird netting, consultant fees, vineyard maintenance, fuel and supplies.  This came to $38,622 in 2013 for 5.5 acres, or $7,022 per acre.

What Price Could We Have Realized for Our Crop?

We don’t sell our grapes, so for pricing we will look to industry publications.  Each year the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office publishes the results of an industry survey that lists Virginia Commercial Grape Production, Acreage, and Average Price by Variety.   They report a range (Low and High), but for our purposes we will use the weighted average price in 2013, as follows:

Weighted Average Price x Our Yield = Estimated Gross Income

  • Cabernet Franc $1,845 x 4.859 tons = $8,965
  • Cabernet Sauvignon $1,959 x 1.5335 tons = $3,004
  • Pinot Gris: $1,777 [Note: we did not have a crop in 2013] = 0
  • Vermentino (“Other White Vinifera”): $1,756 x .6335 tons = $1,112
  • Vidal Blanc: $1,278 x 1.27 tons = $1,623
  • Viognier $2,174 x 2.448 tons = $5,322

Total Gross Income: $20,026

If we were selling our fruit at this hypothetical weighted average price, we would have suffered a loss of $18,596.

In 2013 the Pinot Gris, Vermentino and Vidal Blanc were not mature; this was the first crop for each (none for the Pinot Gris).  What if by some miracle we were able to produce an optimal four tons per acre for each variety?  If we include the nonexistent Pinot Gris in that calculation, we are looking at an estimated gross income of $40,600, which produces a very modest profit of $1,978.

Now suppose we had, say, 100 acres of Viognier, harvested 4 tons per acre = $869,000.  Assuming production costs are constant at $7,022 per acre x 100 acres = $702,200, resulting in a gross profit of $166,800.  In a perfect world on that scale, we see a reasonable return.  Of course planting that 100 acres is going to cost you about $1.7 million.

But the truth of the matter is the world is not perfect — Viognier has a tendency towards a condition called primary bud necrosis (also known as bud abortion), so reaching that ideal crop load is a pipe dream.  Other issues come into play, such as animal depredation, hail, or any other calamity that farmers face during the growing season.

How do these prices compare to other regions?  Napa County grape prices are easily found (“Value of 2013 grape harvest comes close to record,” by L. Pierce Carson, Napa Valley Register, 10 February 2014), so let’s look at those.  In 2013, the average price per ton for several of the same varieties were:

  • Cabernet Franc $5,281 per ton
  • Cabernet Sauvignon $5,499 per ton
  • Pinot Gris $1,686 per ton
  • Viognier $2,873 per ton

Interestingly, the average price of Cabernet Sauvignon in Sonoma County was $2,501 per ton.  Statewide, the average price paid for California wine grapes was down 4 percent from 2012.

Why Is Virginia Wine So Expensive?

Competitive pricing means being compared in the marketplace with wine from other regions.  We often hear “Virginia wine is too expensive,” when it should be looked at another way: why is wine from some other regions so cheap?

The answer comes from basic economics, and just like fine wine, starts in the vineyard.  In some places, land is much more expensive, but some regions benefit from the volume they produce and can afford to mechanize some steps, like hedging and picking, whereas other regions (like Virginia) the same work is accomplished by hand.  Small plots combined with low yields means higher expense.  And our humid climate requires the use of very expensive fungicides, whereas a desert climate like California doesn’t need them nearly as much, if at all.

One way to reduce costs is to mechanize, but it makes sense only if the terrain is right and the vineyard is large enough to justify the expense, when one machine (and its operator) can take the place of several workers.  An article in Vineyard & Winery Management Magazine  “Mechanized Canopy Management,”by Ted Rieger (Mar-Apr 2011, pp. 38-43) made the case, and the the savings are compelling.  This article reported that for the $56,000 purchase price of a Korvan 1210 tool carrier, a sprawl pruner and a cordon brush, a 240-acre vineyard would save $102,000/year in labor costs, a cost savings of 42 percent over hand labor.  Our hilly terrain might be an impediment to effectively using this equipment in many sites in Virginia, however.

In the winery, if the winemaker chooses to use new French oak barrels, you are looking at an investment of about $1,000/barrel, and these are replaced frequently; compare that to a winery that ferments in stainless steel tanks, which of course last a very long time.   Other factors are the cost of packaging (bottles, corks, capsules) that affect the wine’s perception in the marketplace, which in turn affects marketability.  Super-premium “prestige” brands (like Château d’Yquem, Krug, Dom Pérignon and Pétrus) have a worldwide marketing machine to feed.  Closer to home there’s staffing, overhead, utilities, marketing, insurance, and all the other expenses that go into running a business.

Our take-away?  The reason farmers are not planting vineyards to take advantage of the “opportunity” to sell to wineries is a losing proposition.  High up-front costs are a terrible disincentive, and the business imperative of the wineries to offer their product at a competitive price forces them to demand prices for fruit that are lower than the cost of production.  It just doesn’t make sense to grow grapes at a loss, but wineries are able to do it because that cost is off-set by the value added to the product by making wine.

