A personal perpsective of life in our Virginia vineyard... Christine Wells Vrooman

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6/05/2014

Raindrops and Fireflies

Simple Pleasures

I just stepped out onto our second floor deck, wet from the passing of a thunderstorm.  We are surrounded by the forest, and even though the rain has moved on, the sounds of falling raindrops from leaves flitting in the breeze add to the now distant rumble.  In the valley to the east, flashes that had just lightened my windows are now illuminating layers of clouds and distant ridges.  Above us, just to the west, a waxing crescent moon peeks from behind moving clouds, winking at nearby stars. The rain has filled the air with a sweet pungent aroma of soggy autumn leaves on the forest floor and of distant honeysuckle and scattered wild roses.  Fireflies sparkle. Crickets call out.  Magic is this night.

Watching fireflies flitting, darting, dancing brings back a memory of our first spring on this land, back in late May, 2000.  Dennis and I had arrived from Virginia Beach for the weekend and in the darkness made our way to the hammock we had strung between an old walnut tree and a mulberry tree.  We dropped ourselves sideways on the rigid cotton strings and rocked the hammock back and forth in the quiet night. Waves of warm and cool air streaming down the mountainside brushed against us, reminiscent of my childhood years standing in the waters of Lake Erie in early summer when warm and cool currents would stroke my legs.

That spring of 2000, the grasses of this mountain property had grown high.  Fireflies, we would learn, love these high grasses.  They saturated the field with glitter. We had never seen so many fireflies.  We were immersed in a twinkling wonderland.  As we lay in the hammock, we looked heavenward.  Sparkling lights rose from the earth below our feet, to the treetops above and up to the stars in the sky.  The twinkling was so beautifully profuse, we could not tell where the fireflies ended and the stars began.  I had discovered the word "Ankida" in a book years before, the ancient Sumerian word meaing, "where heaven and earth join."  I was awestruck by the beauty of these thousands of lights that connected us to the earth below and the stars above.  We knew this would become the name of our mountain, having no idea at the time we would ever grow a vineyard. 

As I now work amongst the vines between the earth and the sky, the vines and I share the same space. I remain in awe of how these tiny grape clusters emerge each year and of the cycles of life that unfold around me.  This beautiful mountain has given us so much.  From the moment I stepped foot on this land, I knew I had come home.  And what an amazing journey has unfolded since that time.

 
Cheers to Ankida and to all she has offered us.  And to falling droplets of raindrops and magical firelies twinkling outside my window.  Priceless.

Be sure to take the time to find your own little magical twinkling firefly space.  It will be worth the effort.

I leave you with these links to some magical firefly images: 
http://www.fireflyexperience.org/
http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/beautiful-flight-paths-fireflies-180949432/?no-ist

3/13/2014

What A Winter It Has Been!

So this is how it often goes...Weekly blog posts turn into monthly entries. Slowly the monthly posts become sporadic seasonal blogs.  Time has a habit of capturing our vey best intentions and swallowing them up with no chance of retrieval.  There is no way to go back in time.  We can only grab it when we can and use it while it is in our grip.  So here I am at this moment in mid March, the winter pruning well underway, the sheep longingly waiting for spring and fresh green grasses and the chickens and guineas for crawling bugs to eat.  And we humans await sunshine with warm temperatures and at least one ten day forecast that does not include snow! We evidently have not reached that point, as the upcoming forecast is calling for a St. Patty's Day brush with the white stuff.  Spring, oh spring... wherefore art though, dear spring?



These images below give you an indication of the type of weather we have endured here in the 2013/14 winter of central Virginia, although I must admit there is much beauty to be enjoyed in spite of the cold.  It has been at least thirty years since I have been able to scrape with my fingernail the crystalized frost on a window.




 Beautiful as it is, it belongs up north from whence we came!



 
The concern for such frigid vineyard temps in this region is the potential for damage to this year's buds.  It is especially dangerous to them once the ground has begun to heat up a bit and the sap begins to flow up the trunk and into the canes.  We have had a couple such instances and in fact are enduring one as I type this.  We were in the 60's the last few days, then another front blew in last evening and brought the temps down to 21° with another frigid night ahead of us.  I cut open some buds recently to see if there had been damage.  To my dismay I found some damage, but I estimate only about 25%.  But this current freeze might add to that, thus reducing our crop this vintage.  Time will tell.  We will hope for the best, as that is all we can do.

Freeze killed bud                             Healthy bud

And here is an image I just took in the vineyard of sap flowing from a pruned cane and freezing as it drips, creating an interesting bearded cane.  I have a call in to our viti consultant, Lucie Morton, to see how much damage this kind of sap oozing and freezing represents.

