As Harvest Approaches

August 13, 2010 § Leave a comment

Harvest is approaching quickly all throughout Virginia (and has actually already started in some vineyards, where they’ve already picked grapes like Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay).  Wineries are picking much earlier in 2010 than in previous years because the vines are ripening grapes much quicker than usual, due to the early bud break we had in spring, and the dry, hot weather we’ve had all throughout July and August.

Every year’s weather and growing patterns are certainly unique, and this year has been more unique than any I’ve encoutered.  I’ve never seen so much snow so constantly throughout the winter here (or even in Ohio, where I grew up, and where snow is not so rare).  We had early bud break, and then a bad frost which hit many out Loudoun’s vineyards (we were lucky at Sunset Hills – all we lost was our small vegetable patch).  Spring was very wet and very vigourous, and then summer came with the opposite – hot and dry.  We had 17 days in July over 90 degrees.  I don’t know how many in August, I stopped counting.

Grape and juice samples from Sunset Hills Vineyard #1

While there are a large matrix of factors which will determine the quality of the 2010 finished wine, it looks as though the reds throughout Virginia will be more like 2007, 1999, and 1998.  Higher-alcohol, big, fruity, lush, and without quite as much acidity as we get in more “classic” years like 2008 and 2009.  The whites will have more concentration of fruit, and less minerality – they will be “bigger” wines.

At Sunset Hills we’re expecting to begin picking our earlier ripening fruit in about two weeks, but much depends on the weather between now and then.  As we’ve already gotten such a memorable year from Mother Nature, I don’t think it’s feasible to predict what’s to come.  We’ll just react as best we can, be prepared for anything, and strive to make the best wine possible.

Hope to see some of you at the winery in the next month or so.  Harvest is a great time to be visiting your local farms and vineyards!


Cabernet Franc

August 10, 2010 § Leave a comment

Cabernet Franc (along with Sauvignon Blanc) is one of the parent grapes of the popular Cabernet Sauvignon. Records of it go as far back as the 18th Century, but Cabernet Franc is thought to have been around for much longer than that.

It’s one of the most widely planted grapes in the world and known for early bud break and ripening, which make it a perfect grape to plant in Virginia.


Because ripening early means we can pick it sooner and avoid the threat of harvest rains Virginia is known for.

Cabernet Franc is most often used as a blending piece in Bordeaux-style reds. For the past few years, however, we’ve given Cabernet Franc the chance to prove itself, and it has yet to disappoint.

And… our newly-released 2008 vintage is no exception.

This wine is bursting with nice spice, lush fruit and pepper aromatics. It’s blended with a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot for body and tannic structure, and spent nearly two years in both American and French oak barrels. The deep cocoa, dark fruit on the body and nice grape tannins make this a great wine for heavier meals, such as red meats, pastas and tomato-based sauces.

Cabernet Franc is often over-looked, but you’d never know it when you visit Sunset Hills; we’ve bottled it in all different styles: roses, vineyard designations, light-bodied, full-bodied and reserves.


Revisting an Old Inspiration

August 2, 2010 § Leave a comment

Vineyard above Vernazza, Cinqueterre, Italy

I recently returned to one of the wine regions that inspired my decision to become a winemaker: Cinqueterre, Italy.  Cinqueterre is not known as a fine-wine producing region; rather, it is known as a summertime beach vacation spot with great hiking, wonderful beaches, and a kind of “untouched” feel that most vacationers look for.  The wines, all of which are white, do not usually make it out of the region, and are almost all bought up and drunk by the tourists moving through the five towns.

When I first visited, however, I was amazed at the vineyards, which are shoved up high in the mountains, extremely steep, and near no roads or easy paths.  How could they possibly make wine here?  And who would want to?  The vineyards in Cinqueterre make Virginia’s rolling hills look like little ripples, and they make me feel lazy and lucky just looking at them.

What struck me most was that the inhabitants of Cinqueterre had been fighting to grow wine (and olives, and basil, and pine nuts, and oranges) on impossible mountainsides for hundreds of years not because they were working on famous wine soil (as in the Mosel, Germany, which may be equally steep) or because their wines fetched high prices (maybe 20Euro per bottle) but because wine (and olives, and basil, and pine nuts, and oranges) was a part of their live, and they needed it, and so they made it happen.

Railcar used to move grapes and people up and down the steep mountainside

There is no better reason to do something than that it is an unquestionable neccesity to your life, and to these Italians wine (and pesto and fruit (and maybe gelato?)) were not something additional in their lives, they were something essential.  While some people may find such emphasis placed on food to be slovenly, or egotistical, I don’t know.  You only live once, and with such beautiful things available to us through nature, growing around us and requiring small sleights of hand in the fields or in the kitchen to make such memorable creations, I don’t see why you wouldn’t want to center at least a small sliver of your life around the enjoyment of these things.


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