Sadly, the price of Virginia wine may always be higher than many regions because it simply is more expensive to grow and make wine in Virginia.  From a marketing perspective, that means positioning the wine as a premium product, and most wineries do take that approach (“we’re a small, family owned business … we do everything by hand,” etc., etc.).  Those who attempt to compete on price, at this point in time in the development of the Virginia wine industry, may be making a mistake.  If the industry wants more vineyards, we need to pay growers more — it’s as simple as that.

In Like a Lion, Out Like a Lamb Feast at Sans Soucy Vineyards.

Sans Soucy Vineyards

Spring is a bit late this year.  With pruning and tying nearly done, we had a visit with our vineyard consultant and saw that the buds are not yet even “pushing”, which means that we are weeks away from bud break (contrast that with California’s early season; most parts of the state are reporting that bud break took place up to three weeks ago).  We’ve finished turning and tilling the soil in the new planting, and next week our surveyor will lay out the vineyard, then the posts go in.  If the weather cooperates, we could have it ready for planting in two weeks.  But we aren’t holding our breath.

Weather is very much on our minds, especially this time of year.  We are seeing follow-up news stories from regions that were hit especially hard with cold weather this winter, how bud damage may have been catastrophic in the New York Finger Lakes, Ontario and the Mid-West, and the continuing unfolding slow-motion disaster that is the California drought, now that the public has come to realize that winter is over and the rains never came.  On that subject: a recent item in The San Francisco Chronicle suggests that the drought may force a reckoning with the fact that much of the San Joachin Valley in California should be retired from cultivation because of intractable environmental issues such as naturally occurring poisons like boron contaminate groundwater as a result of generations of irrigation (“California drought: Central Valley farmland on its last legs,” by Carolyn Lochhead (The San Francisco Chronicle, 24 March 2014).  If major parts of California are no longer suitable for farming, it’s high time to bring farming on a much larger scale back to the Eastern United States.

Meanwhile, the rain that likely would have gone to California but for that notorious “ridiculously resilient ridge” of air pressure has dumped so much water in the Northwest and caused that terrible mud slide in Washington State this past week.  There’s lots to be depressed about.

But on a lighter note, here in Southern Virginia, we’re in pretty good shape.  While it got cold here this winter with the polar vortex activity, it never reached the sub-zero temperatures other parts of the country endured,  Lack of precipitation is definitely not an issue, at least not this year.  And with our work done, for now, there’s time for the occasional socializing — so we made our way to Sans Soucy Vineyards in Campbell County for their annual Lamb Feast.  The weather was a bit blustery, but warm enough to be comfortable in shirtsleeves outdoors.

We don’t often get to do things like this, given that we are usually working ourselves, so we joined a number of friends for an afternoon of gluttony.  To tide oneself over while the lamb finishes roasting (and its an entire lamb on a spit – a trifle disturbing to see if you aren’t prepared for it), there was an assortment of cheeses, olives and olive spreads and fabulous baguettes to accompany.  Along with the lamb was roast pork, couscous and a huge array of Tunisian inspired dishes.  Another stomach could have come in handy.  Wine was available for purchase, of course, and we especially enjoyed the 2009 Sans Soucy Petit Verdot.

We’re still wary of what the weather may have in store this spring, since there is always the possibility of a late spring frost, so here’s hoping the weather Gods continue to look favorably upon us.

Sans Soucy Vineyards, 1571 Mount Calvary Road Brookneal, Virginia 24528 (434) 376.9463

Guests

Pup

It’s All About the Dirt: A New Vineyard at Annefield.

New Field

Michael Shaps, our winemaker, has a saying to encapsulate what we are talking about when we describe wine: “It’s all about the dirt.”  The wine being an expression of the place where it is grown.  Is there a simpler way to state it?

Several years ago we prepared the plot of ground pictured above for a new vineyard.  The ground was already clear, having been used as pasture for a couple of generations, but we added lime and other amendments and turned the ground over in anticipation of future planting.  The future is upon us, so we are finally getting ready to plant in that spot.

Carolina Slate Belt

Carolina Slate Belt

For those of you who have been to Annefield, this is the field to the west of the driveway adjacent to Sunny Side Road.  It’s generally flat, but slopes to the north.  The soil is the same as the first vineyard being classified as Georgeville silt loam.  According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “The Georgeville series consists of very deep, well drained, moderately permeable soils that formed in material mostly weathered from fine-grained metavolcanic rocks of the Carolina Slate Belt.”  The soil series is named for the town of Georgeville in Cabarrus County, North Carolina, where the series was identified and named in 1910.  The Carolina Slate Belt occupies an arc running along the uplands of the Piedmont of the Blue Ridge Mountains from Georgia up to Virginia, where on some maps it extends up to Farmville.

Metavolcanic rocks are those first formed by volcanoes, then recrystalized after being subjected to high pressure and temperatures brought by rocks forming on top and is commonly found in hills and mountains.  We are talking geologic time — these rocks formed from volcanic activity hundreds of millions of years ago.  This particular soil is rich in minerals and quartz, and tends to be acidic, necessitating the addition of lime to neutralize the pH. It’s described as a “silt clay loam.”  The compact structure of silt clay loam allows it to retain moisture, but this same characteristic makes it bake and harden when dry, but this can be countered with the addition of organic matter and lime.