On the bright side, our most severe outbreak of cold, getting to -2° and staying in the teens for two days, presumably did the trick to help wipe out the increasing populations of the noxious "stink-bug," which has been mutiplying by the millions in recent years and wreaking havoc with crops in the Mid-Atlantic.  According to a Virginia Tech study, that recent frigid snap should have wiped out nearly 95% of stinkbugs living out in the wild in their normal winter habitat.  For this, I admit I am now a delighted and willing participant in enduring such frigid temps.

On the mountain this winter, the brightest light in our life has been the addition of the most delightful of puppies; a young male Maremma to keep our female, Bella, company and from whom we hope to welcome a litter of puppies later this year! The Maremma breed comes from the Abruzzi mountains of Italy, where it is said they have been guarding flocks of sheep since the time of Christ.  Because our little guy is of Italian  heritage and he has brought so much light into our dark winter, and because I so love the tenor voice of Luciano Pavarotti, we have christened our new puppy "Luciano" which means "light." And here he is....


 
If any of you get the chance to visit Ankida you will love meeting him and sensing his joy for life and his adaptability in all situations (he even loves to dance!) At four months, he already is beginning to guard the flock. He loves all the farm animals (chickens and cats included) and all the humans and is as affectionate as any dog I have known. We are thrilled and we are grateful for the tender care given him by his breeder, Kristine and folks at nearby Peavine Hollow Farms. They are the best! Lucci thanks you for giving him such a good start in life! And in this image to the right, Lucci snuggles up to the ultimate dog lover, Mary Beth Williams, who drove hours to meet our new little pup.  She was not disappointed!

And so I leave you and hopefully will return sooner than my previous pause in blog posting. There is much happening at Ankida. Our Pinot Noir is heading to London for an event for the new US Ambassador to the UK. We have been named one of the top wineries in Virginia. Our tasting room in Charlottesville, 22 Brix, is doing great... and so much more. We hope you will come visit us. Our spring "Celebrate Budbreak" will be held April 12, so try to make it then.

Till next time, I bid you adieu, grateful for all the many joys in our lives... our good health, growing grand babies and their loving parents, farm animals happy with a purpose in life and the vines and delicious wines that have made this vineyard life possible.

Cheers and here's to a forecast without snow!







11/26/2013

Burgundy... A Sense of Place


Burgundy

Upon returning last week from a trip to the vineyards of Burgundy, I find myself inspired and even more dedicated to creating wines with a sense of place.  To many wine lovers, Burgundy has an allure about it like no other wine region in the world.  Of course, great wines are made around the globe, but just what is it about Burgundy that sets it apart from the others?  Volumes have been written about this, but I offer these thoughts based simply on my observations and subsequent reflection on the people, the place and the wines created by that union.

As I wrote in some of the earliest entries in this blog, the grandest hope for our project of  planting the Burgundian grapes of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay high on a mountainside in Virginia was that the grapes grown here would create a wine unique to this place; that the wines would become a tribute to this soil that feeds the roots, to the angle of the sun's light, to the breezes the flow over Chestment Ridge to our north, to the relative altitude and slope to the valleys below, to the density of the plantings, the care for the vines in the vineyard and for the juice in the winery.  All these elements are intricately woven together into what is known as a sense of place.

In Burgundy, this sense is defined as no other.  The most important distinction to the various "designations" of quality in Burgundy is in the vineyard soil.  The soil composition can change meter by meter, and many "individual vineyards" are comprised of only a few rows within a larger planting of new and/or ancient vines. There are four levels of appelation heirarchy, or presumed and historical quality of wine.  In order of increasing quality and designation, they are the regional "Bourgogne" (typically the valley floors), the more defined "Villages" (usually a little higher on the hillsides), the more refined "1er (Premier) Cru" (even further up the hillsides) and the finest appellation being the "Grand Cru," which are typically found near the upper levels or wherever on the slope the soils are the best suited for the Pinot Noir or Chardonnay growing there.


This image is one I took of a photo hanging in the wine cellar of Domaine Lucien Jacob and shows one of their cleared vineyards awaiting replanting.  It clearly displays a strip of limestone (calcareous) soil in the upper part of the slope where typically the Premier and Grand Crus are grown, in this instance, Chardonnay.  Without getting too technical or getting into the geology of wine growing regions, suffice to say these many areas of distinction create wines that beautifully represent the place where they are grown. The ages of the vines play a huge role in the quality as well.  These vines below are decades old. Compare them to five year old Ankida vines at the top of the image. We can only imagine the quality of the fruit our vines will give us once they dig their roots down deep and mature to this grand old age.

