As We Gain Clarity on the 2013 Reds

May 29, 2014 § Leave a comment

May 28th, 2014

We are through initial tastings and have moved toward blending for many of our 2013 red wines, and as such the vintage itself has been coming into focus more and more. The 2013 vintage was often quite confusing for us, in that we saw considerably variation in fruit from different vineyard blocks, and it was not always as predictable as in pervious years. Additionally, we couldn’t make up our minds about which blocks would be standouts – sometimes we’d bring in a Merlot, for example, that seemed so promising as fruit in the vineyard, but during fermentation lacked vibrancy; sometimes vice versa; sometimes the wines surprised us as they grew out of their infancy in barrel. As the dust has settled and we look toward the early bottlings of these wines, our understanding of the vintage as a whole has certainly grown, and we can begin to make sense of the reds we’ll be bottling from 2013.

Merlots – Much like 2012, we see significant variation between vineyards and vineyard blocks. The standouts here are without a doubt Estate Vineyard #2 and Estate Vineyard #3. These wines are dark, complex, earthy, extracted, and powerful – not quite approachable yet, as far as tannins go, and as such we will allow another 6 months to a year on oak – but after some additional mellowing these two blocks will be promoted for use either in Reserve wines or in the Mosaic itself.  Both vineyards were entirely uninoculated fermantations, which seems to push the wines quickly past their primary fruits into more interesting realms.  Unfortunately for the season, the frost affected yields on much of our Merlot and our vintage bottling of this wine will likely be only half of what it was in 2012, but it is a strong year, vibrant, fruity, and dense.  We plan to bottle the 2013 Merlot prior to the 2014 harvest, in August.  The remaining blocks will remain in barrel until 2015.

Cabernet Francs – I remember saying during harvest, “I think all our Cab Franc this year will be Reserve quality.”  We adjusted pruning in our Shenandoah Springs Vineyard significantly, and it paid off.  Felix, one of our vineyard managers, said, “I’ve never tasted this fruit so ripe, or seen such dark berries.”  And then we went nuts in the cellar, extending the maceration of certain lots to a month as the tannins softened and midpalate lengthened.  Today we’re pulling the base for our 2013 Cabernet Franc blend.  It’s a brooding wine.  Dark and earthy like the bigger Merlots, but with cedar and smoke and clove.  Less fruity and more evolved than our Cabernet Francs tend to be.  And that’s not to mention what’ll actually make the Reserve – Estate Vineyard #1 and Estate Vineyard #3, which each have a well-defined savory quality, with cinnamon and nutmeg and juniper.  Lots of great options here.

Cabernet Sauvignons – Picked after an almost four-day rain in mid-October, we unfortunately lost the bigness and impact that we were hoping for, trading it for some leaner, more round and easy-drinking Cab Sauvs.  The standout here is Estate Vineyard #2, which we picked in two tries and which is still quite youthful and brightly fruity, but with complexity of texture and tannin.  All our grower Cab Sauv will likely be used in the 2013 Sunset Red, leaving us with a small quantity of a high quality varietal bottling for 2013.  Still we see that even in a solid season like 2013, the late-season rains can make this varietal very difficult in Virginia.  But the blocks that are good are really good, so it’s hard not to give it a go each new season.

Petit Verdots – This was the year of Petit Verdot for Sunset Hills.  Full crops from Shenandoah Springs, Catesby, and Estate Vineyard #3 – all quite different and destined for different bottlings.  Shenandoah Springs is the lightest of the bunch, with black pepper aromatics and surprisingly round and easy tannins for this notoriously difficult to tame varietal.  Catesby and Estate Vineyard #3 are both monsters – clove, bramble, fig, sultana, jammy fruit,  with thick, sinewy tannins.   As such, the Shenandoah Springs will likely find its way into numerous blends, lending structure and dark fruits, while Catesby and Estate Vineyard #3 will be promoted to use in Reserve wines and/or into our 2013 Petit Verdot.

