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Great Wines... Great Times... Under Blue Ridge Mountain Skies™
Véraison. Now happening across the vineyard. It is the start of ripening, when red grapes change from a vibrant green to blue or purple and white grapes develop a translucent hue. Sugars begin to accumulate while acids decline. This process marks one of the major milestones in a grapevine annual cycle. For us, it begets anticipation.
When the grapes near ripeness, the deer, racoons, squirrels, geese, and all manner of birds line up in the rows like it is a Golden Corral Grand Opening. Those who have visited have seen the 7 ft tall deer fence – over a mile of it – and electric fence that surround the vines. This is merely a speed bump for the really determined, but it does help to deter the majority. Our most popular grape with the wildlife is Tempranillo. If left unchecked the deer will take nearly 50% of the fruit. As you drive by in the evenings and early mornings, you will see us taking turns patrolling the vineyard. We have thought of dogs but with 30 acres to protect, it is not feasible. All part of farming…
In just 4 to 6 weeks, we will begin the frenzy of harvest. Grapes must be picked when they are ready, not at our convenience. No matter weekday or weekend. When it is time to pick, we must go. In the next post we will discuss how we determine when to pick.
Over the next several posts we will spend a few words discussing each of the grapes we grow at Jones von Drehle. First up is Merlot.
When you first enter the vineyard at the south gate, you are looking at Block G, planted entirely with Merlot; approximately 2.5 acres. This is the coolest part of the vineyard with loam clay soils that drain quickly and make the vines work a little harder to look for water. The vines are planted 6 feet apart from each other and 9 feet across on the aisles. This spacing gives each vine 54 square feet to reside in, which equals to 807 vines to the acre (43,560 / 54). The cordon (French word for arm) wire is situated 42” above the ground, providing great airflow helping to dry off morning dew or summer rains, which lessens disease pressure.
We make our estate and reserve Merlots from this special planting. Our clonal selections are Bear Flats and ENTAV INRA 343, both grafted on 3309 Rootstock. The wine produced is very typical of rich merlots with a portfolio of dark berry fruits, cherry and in some years ripe plum. We use French oak for aging, anywhere from 36 to 60 months depending on the vintage. Oak contributes nice cedar, slight winter spice and hints of vanilla. The wine presents nice, well rounded tannins and soft fruit notes on the nose and palate.
To everything there is a season. And for us, winter is soup season. From the first arctic blast until we see the green of new buds, Sunday is Soup Day. From chili to chowder to stew (okay, not technically a soup but it is made in a big pot and feeds a lot). Nothing sings family and friends like a big kettle on the stove with tempting aromas inviting everyone to share the goodness. Don’t forget the fresh from the oven homemade bread. In the Jones’ household Soup Sundays have been a ritual for decades. So, to invite everyone to our virtual home, below are links to close replicas to some of our favorites, and the wines we enjoy with them. Remember to always use the same wine you would drink when you cook with it…an old and wise rule.
First up. Classic beef stew. This recipe is from Once Upon a Chef by Jenn Segal. We made this last year for everyone to sample in the Tasting Room. Huge hit. To make this stew a little closer to Julia child’s class Bouef Bourguignon, I add pearl onions and sauteed mushrooms. Sauté your mushrooms in olive oil and butter, finish the same wine we use, JvD Merlot. You won’t regret it!
Wine: Jones von Drehle Estate Merlot
On to another favorite. Can’t miss with a creamy Seafood Chowder, the ultimate “use what you got” recipe. Fish, shrimp, scallops, clams, whatever. It’s all good. A New England cream-based chowder, this recipe from “Spend with Pennies,” is easy to scale up for a crowd and is very close to the recipe we use. We do add a bit of heat with a dash of cayenne, but this is up to you.
Wine: Jones von Drehle Barrel Fermented Chardonnay
We switch to vegetarian soups on occasion and this one is great. Potato leek soup (served cold, Vichyssoise) is a classic, simple and very comforting dish. Clean Eating Magazine gives us this very simple, easy recipe for this great soup. Google for variations, there are many.
Wine: Jones von Drehle Viognier
And last for today, Chili. Maybe the best comfort there is for a cold day, with freezing winds a’roaring outside. This recipe is as close as I can find to my regular fare. It’s from another winery, ParaDuxx, but when something looks this good, you just go with it. I do add a little ground hot sausage to my recipe to impart a little more complexity. If you want to make this a little quicker than the 3 hours plus required for this recipe, you can use course ground sirloin. Also, make sure to have plenty of grated sharp cheddar cheese ready for topping.
Wine: Jones von Drehle Malbec Reserve or Steel & Stone
A couple of general notes on soups:
I use the Better Than Bouillon products when a recipe calls for broth. It is easy to keep on hand and offers superior flavor.
One of the best investments you can make is to purchase good soup pots and Dutch ovens. Different sizes for different crowds. Folks gather around these faster than firepits…you will create a community in your kitchen just anticipating a bowl.
A new year and a new start. With the winds howling down the mountain and often temps never reaching above freezing, Eric and Francisco head to the vineyard to begin the long process of pruning the vines. Removing last year’s growth down to two buds.
These guys can prune at a lightning pace with incredible precision. In an instant the vine health is noted, diseased or surplus canes are removed, and healthy canes cut down to a two-budded spur. Pruning is essential for maintaining the structural integrity, quality, and consistency of the vineyard. The spurs are spaced along the cordons (french for arm), with about 5 or 6 on each side of the trunk. In early April, the buds will open and release this year’s canes.
We use a vertical shoot positioning (VSP) trellis system here. As the canes grow, they are continually hand-positioned between 3 sets of catch wires held aloft above the cordons. This tucking of shoots into a narrow “zone” is the heart of the VSP system.
Note the goggles. A cane pulled from the trellis has a tendency to “whip” out and can cause serious injury without protection.
Our team works in the freezing cold, holding up their arms and squeezing their shears for long periods at a time. That sort of repetitive activity will make anyone very sore after a full day. Now imagine doing that for approximately ten weeks! We are very grateful to have staff that are devoted to the health of our vineyard and the quality of our wines.
There is something amazing when you observe the vineyard without all the growth and leaves. The carefully engineered trellis system is fully exposed. The skeleton of the vineyard gleams for a short few months each year awaiting its annual burden to bring us the fruit for our wines.