 
But what are the intrinsic qualities that add to this sense of place?  If a vineyard was divided in half and in one half it was all tended by the hands of a person passionate about the vines and in the other half no human set foot in it, everything being done by machinery, would there be subtle (or not so subtle) differences in the quality of the wine and the enjoyment of the person drinking the wine?  I know of no studies that have researched such a theory. If all matter is energy, all vibrating at different frequencies, would the frequency of a human carefully nurturing the vines create a subtle difference to those removed from such care; an interesting question which I would love to determine through scientific studies.  Until then, I do hold a suspicion that the passion and energy field of other life forms amongst the vines do play a role in a wine's quality. And in Burgundy, generations of families have passionately tended to their vineyards, caring for them to hand down to the next generation.  Is this part of the allure, the mystique one feels while walking the vineyards of Burgundy or sipping wines crafted by generations of families?  We met so many wonderful folks who welcomed us in their vineyards and cellars and shared with us their wines and their passion for what they were doing.
It's a hard life, but a good one.  So a thank you and cheers to our many counterparts in Burgundy!

With father and son at Domaine de la Cadette!


And I want to take a moment to wish all our readers the most joy filled of Thanksgivings.  We have had so very much for to be grateful for this past year.  We hope you all were as blessed.

And hopefully you will celebrate your holiday meal with one of our delicious wines.  Today we learned that DCWineWeek.com named Ankida Ridge Pinot Noir as their top Virginia red wine pick for Thanksgiving!! Cheers to that!

Happy Thanksgiving from our family to yours!









 



9/25/2013

A Day in the Life of... Harvest!

These months of summer are an endless circle of vineyard labors, and before we can catch our breath, the season of harvest sweeps us away into the bowels of the tank room, the crush pad and the barrel room where we swirl a dance of alchemy, turning grapes into wine.  At times I feel like a whirling dervish.


At this moment I am actually catching that elusive breath, sitting just off the crush pad, bright fuscia mums on the table, sipping coffee under the cool autumn sun.  Nathan and Charlie, a fellow grower and good "vineyard friend," are pressing our second harvest of Pinot Noir that is being pumped into a stainless steel tank.  If Charlie had not volunteered to lend a hand, then I would be doing what he is doing and not writing this blog, so "Cheers to Charlie" for helping out today and the many other days he has brought his talents, energy and interesting conversation onto our crush pad! 

With all our grapes in and only a couple more varieties of incoming fruit from neighboring vineyards, all our focus and energies are here at the winery.  The juice we have just pressed will sit in the tank for a couple of days until it is completely settled out, at which time it will be pumped into barrels, some old, some new, and begin its long journey in the darkness of French oak as it undergoes a multitude of molecular changes and soaks in a beautiful, lightly toasted wood fragrance.  Next summer it will be ready to be bottled, then aged several months in those bottles and finally released as our 2013 vintage.  I feel the vines are beginning to show more maturity and my instinct tells me this very well could be our best vintage yet.  We will have to wait another year to find out how these lovely clusters of fruit will taste as wine!




The Burgundian grapes of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are one of the first grapes to be harvested here in Virginia, so our season here at Ankida ends earlier than most. For many growers, the season is far from over. The later ripening varieites such as those from Bordeaux often hang well into October. These growers' battle continues as I write this, monitoring for pests and disease, measuring for sugar and acid levels.  For us however, our time in the vineyard now consists of leisurely strolls simply for pleasure, or snipping off underripe secondary clusters with which we will make jelly. We reminisce on the months past and observe the canes as they senesce and fade into their winter slumber. Will this winter be hard on them, giving us temperatures below zero that would possibly freeze and split the trunks?  Will it be laden with snowfalls that will offer a slow nitrogen soak?  Will it offer just the right amount and length of cold to kill off some of the insects that have been increasing in numbers?  And when spring arrives, it all begins anew, as we carry with us what we have learned from this season and apply it to the next... a continual learning funnel that pours forth every year a renewed hope for "that perfect vintage."









6/13/2013

Cicadas, "Lambs-in-Law" and Some Exciting News!

Cicada Invasion!

