I’ve been asking at most wineries I visit, “how did you fare in the rains of 2018?” I’ve been getting mixed reviews. Some say they are only making white wines, some say they gave up, and others said they worked hard but pulled in good grapes.
This article in the Post sounds it up. While some decry the reasons this year as a harbinger of doom, some are out as a real opportunity for some great wine.
“Heavy rains have ruined Virginia’s wine grapes this year,” screamed a headline on DCist.com. That story ran originally on WAMU radio, with a less alarmist headline on its website calling 2018 “the worst year ever” for winegrowers in the Mid-Atlantic. The article detailed how growers were struggling to prevent grapes from rotting because of too much rain before they could ripen sufficiently to make decent wine. “In a year like this, we just try to survive,” one winemaker said. To be honest, that sounded a bit hysterical, considering people were literally trying to survive in the Carolinas and Florida after hurricanes Florence and Michael.
Yeah, the hysteria was really coming from the people not making the wine. The way I remember it, everyone said 2011 was awful cause of rains, and it had some truly amazing wines come out, across wineries!
The general consensus I’ve been hearing is that winemakers who really manage their vineyards and watch the progress of the grapes were able to do very well despite the wet ending to the growing season and brought in strong fruit. I learned at Arterra that grapes like Petit Verdot are perfectly adapted to the climate we faced this year and can really regulate their water intake so that they don’t experience the adverse effects of saturation. Whereas some grapes the growers have to struggle with the grapes basically getting too juicy and not concentrating (especially like the malbec), those best suited for Virginia can manage it. According to Jason at Arterra, he learned a lot this year and basically his petit verdot and tannat are seemingly going to be very similar to other harvests. I’m hearing that elsewhere too. The biggest danger has been invasive mold and bacteria you don’t want on the grapes, but attention to detail rectifies that.
Here’s an interesting bit too, about the use of chemicals, etc on the grapes to mitigate climate change’s impact:
Extreme drought, constant rain, hail, frost: The unpredictability of the weather “makes it tough to do the right thing at the right moment,” says Gaia Gaja, of Italy’s Gaja wines in Piedmont and Tuscany. During a recent visit to Washington, Gaja described to me her family’s shift from emphasizing reactive measures (such as spraying fungicides after rain to prevent disease) to a more holistic focus promoting biodiversity to improve the overall health of the vineyard. She calls it “resilient viticulture.”
So it looks like harnessing the grapes’ natural adaptations to the regions they prefer to grow in makes a difference and supports healthy harvests, even in tougher years.
The article in the post is a good read, so take some time to look through it.
So don’t write off a tough year like 2018. As we consumers taste these wines, we should try to identify those winemakers who had the courage of their convictions and refused to surrender. That’s our challenge from 2018.
I’m hoping the 18’s end up being as awesome as so many of the 16’s I’ve been enjoying are! I’m looking forward to the comparisons – that is, if I have any of the 16’s left!