A Tasting of “Nate’s Picks” For June/July 2014

May 14, 2014 § Leave a comment

May 16th, 2014

Sunset Hills Vineyard 2013 Viognier

Something is in the air today.  As I sat down to type up the notes for our 2013 Viognier, I see that just this morning the 2013 Viognier was awarded the Chairman’s Award (Unanimous Gold) at the Riverside International Wine Competition – an award no previous Sunset Hills wine was won.  So what better day than today to open a bottle and write the notes?

The 2013 Viognier follows the 2012 vintage in many ways – these have been ripe, full years for Viognier, focused on large mouthfeel, full texture, and ripe floral aromatics.  The 2013 shows acacia, honeysuckle, mango, and passion fruit, with a supple, rich body and a very vivid, lively finish.  Slightly off-dry, even at this young age the 2013 seems harmonious and well-delineated.  Sadly (yes, there’s a downside here), due to the now imfamous (amongst winemakers) Mother’s Day frost of 2013, we lost a good portion of our Viognier crop.  As such, this wine will be reserved especially for our Club members, and will likely not be poured in our tasting room for the duration of the year.

Blend: 95% Viognier, 5% Petit Manseng

Vineyards: Estate Vineyard #1, Estate Vineyard #3, Catesby Vineyard, Bethany Ridge Vineyard

 

 

Sunset Hills Vineyard 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon

At last! A new vintage of Cab Sauv!  It’s been far too long, and what’s particularly exciting is how well this wine has already opened up in bottle, which is the reason we’ve decided to include it in this shipment.  Generally we would sit on this wine until the fall, but it’s pouring far too well right now.

Aromatics of blackcurrant, stewed fruit, plum, and toast are already present, with a nice depth to the palate, and lots of black fruit flavors of black cherry and blackberry.  Not quite as bulky and lush as our 2010 Cab Sauv, our 2012 vintage focuses on black fruits, sweet spices, and penetrating aromatics, with a medium body and a long clove and nutmeg finish.  Fully ripe and very expressive at this early stage, we would expect this wine to continue gaining in complexity over the next five years.

Blend: 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot

Vineyards: Estate Vineyard #2, Shenandoah Springs Vineyard, Malick Vineyard, Breaux Vineyards

A Time For Mowing

May 8, 2014 § Leave a comment

May 8th, 2014

Leaves opening on our Vineyard #3 Merlot

Leaves opening on our Vineyard #3 Merlot

“What a strange thing!

to be alive

beneath cherry blossoms.”

-Kobayashi Issa

 

Spring has come fast and late in Virginia this year, and it’s erupting quickly.   When the forsythia and jonquils first bloom I am always reminded of a quote – “Every spring is the only spring – a perpetual astonishment,” – but this year it has really exploded quickly.  Partly this is due to the extremely cold winter combined with a cold early spring, pushing back the awakening period for most plants, so that they all came nearly at once, in one big burst.

Muscat Ottonel, reaching for the sky

Muscat Ottonel, reaching for the sky

It’s now the second week of May, and overall we’re seeing about 60%-70% budbreak.  Ask me again after this weekend and it’ll be more like 80%.  Budbreak was late this year – if there’s an “average” in Virginia, then the 2014 season seems to be about two weeks behind.  Also interesting is that the order of varietal budbreak is a bit off this year.  Whereas we normally see Chardonnay and Viognier first, coupled with Merlot and some of the young canes in Cab Franc, after which the later varieties begin to break, this year we’re seeing a pretty even break amongst all varietals, save for Petit Verdot, Cab Sauv, and Tannat, which are just starting to push.  I’ve asked our neighboring grapegrowers and most are seeing the same.  It will be interesting to see whether the timing of flowering and bloom adjusts to this pace or not.

Little moons of  dandilion

Little moons of dandelion

Viognier burst, Estate Vineyard #1

Viognier burst, Estate Vineyard #1

“It is Spring again.  The Earth is like a child that knows poems by heart.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

 

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