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



Stomping The Night Away

With the pressing of the Cabernet Sauvignon last week for our new Rockgarden Cellars label, more on that later, Nathan now has all of the 2012 vintage tucked safely away in dozens of French oak barrels.  While resting in these barrels, the molecules that make up wine perform their secret magic.  Just what goes on inside those barrels over the winter is a bit of a mystery to me.  How can it go into the barrel tasting so raw, for lack of a better word, and come out the following year transformed into a luxurious, complex wine of elegance?  I marvel at it all.

In this image you can see the "bladder" in our press as we released some of the water from it.  As it fills, this expandable rubber bladder presses against the perforated side walls of the press and provides a beautifully gentle pressing, perfect for our red grapes, especially our delicately flavored Pinot Noir. This gentle press helps to prevent the over-pressing of the seeds that can inject a bitterness into the wine if pressed too hard. This bladder press however, falls a bit short in the pressing of our Chardonnay or any other white grape. You see, red wines are made by fermenting the grapes first, then pressing after the juice has set on the skins for weeks.  For white wine, we press the grapes before fermenting, dumping the whole clusters into this delicate press.  We found we were losing too much juice in the unpressed clusters near the top and bottom.  This press just wasn't going to cut it... unless! We decided we had to pre-crush the Chardonnay clusters before tossing them into the press.  This would break up the individual berries enough so the press could squeeze out the juice.  But how??  Hmmm...  I've got it!!  I'll do the Lucy routine! Turn up the music!  Give me my Rolling Stones station on Pandora.  Some water.  Some wine.  Let's go to town, guys!
My red boots go to work!
And so we did... an afternoon session and an evening one.

View from the crushpad during my afternoon stomp
I donned my red rubber winery boots, and one 25lb lug at a time, we crushed nearly two tons of fruit.  Nathan and Dennis dumped each lug of grapes into a lightweight tub, two of them side by side, and I stomped (aka danced) away.  I would stomp one, then step into the next while they replaced the stomped one with a new lug of grapes.  I stomped about thirty seconds per tub. Stomp, step, empty... dancing away to some incredible rock'n'roll. We got into a rhythm... dance.. step..stomp... the Stones.. Start Me Up.. stomp, stomp.. water... Learning to Fly.. wine...step ..Hendrix....stomp.. Jumpin Jack Flash....step, stomp, dance, dance, dance. Bring it on! The music was incredible, the energy high, gulping quarts of water, sipping our delicious 2011 Chard throughout. Then... suddenly no more lugs.. all empty!! What?! No more?! No......  I want more! Outside on the crush pad, a stack of empty lugs had been tossed into the night air as we made our way through the 2012 vintage of Chardonnay grapes. I truly didn't want it to end. We should add a warning to the 2012 label... "Caution: You may be overcome with the urge to dance at first sip!" If you could taste in this wine the joy I felt as I stomped away, you will have found a treasure. Cheers to the 2012 Chardonnay! Ahhhh....

The cold room slowly emptying

Ready for more!

Empty lugs tossed with abandon into the dark night!

You can see how dry these grapes are.  We got a wonderful pressing this year,
thanks to The Stomp!

As I sat writing this blog in the pre-dawn hours, I happened to look up from my computer just as daybreak lifted.  And I am so grateful I did.  This morning's sunrise was breathtaking.  I grabbed my camera and ran barefoot onto the cold deck, the wind howling over the mountain range to our north and streaming over the valleys below.  I was once again awestruck by the beauty of nature, while at the same time, this particular morning, humbled by her wrath.  I reflect this beautiful morning in this beautiful place where I am warm and sipping hot coffee, with my electricity that allows me to write this and the internet to send it to you.  And I am surrounded by a warm home and my comforts and possessions and my loved ones.  And I think of the poor souls in lower Manhattan and New Jersey and their burned out homes and flooded towns and no subways or electricity for some time to come.  Many have lost all their material possessions, their homes, treasured family heirlooms,  clothing, everything. My heartfelt thoughts go out to all of those affected by Sandy, the unfortunate ones to feel the full impact of nature at her worst.... a force that can create such wrath, yet bless us with so much beauty.


A Bear In WHOSE Car?!

In my last post I promised to talk next about our grape stomping marathon and fruit processing.  But I have to share with you first, this story about what happened this past weekend, totally unrelated to grapes and wine.

The second weekend in October for the last ten years our fabulous staff from Beach Pet Hospital back in Virginia Beach comes to the mountain for a campout, replete with campfires, smores, starlit nights and the annual Garlic & Wine Festival at Amherst County's Rebec Vineyards.  

The Beach Pet Hospital Campout setting up.  The blue streak in front was from the lit up sneakers of a six year old running.
Friday nights of the campout weekends are usually late nights, with the last of the stragglers this year arriving around 1am!  It was a crystal clear night.  Chilly, but not too cold. Perfect sleeping weather in the mountains.

