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John Delmare
October 30, 2018 | Around the Winery, Around the Winery | John Delmare

2018 Vintage- Another Perspective

  So what happened in 2018? Rain, rain, more rain, rain, rain, and then some more rain! For anyone who follows winemaking and grape growing you know those are dreaded words. In short it made for what many consider to be the most difficult season in Virginia’s 40 year modern wine making history.

  Here at Rappahannock Cellars we went into the 2018 vintage with a few simple goals. Make the best wine possible (always!), triple our sparkling wine production, double our Rose production (both sparkling and still), while making less Chardonnay and Red Wines because we stocked up on the fantastic 2017 mega vintage. With that in mind what was the outcome? 2018 gave us what looks to be the best sparkling wine and rose wine vintage on record for RC. It gave us a very solid white wine vintage with some new varietals in the winery which show great promise (Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, etc.), and with 12 vineyard sites to choose from we were able to be very selective in using only the best red blocks for our smaller 2018 red wine program. We had to be very intentional this year – it wasn’t a wait and see vintage.

  So what’s all the complaining I hear about? We at RC are not completely certain. We do know that you couldn’t miss a beat in the vineyard this year. If you missed hedging or leaf pulling on time, or missed the timing of most any vineyard task, or waited too long to harvest, the weather literally overwhelmed you. Case in point: we had 7 rows of Cabernet Franc where a storm pushed us out before we finished tending to them (7 rows, that’s it) – and those rows were lost! But our remaining 80 rows of Cabernet Franc were beautiful, s was the rest of the vineyard. Theo nailed it – on top of everything – when we most needed it. Any grower who had even one mis-step risked the entire crop in a year like this.

  But what else? What about growers who did everything right? We are very lucky as we source fruit from 12 different Vineyards in 4 distinctively different regions. We farm 4 vineyards in Rappahannock County, we have long time grower relationships with 4 more. We are partners in 2 vineyards in Shenandoah County, and we purchase fruit from reliable growers at 2 other vineyard sites - one in Charlottesville and our Family New World red supplier in the west. Within those vineyards we have over 45 different blocks of grapes (with 13 different blocks of Cabernet Franc alone!) This allowed us to carefully select which white grapes should be picked specifically for sparkling wine, Chardonnay, Viognier, and other white wines. From over 30 blocks of red grapes from 4 different regions we could select which to pick early for Rose, and which to hold and nurture for our Meritage and Cabernet Franc and New World red programs, and which red would make a great base wine for our new red sparkling wine due out in 2019.

  Many of our winery colleagues have a single vineyard, and as you might guess if that vineyard was not treated well by Mother Nature the outcome was less than friendly – and may have left a bitter taste in their mouth. We on the other hand are gleeful for the “outcome” of 2018 – I like the way Luca Paschina of Barboursville Vineyards put it in summing up 2018 – “we snatched Victory from the jaws of Defeat!”

  So what can you expect from our 2018 wines. Lower alcohol to begin with as the rain kept sugar development suppressed. But the relatively warm weather and early bloom allowed physiological ripening of seeds and skins and phenolics which lead to good flavors, and interestingly enough with the early harvest (we finished 3 weeks early) rather high natural acidity. Wines will be very Old World / European in character rather than the more New World or West Coast character found in 2017.

  2018 was really difficult (to put it mildly), it was expensive as we had to spend 25% more money in the vineyard for 25% less fruit, it was less profitable as the rain kept many of you away from the winery (time to come back!), and it was nerve racking due to all of the above! We spent a lot of time praying and reflecting and scratching our heads as to the right decisions in the vineyard. And in the end we, like Luca, snatched victory from the jaws of defeat!

I am proud of our wine growing team and applaud Theo for his diligence, clear headedness, and hard work – it paid off!

Cheers, John

Rappahannock Cellars

Ps. 2018 being the earliest harvest on record left Theo with plenty of energy. I caught him on the crush pad last weekend grinding and pressing apples for a “methode champenoise” style sparkling apple wine – look for that under his own label in a year or so!


Katherine LIster's Gravatar
Katherine LIster
@ Nov 5, 2018 at 5:02 AM
I applaud you as well. It has been a very wet summer. I'm sure we will enjoy. I miss the reds, but it always gives me something to look forward too. Happy Holiday season to your family.

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