November 15, 2013 § Leave a Comment
November 15th, 2013
We’re very excited to be releasing two new wines for our Estate Club December 2013 shipment. Both wines have been sitting patiently in our warehouse for some time now, and as they’ve just begun to open up in expression, we’re fortunate to have appropriate weather (and holidays) as well. The below 2012 Merlot is just being release in our tasting room for the holiday season, while the 2011 Dusk is only available to Estate and Reserve Club members.
Sunset Hills Vineyard 2012 Merlot – The reds coming from the 2012 vintage are very exciting for us – full-bodied, broad, but with a nice delicate finesse that we last saw from the somewhat comparable 2009 season (and have missed ever since!). The 2012 Merlot is no exception, very open, very juicy and ripe, with a brambled-fruit and black currant density of aromatics. The bulk of this blend comes from “X Block,” which gave lift and fruit that is improbably both bright and dark, although we’re still not quite sure how that’s possible. Added in are a touch of both 4% Petit Verdot and 4% Cab Sauv, adding firmness and textural elegance, respectively. This wine is just being released in our tasting room for the upcoming Virginia winter.
Sunset Hills Vineyard 2011 Dusk - This is a new release for Sunset Hills. “Dusk” is a port-style wine made entirely from Chambourcin and grape brandy. Produced by arresting the fermentation with additions of brandy (all prior to pressing), the aging is entirely in 50% French oak barrels and 50% whiskey barrels which are then blended back together after 16 months. Although we’ve only yet poured this wine at a few private events, I can’t think of a new wine release anytime in the recent past that has had our staff quite so excited. Our staff will surely purchase the bulk of this wine if the hype continues. Also: be warned! Dusk clocks in at 17.9% alcohol and 29 g/l residual sugar, which is to say that this is not so much a ”picnic wine” as it is a “sitting fireside with existential dilemmas” wine.
October 21, 2013 § Leave a Comment
October 21st, 2013
This morning we started in on our final blocks to be picked for the 2013 harvest – the “’01″ and “’02″ Petit Verdot blocks at Shenandoah Springs. Most likely it will take us three days to pick through these, and also three days to destem them at the winery. I am excited to see this fruit – it is ripe and quite excellent for a dense, juicy style of Petit Verdot that most likely will be used for the base of a varietal bottling. It will be a good way to finish harvest, and will give us some fermentations to last into November.
As in most years, we have a number of exciting experiments bubbling away in the cellar – four different rose wines, more specified block separations, diversity of fermentation times and temperatures, larger use of uninoculated fermentations, etc. I won’t even tell you what all we’re doing with Chambourcin. It’s been an exciting vintage not only for these reasons, but because we’re seeing considerable elevation in fruit quality in vineyard blocks which we were working with in hopes of achieving better balance and more uniform ripeness. It will be some time before we can make any concrete conclusions on these wines, but the work seems to have promise.
The weather has cooperated very well for the 2013 vintage. We only saw one strong rain event – about 4 days in which we got 4 inches – but this came at the tail end of harvest and did not affect much. It was a cooler ripening period for us, punctuated by a spurt of warmth in early October, which we were able to take advantage of to heat fermentations and push our Cab Sauv blocks into fuller ripeness. All in all we have a lot to be thankful for.
October 1, 2013 § Leave a Comment
October 1st, 2013
We’re relaxing somewhere in the middle of our 2013 harvest – a limbo between having picked all our whites, and waiting on the ripening of most of our reds. As such we have an opportunity for a bit of reflection on the 2013 season as a whole. Below are a few of the topics which have come to define the season for Sunset Hills.
Late Bud Break, and The Frost – While the majority of the state was affected by what is being called “The Mother’s Day Frost,” I haven’t been able to get any actual data on the total acreage of vineyard or tonnage of fruit affected. This information won’t likely be available from the state until next year. Anecdotally, though, it seems to havet has been fairly bad, inasmuch as very few wineries or growers in Northern Virginia were not affected directly (through their own vineyards) or indirectly (through their growers). To be affected by the frost means that newly opened “buds” on the vine were exposed to freezing temperatures, which will destroy the buds and prevent all or some fruiting for the entire season. This is especially problematic, as the demand for grapes in 2013 has been very high.
Sunset Hills had frost damage at both the Estate Vineyards and Catesby Vineyards, primarily in white varietals like Viognier, Chardonnay, and Traminette. As such, our overall white production for 2013 will be below what we were hoping; however, we saw almost no frost issues with red varietals, and are on track for our biggest red wine harvest to date.
Similarly, the cold Spring delayed our budbreak until late April and early May, depending on varieties. This pushed the season back about two weeks relative to the past four years. While this did not mean anything definitive for the 2013 season, it suggested that it might be difficult for us to ripen our late-ripening varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon. Luckily, our autumnal weather has solved this issue for us, at least so far.
Spring and Summer Rains – Yes, we had rains. A lot of them. Disease pressure for downy mildew was higher this year than any of my previous seasons at Sunset Hills, and vigilant vineyard management has been more important this year than ever, especially considering the high vigor. Our June and July vineyard labor hours were off-the-charts high, as the crew attempted to keep up with the vines’ rapid growth through canopy and crop management. But I believe the hard work has paid off, as we’re now seeing exceptionally clean fruit being harvested and pressed.
Cool, Sunny August and September – The latter half of the growing season has been the real boon. August and September have been exquisite, with warm, sunny days and cool nights. We’ve seen slow, uniform ripening almost across the board in all our varietals, and there has been almost no rain in the past three weeks. (That said, next week might be a bit wet.) As these warm days and cool nights pile up, we begin to see a very good vintage forming.