The campers say goodnight and finally everyone is tucked in their tents on the level below the house.  Everyone has arrived safely and are now asleep under the stars.  All is well.  Around 6am everyone is still asleep in the chilly, quiet calm of pre-dawn.  It is still dark but the light of daybreak is rising on the horizon.  From our sleep we hear a car horn beeping.  Short beeps, long blasts, no pattern whatsoever.  Long pauses, then again, long blasts, short blasts.  I thought at first it was Melissa trying to wake everyone else up to see daybreak rise on the horizon. The honking continues.  Finally we get out of bed to scold the naughty staff member.  Dennis goes to the front to yell down to the campers.  "It's not from down here," they yelled.  Dana is out on the balcony deck overlooking the parking area behind the house. "It''s coming from Chris's car."  In my foggy state, I think, who else is here named Chris besides me?? No one.  My car?!  I run to it, marching across the gravel in my barefeet.  All the doors are closed, the windows are all steamed up.  All I can see is black inside while the car seems to be thrashing from side to side.  Did I leave Boomer in the car I thought?  He must be desperate.  I hear loud crashing sounds inside.  Just then Dana yells down to me, "It's got to be a bear!"  I peer in the passenger's side window and try to open the door which is jammed and can't open.  Then the blackness retreats and the figure turns.  I am staring a bear in the eyes.  His long orange snout and big ears four inches from my face! "Ahh!! It's a bear!! In my car!  He's ruining my car!"  I try to open the back door.  It doesn't open.  I run to the side door of the house to make sure it is not locked so I can enter it quickly, then go back to my car that is thrashing from side to side.  I go to the side door behind the driver and it opens!  I swing it wide open with the door protecting me, then make a beeline to the house door.  Dana watches from the balcony as the bear jumps out the back door and then looks up at her.  Just then Guppie Puppy is walking up the driveway with Melissa who is coming to see what is going on.  He growls at the bear, the bear looks at him and lunges on all fours away from them, back up into the woods.  We hold Guppie back.  Still in disbelief, I walk to my car and try to open the front doors to assess the damage.  They can't even open. I climb in the opened side door and look around inside.  He had ripped off the inside panels, ripped off headrests, seat belts pulled apart, seats are covered with bear... you know what.... I don't know how long he had been in there, but the fact that he could open the doors (along with the doors of two other vehicles) is amazing.  This is a bear from the wilderness.  We have no park grounds or suburbia around us.  I don't know how the door closed behind him.  But he was stuck in there and could not get out and he was not a happy bear.  Black bears are afraid of humans.  They don't want to attack.  They just want to get away, so opening the doors was not a concern for me.  But I did make sure first that I had a quick get away because he was so agitated.   My one regret is not stopping first, before letting him out, to capture an image of the bear looking at me from inside the car!  All I wanted to do at the time was to save the car, but alas it was too late.  My car was towed away and will one day return to me, hopefully as good as new.
I am posting the least graphic image.  It was a mess!
So far, he has not returned. 


Harvest 2012

The lapse in blog posts over the last couple of months offers some insight into the "crunch" during "crush" season when all energies and time are consumed by harvest and everything that goes into it.  I find it hard to believe we have now harvested our third crop of grapes.  I so clearly remember the night before we planted our vines in 2008 when I tried then to imagine three seasons ahead to when we would harvest our first vintage.  We had no idea at that time if we would even be able to grow the finicky Pinot Noir grape up on this mountain. 
And here we are four and a half years later, still somewhat stunned by the beautiful wines this mountain has given us.  We are so very grateful for all of it. 

For this, our fifth year and third vintage, the season began with an abnormally warm spring, but actually ended up as very average in temps and rainfall.  We harvested our Pinot Noir on August 22 and our Chardonnay on August 25.  Every year presents its challenges... too much heat, not enough sun, too much rain, too little rain.  This year seemed to be balancing it all just beautifully, not too much or too little of anything.  All seemed to be going so very well.  That is, until I noticed a strange swarm of fruit flies that I had never seen in the vineyard.  Dr. Pfeiffer, of the entomology department at VA Tech posted something about a new import from Japan that hit Hawaii just a few years ago and was making its way acrosss the US.  This new pest is named the Spotted Winged Drosophila, or SWD.  I renamed it the WMD... weapons of mass destruction!  The difference between this fruit fly and the ones we are accustomed to is that this variety attacks healthy fruit and can ruin a crop in a short amount of time.
My father was visiting at the time and I put him to work to make traps out of plastic water bottles, filling them with a cider/wine mixture and using the plastic label to hang them from the line posts in the vineyard.  And my oh my, we trapped many a fruit fly.

Dr. Pfeiffer and our vineyard consultant, Lucie Morton, both came for an impromptu visit to confirm what I suspected.  It was confirmed... the SWD had made its way to Virginia and had found our vineyard.

While visiting, Dr. Pfeiffer and Lucie got to enjoy a bit of the Peaceable Kingdom. 

The guinea fowl and chickens were no match for the vast numbers of SWD we had to deal with.  Dr. Pfeiffer explained that there is ongoing research to determine how Virginia will be able to deal with this new pest, which I am sure you will be hearing more about. Preventative measures, monitoring and treating are all being discussed.   For one thing, the SWD is attracted to berries such as black, red and blueberries.  The hillside above the vineyard is covered with wild blackberry and red raspberry bushes.  So our winter task will be to remove them from the premises.  I noticed it was when the blackberries were finishing their season that the influx of SWD hit the vineyard.  We will set out monitoring traps early in the season and monitor closely, helping us to stay on top of the issue from an earlier point.  The SWD will be a serious agricultural issue in the years to come until a solution is discovered to minimize the damage to crops.

In spite of this new pest, we had a successful harvest on August 22, thus officially opening "Harvest, 2012!"

Coming next:  Processing the fruit and a stomping marathon!