Many of you have heard about the cyclical cicada hitting our region of the country this year.   They crawl out of a hole in the ground in late spring after a seventeen year "incubation" period. They then transform from the larval stage into about an inch long flying insect that lives as an adult for only a couple weeks.  They hatch by the millions and during this time the air is filled with what sounds like a house alarm off in the distance. They "sing" for about two weeks, then mate, and then die... no wonder they sing so loud!  They have to make the best of their short time on this earth. It was not certain how much damage these insects would do to vineyards, but it was felt the damage would be to young vineyards with young wood.  Then I began hearing details of entire blocks of vineyards wilting in one afternoon after the females layed their eggs in the canes. Our concerns grew with the increasing sounds rising up the mountainside toward the vineyard.
We could hear the cicadas at first down at the cabin, around 1300 ft.  Every day the singing grew louder and higher up the mountain. We nervously monitored the growing proximity to the vines. Then last week we saw our first cicada in the vineyard.  The sound filling the woods had reached about 1600 ft altitude, the bottom of the vineyard.  I watched them fly from the woods over the vines, light on a cane, fly to another, then they flew up high into the poplar trees around the vineyard.  Very few entered the vineyard and stayed, as far as we could see.  The few that we saw, Guppie (our youngest mutt) jumped up to the vines and snapped up the delicious treat.  We found  a female in the act of laying her eggs.  We were able to snap a couple pix with Nathan's phone, offering you a close up view of the egg-laying and the resulting damage to the cane.
Note the thin black ovipositor puncturing the cane
Note the line of puncture wounds
Interestingly, the cicadas did not emerge from the ground above the 1600 - 1700 ft altitude up here.  We are happy to say we suffered very little, if any, damage to our vines and the next time the cicadas emerge our vines will be 23 years old and should be able to withstand any egg-laying wounds. It's hard to imagine twenty three year old trunks on these young adolescent vines.
 

Exciting News!

There was a photo shoot here a couple of weeks ago.  A photographer from New York City spent the day with us.... in the vineyard, in the pasture and the winery capturing an assortment of shots of us, the animals, the vines, the views. It seems we are to be included in a feature article, photos and all, in the September issue of......  Food & Wine magazine!  We think it will be out the end of August, so keep an eye out for it.  Pretty exciting, don't you think?

Sharing the Flock!

This lambing season added sixteen more lambs to our growing flock.  We are very happy to announce that the Vroomans of Ankida Ridge Vineyards and the Hodsons of Veritas Vineyards are now "lambs-in-law"! Stop by and visit the flock next time you visit Veritas.  Casper, their horse, was not so enamoured by them at first, but has since adopted them and looks after them.  It is a beautiful sight and a wonderful spot to sip a glass of wine.


Vines Gone Wild Again!

In my last post I described all that goes into maintaining the vines throught the growing season. The first image below was taken four weeks ago. The second, taken yesterday. We no longer have a vineyard. It is now a jungle. Help! Every year we think we have things under control and then Wham!! In the third image you can see the difference after we have thinned out and tucked in the gazillion shoots-turned-canes, an extremely time-consuming, arduous task.




On the bright side, everything looks extremely clean and healthy. And for the first time since our premier 2010 vintage, we had a great fruit set in both the Chard and the Pinot Noir. Sunny days are very important when the blossoms come out and we did have a number of consecutive sunny days when everything was in bloom this year in contrast to previous years.
Poor fruit set in 2012 from rainy weather during bloom


Beautiful, complete fruit set 2013

So far so good! I'm very excited for this year. I think the vines are showing signs of maturity. They are evening out more and the fruit load is becoming more consistent across the vineyard. Will this be our very best vintage? We'll have to wait a year to find out, but I do feel good about how the vines are looking and feeling. And the season has started out with rather cool temps which Pinot Noir does love. It would be great for our vines if the summer maintains a slightly cooler average. We are, as always, at Mother Nature's mercy so we will have to accept and work around whatever she decides to throw our way for this 2013 vintage.

Come Visit!

When we planted this vineyard over five years ago, I never imagined at the time the joys of meeting new folks and nurturing friendships with our guests who would visit the winery, especially because we weren't even thinking then of building a winery!   So to add this element to our adventure up here has been so heart-warming.  It puts a smile on my face to see friendships develop amongst those that visit and to subsequently watch them greet one another as old friends when re-visiting Ankida.  We have the most wonderful group of steady guests and wine club members.  You all add so much to our experience here at Ankida and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your support of Ankida and for your friendship.
We are not open often, usually opening for tastings just one day per month, so if you want to visit, plan ahead and refer to our "Events" page for upcoming events.  If you are not already a friend of Ankida, please find the time to make the trip down (or up or over) here! It will be worth the trip, I promise:)
Here is a lovely blog post by Paul and Warren of Virginia Wine Time who finally made the trip down here from Northern Virginia.  We had a delightful afternoon with them.

So please plan a trip to join us.  We look forward to your visit!


 UPCOMING EVENTS!
 
