This year I attended the 4th annual Taste Camp, which was hosted in Virginia for the first time (Northern Virginia wine country to be specific). This year what really stood out as unique were the marked differences in grape growing and vineyard management techniques between the winemakers with whom we had the pleasure of taking vineyard walks.
Each winemaker is so passionate about his/her reasoning for using a particular trellis system, vine spacing, row spacing, etc. that one could easily be convinced that this must be THE WAY to do it in this part of Virginia. That is until a conversation with the next winemaker, who easily debunks the previous method and convinces you of a new ONE.
It seems that a lot of the winemakers in the region tend to use the Smart-Dyson (SD) type of trellis system or a variant of SD called Ballerina trellising versus Vertical Shoot Positioning (VSP). I have known about SD for years as we implemented it on several rows at my families’ vineyards about 5 years ago. It seems that over time it has become increasing popular in the Commonwealth, although I know it has been used here for quite some time.
I didn’t think about it at the time we were viewing these vineyards, but one winemaker who doesn’t use SD mentioned that he feels the reason these systems were used was to help thwart problems with vigor and that it was more of a band-aid fix, versus a real solution to the problem. Funny enough, that was the reason we decided to do it at our vineyard, because we had such vigor issues that we couldn’t seem to keep under control, so SD was our attempt at a fix.
Either way you slice it, the winemakers, vineyard managers, etc. are doing what they feel is proper for their site. I think the best thing to do is to continually evaluate your techniques, although it can be time-consuming and costly to rip up vines and replant or re-trellis. We saw a great example of this at Linden Vineyards with Jim Law. After 20 years of doing what he felt was right with some of his Chardonnay vines, a few years ago he decided to rethink things. He planted them based on what he knew then (trellis style, orientation, slope, etc.) and now with his extensive hands-on knowledge about soil type, he is moving things around to give what he feels is a better expression of the grape and the terroir. Pretty amazing – but it seems logical. I mean nobody can get anything exactly right on the first try!
It’s a risky proposition though and an expensive and time consuming one, that I’m sure is hard to swallow no matter how right you think you might be.
The dialogue about vineyard techniques discussed above is one of the great things about Taste Camp. In addition to the immersion in wine, it offers the chance to connect with the people involved, to learn how and why use particular techniques, and to TASTE the results of those techniques. I’m glad there are a variety of styles being used, because that’s what lends variety to the experience and to the wines (for better or worse).
I would like to thank everyone who gave us their time and shared their stories and passion over the weekend. More posts to follow on some of the wines and individual people who are, or WILL be, putting Virginia Wine on the map.