Many of you may be wondering about the quality of the current vintage, given the incessant rain we’ve had pretty much since the growing season started. To put it bluntly, “It’s not 2017” (which was a “10” on a scale of one to ten). I think you hear me. To put it another way, by the end of August we’d already received our average annual rainfall of 42 inches…with four months left to go.
Some of you may remember the last dismal vintage, in 2011, when it started raining on August 28th and didn’t stop for pretty much two months. But, the difference between then and now, was that the growing season in 2011 was actually pretty good until the late August rain; we’ve had very regular rain since April this year.
Grapevines flower here in May, and are self-pollinating. If there’s a lot of rain in May, it affects fruit set, since the pollen is knocked down by rain instead of being blown from one flower cluster to another by dry wind. Some wineries lost half of the potential crop of the vintage from this problem, while others lost that much or more (also in May) due to the fungal disease phomopsis, which attacks the delicate tissues of flowers, which later become grape clusters.
Then, there was Florence. Although Virginia got off lightly compared to the Carolinas, the timing was awful for the red Bordeaux varieties which desperately needed dry weather in September to ripen their tannins and sugars. Growers had to pull them off early to avoid dilution of sugars from the rain, and rot from fungal diseases. I have heard sad tales of wineries refusing red fruit from growers due to grapes being under-ripe.
One grower I know recorded 22.5 Brix on his Petit Manseng on September 4th; three weeks later, he harvested it at 21.5 Brix. That was me (but it was only four vines). As someone once said, this is all just a huge outdoor casino. In 2017, you should have won big; but Nature is the House, and in 2018 she evened out the odds from growers’ wins of last year. Some of you may have heard the joke where “It’s your turn in the barrel”; well, that’s the 2018 vintage in Virginia.
I’m not saying it’s a complete washout. It’s definitely a white wine vintage (remember that rose is classified as white), so you’ll get some fresh, lively whites. Also, early ripening reds did well (except those who lost large crop potential from rains or fungus). I got some Chambourcin from a grower that is much like what you’d expect from the Shenandoah Valley or Lehigh Valley, PA; vibrant bright crisp red and black cherry fruit with lots of acidity. But for the big reds, let’s face it, you can’t make gold out of lead this year. 🙁 One grower told me several weeks ago already, “Everyone’s already looking forward to 2019.”
But what about Tannat, you may ask, with its thick skins and ability to resist rot? Well, if the rains of May ruined its fruit set, then harvest isn’t even in the conversation…
I hasten to add that for growers in areas that avoided the worst of the rains and have good drainage, good fungal disease spray programs, and good harvest quality control, we may be surprised by some nice reds here and there. I still remember being surprised by many clean but bright, fresh (non-tannic) reds from 2011…but they had a good ripening all summer.
As a consumer, set your sights on the 2017 reds only just now coming on the market (and any from earlier vintages, especially 2014) and then quaff up the whites and roses from 2018 in the spring through next September, and open another bottle of an earlier vintage, until better reds come along from 2019.
This means spending double money at your favorite Virginia (and other eastern) wineries now, to compensate for the lack of 2018 reds, while you wait. While 2014 and 2017 are the best, taste around and get some from 2015 and 2016 to diversify your vertical Virginia (or eastern) wine portfolio. These people need your support after a heartbreaking vintage.
As a grower or vineyard/winery, it means you should plan to attend the Eastern Winery Exposition (http://www.easternwineryexposition.com in 2019, where “Fungal Disease Management in a Wet Vintage” will be one of the seminars.
Meanwhile, on a positive note, some tasting notes:
Loving Cup Vineyard & Winery in Lovingston, VA had a rough year this vintage, as they are certified organic. I’m pleased to say they made a wonderful apple wine from organically certified (USDA) apples last year. Sunnyside Apple Wine 2017 is made from organic Golden Grimes and Liberty varieties. No sulfites added. Nose: Wow! lovely fresh, spicy apple aromas. Palate: fresh, bright, some tannin on the finish. Very balanced and fresh.
Mountain View “Bliss” dry Vidal: I think this was the 2015 or 2016 vintage that I reviewed; I then lost the notes and only just found them. Mountain View Winery & Distillery is in Stroudsburg, PA near the Delaware Water Gap. Nose: fresh yellow apple and pear with a hint of nutmeg. Palate: very good varietal character, juicy, fresh apple/pear flavors, round texture, fruity, clean finish. Fun and versatile.