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



Burgundy... A Sense of Place


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!



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."


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!

with author RICHARD LEAHY
discussing his book, "Beyond Jefferson's Vines"
Sat, June 15 1-5pm
 A Special Event!
with noted Early Mountain Vineyards sommelier
 Michelle Gueydan
Taste Pinot Noirs from around the world
Sat, June 22    2-4pm
"Seasons at Ankida - Summer"
Live music
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!


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

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)



At Long Last.... Spring!

Dogwood in Bloom 4/12/2013
The long winter of 2013 is now history (we hope!)  While we do not yet have budbreak in the vineyard this twelfth day of April, we are at last seeing some signs of spring in the dogwoods and redbuds that fill this beautiful mountainside at Ankida.  Budbreak in the vineyard is a full month later at least than last year, which was abnormally warm in contrast to this year's weather. The woodland surrounding the winery is finally bursting open its buds and blossoms, thanks to a very warm stretch of temperatures this past week and also to the 1.5 inches of rain we got last night.  The image below shows the contrast between the seasons of 2012 and 2013. I am happy to say that our view is now looking closer to the top image of last year than the bottom one taken just a couple of weeks ago.

Mar 27, 2012

Mar 27, 2013
In the vineyard, the vines are all pruned and waiting to begin the 2013 vintage. In the winery, we are preparing for a May bottling of the Chardonnay.  In the tasting room, we are preparing for our first annual grand spring event, "Celebrate Budbreak!" this Sunday.  We are busy arranging the main floor and the cellar/crush pad to be able to accomodate the sold out event of over 100 people that have signed up to come!  Yikes!  It will be a crowd for sure, but a great one with many wine club members, old friends and many new folks we are looking forward to meeting.   The live music, the hayrides up to the vineyard, the wine and most importantly the wonderful friends of Ankida are going to make it one very special afternoon!

We were excited to read that we were included in an article in this week's Washington Post, "10 Mid-Atlantic Wineries Worth Exploring," by Dave McIntyre!  Dave is a champion of local wine and as one of the "wee wineries" of Virginia, we are forever grateful for his tireless efforts to promote the unique and those wineries around the country that express their region.  Cheers to Mr. McIntyre and the Drink Local Wine movement!
We are looking forward to seeing many of you this Sunday. Our next "Seasons at Ankida" event will be "Veraison in the Vineyard" in July.  Check our events page regularly for updates!
Watch for upcoming pix of BUDBREAK!!... coming soon to a vineyard near you!
The last of the winter pruning


As Fog Glides Over the Vineyard... A Winter Contemplation

On this chilled winter day, contemplative clouds of grey fill the woods and swoop up and over the vineyard as if in a dreamy dance, swirling, floating, drifting. I find myself reflecting on where we have come since planting the much maligned grape of Pinot Noir in Virginia. We did go out on a limb, following the family theme of life being more of a journey than a destination. We embarked on this wild adventure having no idea of its potential folly or its success. It seems the vines have spoken. 

These vines have been my constant companions throughout. I look down at them every morning upon arising. I watch them as I drive by. As the sun sets behind the mountain to our west, I follow the moving line of sunlight that slowly slides east in the evenings and watch the vines fade into the darkness of night. I work amongst them, tending to their stages of dormancy or growth. Confession time... I occasionally talk to them and often hum. Sometimes I simply stroll between the rows, even when they need no tending in the depths of winter. I think my favorite time of all to "just be" with our vines is on a clear night when the Milky Way stretches across the open skies and the Big Dipper and the Pleiades and Orion are clearly positioned above and I imagine stardust sprinkling down onto this little place on earth.

These vines and the fruit they create, the earth and granite beneath my feet formed eons ago, all offer me the gift of connection... a link to something much greater than myself. I find this to be for me, a spiritual inspiration, a source on unending joy; yes, even in the heat of the summer or when we struggle to battle fungi and other pests,  joy is still my fuel, albeit a bit diminished at those times. It is all a part of something so grand.  
The morning before our first harvest in August of 2010, as the sun rose from behind the mountain crest, I went down to the vineyard and I walked through every row, my hands outstretched and said a wistful goodbye to the fruit that would create our very first vintage.  The grapes that were plucked the next morning, leaving our succulent vines bare, went through their transformation over the days, weeks and months that followed. 

We continue our fruit's gentle care from vineyard into the winery as Nathan carefully tends to their transformation from grapes into wine. The fragrance that fills the winery during fermentation is reminiscent of some glorious memory for me and I always feel a hint of sadness when the fermentation phase is complete.  It is a magical time, these transformative days. When we leave in the evening and turn off the lights, I often feel I am tucking children in at bedtime.  I like to leave Beethoven or Bach  playing quietly overnight. 

For now, our 2013 grapes are embryonic, buried inside the nodes of our cold, chilled canes, all fast asleep. Birth will come soon enough. Even now I imagine these tiny cells can sense the vibration of sound coming from a humming voice that patiently awaits their emergence in spring. Until then, dear grapes, rest well. You have a big year ahead of you. We will be with you for the whole of the journey. You will burst forth, flower, set fruit, enlarge, ripen, be plucked from your mother vine, tended to with care by many hands. You will ferment, be bottled and age into something beautiful, honest to yourself; be sipped, shared, enjoyed with a special meal amongst family and friends and eventually be gone, left only to be remembered.

Birth of a cluster