It is, of course, too early to say much, since we still have about half of our fruit hanging on the vines, and since none of our fermentations have even finished yet; however, it’s certainly not too early to get excited.
September 11, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Nate’s Picks for October 2013:
2012 Petit Manseng
Blend: 100% Petit Manseng
Vineyards: Estate Vineyard #3, South River Vineyard, Amrhein Vineyard
The Wine: We were fortunate to be able to work with two great growers for additional Petit Manseng fruit in 2012 – South River, in Green County, and Amrhein in Bent Mountain. These vineyards brought length and expressive varietal characteristics to the blend, while our Estate Vineyard #3 brought ripe fruit, great sugars, and phenomenal acid. The 2012 vintage is a movement toward less obtrusive oak, as we find ourselves wanting to show the inimitable varietal characteristics of Petit Manseng. Slightly off-dry, a la the 2010 (if anybody can remember back that far), our Petit Manseng was fermented entirely in French oak, with a winter lees stirring program.
2012 Reserve Chardonnay
Blend: 100% Chardonnay
Vineyards: Estate Vineyard #3, Shenandoah Springs Vineyard
The Wine: With the 2012 Reserve Chardonnay, we were able to explore blending the barrel ferment piece of both the Estate Vineyard and Shenandoah Springs Vineyard, allowing us to utilize the length and texture of Shenandoah Springs with the ripeness and power of Estate Vineyard #1. The result is what will probably settle into being the most complex and intriguing Chardonnay from the 2012 vintage. This wine was held back until the October shipment in hopes that it will be drunk with fall and winter meals, as the wine has more weight than many of our other white wines.
September 4, 2013 § Leave a Comment
September 4th, 2013
Although it’s felt like harvest for the past two weeks – walking to work in the morning with dew on the grass and temperatures in the upper 50s always gives me visceral harvest nostalgia – we have not yet started picking. August has been a refreshing antidote to a relatively wet and vigorous summer, and the surprisingly cool evenings have allowed for some nice, slow ripening, as well as the retention of acids in our whites. While the main story in our area thus far has been issues with downy mildew due to wetness through the summer, we’ve been fortunate to avoid any significant problems, and are poised to enter this final stage of ripening in good form.
Our late bud break, coupled with the cool august, has pushed harvest to the late end of the spectrum. For example, our ripeness levels suggest that on average we’re about 10-14 days behind last year. This isn’t a bad thing, though, especially for our early and mid-season ripeners. Time will tell with grapes like Cab Sauv, which require the most growing degree days of anything we grow, and therefore might not benefit well from the delayed season. But there’s still a lot of time (and weather) – so we’ll just have to wait and see.
As it stands, we’re looking at bringing in some early blocks next week. But we’ll wait and see how things ripen through this coming weekend before making any solid decisions. That press is getting impatient!
August 12, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Cast Your Vote for Sunset Hills Vineyard
The fourth annual “Best Of Readers’ Choice Awards” of Virginia Wine Lover Magazine is now upon us. The results of the balloting will appear in the Spring/Summer 2014 issue of Virginia Wine Lover Magazine.
We’ve done phenomenally well in the past, and we’re hoping for the same this year!
These are the suggested BEST that our customers have been voting in the following categories:
Best Wine Categories:
Virginia Wine: 2010 Mosaic
Chardonnay : 2012 Chardonnay
Viognier: 2012 Viognier
Meritage: 2011 Sunset Red
White Wine: 2012 Viognier
Best Red Wine: 2010 Mosaic
Wine Bottle Artwork: Merlot (Watercolor by local artist)
Best Wineries Category:
Best Winery: Sunset Hills Vineyard
Best Winemaker: Nate Walsh
Winery – Best View/Outdoor Space: Sunset Hills Vineyard
Winery – Best Tasting Room: Sunset Hills Vineyard
Winery – Best Food Offerings: Sunset Hills Vineyard
Winery – Best Special Events: Sunset Hills Vineyard
Winery – Best for Weddings: Sunset Hills Vineyard
Winery – Best Tour: Sunset Hills Vineyard
Winery – Most Romantic: Sunset Hills Vineyard
Winery – Best Eco-friendly/Green: Sunset Hills Vineyard
Best Winery – Northern Region: Sunset Hills Vineyard
Best White Wine – Northern Region: 2012 Viognier
Best Red Wine – Northern Region: 2010 Mosaic
August 5, 2013 § Leave a Comment
August 5th, 2013
In the past few days we’ve seen the first signs of veraison in our vineyards. While veraison is technically defined as “the change in color of berries,” what it really signifies is a transition in the vine from berry growth to berry ripening. At this stage the vine will (should) cease growth of shoots and berries and focus its energy on just the clusters of berries, meaning that henceforth all focus is on ripening fruit. This is when the weather becomes even more important.
Most of the vineyard work previous to this stage could be categorized as “preparation” – setting the stage for the most optimal ripening. We want nice canopies with plenty of airflow, appropriate yield, space between clusters, and healthy vines. Winter pruning, shoot thinning, positioning, hedging, spraying, leaf removal, etc. – all of those activities are our attempt to set the stage best for ripening. After veraison, as things begin to ripen, most of the vineyard work slows down, and we let the vines do their thing, so to speak.
Does the onset of ripening give us an idea of when harvest will begin? Somewhat. But different varietals, clones, and vineyards all ripen at different speeds. And then there’s the weather, which from here on out will have a drastic impact on the pace of ripening. The more days we have like this past week – highs in the 80s, sunny, lows in the 60s – are perfect for slow, balanced ripening. But who knows what will come….