 
OPEN FOR TASTING
with author RICHARD LEAHY
discussing his book, "Beyond Jefferson's Vines"
 
Sat, June 15 1-5pm
 
*****
 
 A Special Event!
PINOT NOIR, NEAR & AFAR
with noted Early Mountain Vineyards sommelier
 Michelle Gueydan
Taste Pinot Noirs from around the world
 
Sat, June 22    2-4pm
 
*****
 
"Seasons at Ankida - Summer"
VERAISON IN THE VINEYARD
Live music
Hayrides
And more!
Sat, July 20   Noon - 5pm
 
 
With all events, please email contact@ankidaridge.com for reservations
 
For our out-of-town guests, inquire about the special
Ankida Ridge/Indian Creek B&B packages!
 








5/11/2013

So Just What Do You Do in That Vineyard?





Ahh.. what are we doing these days at Ankida?  It's all about the vineyard in the merry months of spring and summer. With the initial winter pruning and final pruning behind us, we are currently focusing on "dis-budding" and shoot-thinning, removing all the little buds that pop up all over the vine and extra canes, that if left in place would leave us with vines that look a bit like bushes.

When this is completed, in about another week or so, depending on the temps, we will have to go through the vineyard yet again and tuck all the rapidly growing canes into the space between the wires that secure them. No sooner will we be finished with that and we will go through the vineyard again and position the growing shoots so they don't crowd each other and lean into the neighboring vine's space, as seen in this image above, creating a crowded canopy and fruit clusters that are clumped together, a perfect environment for fungal diseases to start wreaking havoc with our tender fruit.


 
Soon after that, we begin "leaf pull". This is when we remove the leaves around the cluster, only on the south east side, especially for the pinot because we want to keep the fruit from baking in the hot afternoon sun. Leaving just the right amount of dappled sunlight is key to slow, sunlit ripening.  After this, we "drop fruit", removing some of the clusters if there are too many on the vines, wanting to keep our total production to about 2 1/2 tons per acre.  The less fruit on a vine, the higher the quality and flavor of the fruit.  When the green fruit begins to turn color, known as "veraison," we have to watch the fruit closely, keeping an eye out for anything that can come in at the last minute and destroy our fruit. The sugar levels are increasing and all sorts of diseases and fungal pressures love to grow in the grape's sweetness.  And then finally... HARVEST!! You can understand why growers sleep well the night after the crop comes off the vineyard.  The vintage is now out of their hands, hopefully giving the winemaker the best fruit possible to make the best wine possible from a given site.  And now it is the winemaker who begins their sleepless nights!!



It's a good thing the growing season is not longer than it is. The pressures and nerve-wracking weather and pest situations can take their toll.  You can see in the image above, we are finally getting some growth on the vines after one of the coldest springs on record.

The perils are many.  Some area vineyards got hit with a hail storm this past week and now forecasters are predicting a threat of frost and even a freeze for next week. A hard frost at this tender stage of growth could wipe out the entire vintage. Send warm thoughts for this upcoming Tuesday morning to Virginia vineyards. We'll take all the help we can get!


Every step of the way, each action requires thought and care, from the work in the vineyard to the tender care in the winery as Nathan crafts our wines..  Each of the nearly 4000 vines, twelve canes per vine, two clusters per cane. is given the utmost care and attention, all intended to grow the absolutely best fruit possible up here on this beautiful mountain in central Virginia.   The symbiosis between us and each vine is strong and the connection reciprocated.  It is my dream that the joy I feel while working amongst these plants in "My Peaceable Kingdom" with the chickens and guineas, the kitties and dogs, the bluebirds and martins, and in the off season the sheep, will be experienced in the person who sips our wine and their senses uplifted by this luscious nectar that grew on this very special mountain.  This is truly "la dolce vita."

April 24
 
May 10

Found!  The missing coffee mug!

 
 
 

Turning blue

My, what big antennae you have!

On the march to find some bugs!



This hummer returned from Mexico to the very same window,
 looking for food before I put out the feeder.  Amazing!

Return of my hummer, fresh eggs from our hens and a stink bug!

Tending the bees
 
 
Ahhh....The Good Life 
Who goes there?! Oh, it's Guppie...

You know I love you?
I love you too
 
Guess I'll just have to find someone else to harrass
 
Or maybe just rub my back



 
****
 
SAVE THE DATE!
 
JULY 20, NOON-5PM
 
"VERAISON IN THE VINEYARD"
 
Come celebrate with us the beautiful season of summer at Ankida Ridge.  "Veraison" is when the grapes get to the final ripening process, turning from green to purple as the sugar levels rise.  It is a short-lived spectacle of color in the vineyard... a sight to behold!
 
Email contact @ankidaridge for reservations (which are limited)