An exploration of what makes Albemarle County Virginia Wine unique
The Ashenfelter paper shows that winter precipitation is an important guage of vintage quality. A nice, wet winter prepares the soil to ensure the grape vines have just the right amount of water during the long, dry summers.
The chart below shows the winter of 2010/2011 accumulated precipitation totals for both Albemarle County and Bordeaux. Bordeaux (BDX in the graph) ended the winter just above normal precipitation wheras Albemarle County (ALB) looked like it was going to end up in the same territory. But a bit of early spring caused the precipitation totals to end up well above normal precipitation.
So, as we head towards the summer growing season the 2011 Vintage for Cabernet is, at the early stage, on track.
For more discussion of the 2010 Virginia growing season weather and it’s effect, see this article.
We’re going to take a culinary diversion. I make a butternut squash lasagna 6-10 times per year that is just fantastic. It turns out that butternut squash seeds from my compost pile came up in my garden this year and we decided to let grow. Now, in late August, we have a crop of beautiful butternut squash. Albemarle butternut squash. The recipe calls for a basil white sauce. I’m going to use the basil that been growing on my front porch all summer long. Albemarle basil. The ingredient I’m most excited about is fresh hand made semolina pasta instead of standard store purchased lasagna noodles. Albemarle pasta.
Put it all together an you’ve got Albemarle Lasagna.
I wish I had a cow so I could make Albemarle mozzarella cheese.
What Albemarle white wine should I drink with this dinner?
The reduced amount of water reduces yields because the vines can’t fill the grapes as much as normal. The reduced yields make it that much easier for the heat to ripen the grapes as well. The combination of the two means that many wine growers have to harvest their grapes earlier than normal.
The Pollak Vineyards facebook page indicates they started harvest on August 10, 2 week earlier than normal. (Also note that rain during harvest occured, which is not helpful to wine quality).
The Cardinal Point facebook page indicates harvest was underway by August 24th but does not indicate the date it started.
The article indicates decent grape quality despite the low yields. Next years tastings will determine that!
2010 is not 2009. 2009 Bordeaux wines were released earlier in 2010 with much fanfare because of the near perfect climate conditions during the 2009 season. As shown below, the 2010 Bordeaux growing season is shaping up to be significantly cooler than 2009. The Growing Degree Days (blue line) for 2010 is well below the average GDDs for Bordeaux through mid August.
On the positive side, the precipitation has been below normal as well with does support a higher quality vintage. Currently Bordeaux has about a 4 inch precipitation deficit.
You’ve probably been wondering how the Albemarle Wine climate has been progressing in 2010. The short summary is HOT! The graph below provides both:
1) A comparison of Albemarle County 2010 daily average temperatures (green line) and average temperatures (purple line) since May 1, and
2) A comparison of Albemarle County 2010 growing degree days (blue line) and average growing degree days (red line).
The graph indicates warmer than normal temperatures in Albemarle County during the grape growing season as indicated by the 2010 GDDs being approximately 500 GDDs higher than average. A visual inspection of the temperature comparison also indicates the purple line is generally above the green line, also indicating higher than normal temperatures.
Unlike temperatures, precipitation has been lower than normal so far during the 2010 grape growing season.
Those who live in the Albemarle with me know that it’s been quite warm. Last summer we experienced cool nights and those have not materialized this summer.
The 2010 conditions should be beneficial to the red varietals typically grown in Virgina but potentially negative to the white varietals.
Last night I ate dinner at the Staunton Grocery in Staunton VA. We had an outstanding New Zealand Sauvingon Blanc from Mohua last night. The wine has excellent grapefruit flavors without being overpowering. Think of a grapefruit juice mimosa but tastier.
I’ve seen a few news stories about the excellent 2009 Bordeax vintage. I went back through my blog to see what I had written and realized that I never did a complete 2009 Bordeaux climate review. The WSJ article referenced above says “This year was no different. No sooner had I arrived at Bordeaux’s Gare Saint-Jean station last week than my taxi driver was telling me what a great vintage this was. Had he tried the wines? No, but the weather was perfect, he confidently informed me. He has a point; the weather in 2009 was superb.”
Let’s take a look at the year in the context of the Ashenfelter et al. paper discussed in this blog.
Average Temperature over the growing season
2009 Average Temperature: 65.3 oF
Average Temperature: 65.2 oF
Below is a chart showing the progression of daily temperatures in 2009 (Blue) vs. the average daily temperatures (red). Likewise, Growing Degrees Days, which are also used in agriculture to represent the growing potential assosciated with temperature is presented for 2009 (green) and on average (purple).
As both the average temperature and GDD statistics indicate, the 2009 years temperature wise was very near normal.
I had work off on Friday and decided to head over to Sugarleaf Vineyards. I’d been reading about it for over year and hand not had the chance to try their wines. Driving up to the vineyard is an experience in itself but once there you are ensconced in a beautiful Albemarle County rolling hills location.
Sugarleaf wines are quite good across the board. Deborah, out server, explained that Sugarleaf has 5 acres of estate grown grapes including Cabernet Sauvignon, Viogner. The vineyard also sources wines Mt. Juliet Vineyards in Northwestern Albemarle county and While Hall Vineyards nearby.
The best white wine of the tasting was the 2007 Vidal Blanc. With 1.5% residual sugar, this wine is quite sweet (although not desert wine sweet) and had strong fruit flavors. I took home a bottle with me to have with grilled pizza that evening. While drinking that bottle, I noticed a spiciness that I did not taste in while on the property. I was initially a bit surprised because it has the same spiciness as in the 2008 Viognier, just not as strong.
My notes for the the 2008 Viognier say “spicy pear”, which is 80% Viognier and 20% Petit Manseng. It was a very close second to the Vidal Blanc and has an intense spiciness. It’s not overpowering or distruptive, but is definitely there and creates an interesting tasting experience.
The outstanding red wines included the 2008 Petit Verdot and the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon. The cabernet has strong cherry flavors and the extra year in the bottle (compared to the other reds which were 2008s) has benefited this wine quite well. The 2008 Petit Verdot was a very intense wine with lots of berry related flavors. During the tasting of the wine I commented that “you can chew this wine the flavors are so intense.”
Overall, I’m very impressed with Sugarleaf Vineyards and the quality of their wines. It is a small outfit as far as Albemarle County wine producers go (they produce about 1000 cases per year) which probably explains the relatively higher prices. It must be very difficult to achieve any economies of scale producing 1000 cases.
The vineyard backs up against a mountain. It would be a great place to have a weather station because I’m sure Sugarleaf must have a significantly different climate compared to the Albemarle County Airport (the location with easiest to obtain weather data). The airport is on the other side of the county and would have a potentially significantly different climate than the airport. The different climate certainly affects the grapes as they grow and the weather station would help to qualify the changes.