What are we planting?  We are putting in three acres, one acre each of Viognier, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon.  All are grafted to 3309 Couderc rootstock, which was selected because it prefers deep, well drained soils and is less vigorous than many other rootstocks.  We’ve done well with Viognier and Cabernet Sauvignon (and both grow well for us), so we’re doubling our acreage of each with this planting, and Petit Verdot has proven to be so popular in Virginia it’s difficult to find a source, so we need to grow our own.

The soil was plowed on Friday and Saturday, and when the snow stops we can disk it and drag it to smooth the surface.  Then our surveyor lays out the vineyard and plants flags where the trellis posts go, followed by a fence installer who pounds in the posts.  We mark where the vines go with landscape take, then one fine sunny afternoon we plant the vines. We haven’t given a thought to deer fencing, but it’s a must, but can be deferred until the vines begin bearing fruit.

At least pruning is nearly done, just in time for bud break in early April.

I’ve a Feeling We Aren’t in Kansas Anymore: The Chesapeake Wine Festival.

Witch Duck Creek (c.1820) by Joshua Shaw.  In the Collection of the Reynolda House Museum of American Art

Witch Duck Creek (c.1820) by Joshua Shaw. In the Collection of the Reynolda House Museum of American Art

We made our way to Chesapeake, Virginia last weekend for the Chesapeake Wine Festival at the Chesapeake Conference Center in, well, Chesapeake (forgive all the C’s — can’t help it).  We made our way down Friday afternoon, checked into our hotel, then headed to Norfolk for a lovely dinner with good friends at Chartruese Bistro in downtown Norfolk, a relatively new restaurant just off Granby near City Hall, on City Hall Road. They don’t have a proper website yet, but check out their Facebook page for information. Our friends brought a 2001 Barboursville Vineyards Octagon that was acquired from the Charlie Trotter auction — a beautiful wine, with great depth and nuance.2001 Barboursville Vineyards Octagon

The next morning we arrived to set up around 9 am, to find we were the first winery to arrive, so we quickly set up and with time to kill, poked around Chesapeake and neighboring Virginia Beach a bit, then found a place for lunch.  That morning we passed a sign for Witchduck Road, which triggered memories of what that name commemorates.

It’s fascinating that the memory of an ancient event reverberates in a place name, making the history a part of the place.  We recounted this story a year ago when we had the pleasure of sampling Witchduck Oysters from the Lynnhaven River at a restaurant called Rappahannock in Richmond.  Witchduck Road refers to the place of a trial of the hapless Grace Sherwood (1660-1740), who was accused of witchcraft several times and was tried for it in 1706.  During a trial in 1698, when Grace and her husband James Sherwood sued neighbors John and Jane Gisburne and Anthony and Elizabeth Barnes for defamation and slander, the Sherwoods alleged that the Gisburnes had claimed Grace had “bewitched their piggs to death and bewitched their Cotton.” During the trial Elizabeth Barnes testified that “the said Grace came to her one night and rid [rode] her and went out of the key hole or crack of the door like a black Catt.” The Sherwoods lost that prior libel case.

During yet another trial during 1706, the county justices ordered her “to be tried in the water by ducking.” This test involved binding Sherwood’s hands and feet and throwing her into a body of water, which in this case was the Lynnhaven River. It was believed she would sink if she were innocent, because the water, being a pure element, had accepted her, and as a consequence the innocent would drown, but their good name cleared. If she were guilty, she would float. Sherwood floated, and so was checked for physical marks “for all teats Spotts & marks about her body not usuall on others.” These women found two black marks on Sherwood, and so was convicted as a witch and ordered to jail to await another trial.

What happened next is not known, because no record of a second trial exist. Sherwood later appeared before the county court in 1708 to pay a debt, and in 1714, she petitioned the secretary of the colony for reinstatement of her land, so most scholars assume that by this time she had been released from prison. Her request for reinstatement was granted, and she spent the remainder of her days on her 144-acre farm. Sherwood’s will was proved in 1740.  Sherwood was officially pardoned by Governor Tim Kaine in 2006, and the following year a statue was erected in her honor in Virginia Beach, and July 10 is now commemorated as Grace Sherwood Day in Virginia Beach.

What does this have to do with the festival?  Nothing, really; getting back into the festival grind has a reverse “I’ve a feeling we aren’t in Kansas anymore” vibe to it, because working a festival is our Kansas, the time off the fantasy.  After our winter hiatus, it’s difficult to plunge back in.  But this was a good one to do so; the organizers found us six fabulous volunteers to man the front lines while we took care of cashiering and back-bar.  It was an easy venue to get in and out of (we were the first ones out, too, but we’ve got packing up and getting out down to a science), and the crowds, though constant, were manageable.  Overall, if not particularly profitable, a good experience. Remember – first and foremost, this is marketing.

Festival Attendees

A Pair of Ladies