My personal belief is that a great vineyard is the starting point of great wine. The concept of “Terroir” in Virginia is a mute point as we have not been doing this long enough to figure out what works well and what does best in the predominantly clay soils of Albemarle County, and at Keswick Vineyards. As such, in 2000 when the vineyards were planted, 12 varieties were planted. 11 Years later, we are taking a hard look at what we have learnt and re-evaluating our thought processes.
I have had the fortune to have made all but 2 vintages here at Keswick Vineyards so I have a little bit of insight to the vineyard and the fruit, how it grows, what our trouble spots are and how to deal with them. The biggest issue we face so far is the vigor of the vineyard. With plenty of rainfall and warmer than normal temperatures, the rate of growth has been exacerbated and staying on top of 43 acres has proved challenging.
For the last few years we have been pretty resolute in training our vines in a conventional manner, in that all fruit bearing shoots are trained vertically, tucked in between 3 parallel sets of catch or foliage wires. The problem however is that in a vigorous vineyard. this leads to a dense canopy which means intense canopy management in order to manage disease pressure as well as ensuring our sprays are effective and penetrate the fruit zone.
We have moved away from said conventional wisdom and are experimenting with slightly different systems this year, seeing if we can find the one that best suits our vineyard. It is important to note that what works for us, does not necessarily work for another.
We have decided that dividing the canopy on the West side might be the way to go, while still maintaining a vertical canopy on the East side [which is the cooler side]. dividing the canopy simply means that 50% of the shoots are trained vertically while the remainder of the shoots are allowed to flop over towards the ground. The thinking is that we can crop our vineyard at a slightly higher tonnage while still maintaining a clean and healthy canopy which will ultimately produce quality fruit. Of course we are not putting all our eggs in one basket, so we have still have a fair portion of the vineyard manages as we have in the last few years, why change a winning formula?
Initial results seem positive, we have absorbed the more than normal rainfall and have managed to maintain a clean vineyard, that shows no signs of disease. The crop is uniform and we have roughly 4-5 tons an acre which is more fruit than is normal on our farm. The biggest question yet unanswered is one of fruit quality. This all means nothing unless we get the quality fruit that allows us to continue making the wine that can help put Virginia on the wine-making map. We also need to get used to seeing a vineyard that looks rather messy and not uniform and pristine.
It is also worth noting that all this experimentation is mainly taking place on the Viognier, of which we have 16 acres planted. Viognier in our experience, produces a far denser canopy than Merlot for instance, so growing them exactly the same way is just not viable.
Time will tell if this will improve the quality of the fruit [which is the ultimate goal]. How will we know? Well the wines will be good, as the best wines are MADE IN THE VINEYARD.