When all the rain in September and October clouds your mood, remember what it did to wine lovers. There was a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth by winegrowers and wine connoisseurs in the social media, who splashed on one day of the Flood and the next day, as the harvest did not take place under the typical autumn sun, but under a cloud of fate and darkness.
"Heavy rains have ruined Virginia's vines this year," a headline called on DCist.com. This story was originally published on WAMU radio. A less alarming headline on its website calls 2018 "the worst year ever" for winemakers in the mid-Atlantic. The article described in detail how growers had tried to prevent the grapes from rotting due to too much rain before they could ripen enough to produce decent wine. "In a year like this, we're just trying to survive," said one winemaker. To be honest, that sounded a bit hysterical, considering that after the hurricanes, Florence and Michael literally wanted to survive in Carolinas and Florida.
While some winemakers fight for survival in such years, others refuse to surrender. Instead, they fight back. In the midst of desperate desperation, an e-mail from Barboursville Vineyards north of Charlottesville broke through like a rainbow. "We declare an octagon vintage," wrote Barboursville's winemaker Luca Paschina.
Octagon is the flagship blend of Barboursville based on Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Paschina first made it in the mid-1990s from a selection of his best grapes to produce an iconic Virginia wine. He did Octagon every year, except for 2000, 2003 and 2011, all exceptionally rainy years. Paschina said he can build an Octagon 2018 between mid-May and July despite two days of rain, "75 days of continuous rain": a warm and relatively sunny August and the hard work of winery manager Fernando Franco and his crew. They fought aggressively to control the power of the vines, which were fed by the rain, trimming the canopy ruthlessly to force the energy of the vines into the grapes. Then they discarded grapes that showed signs of rot or mildew.
We'll have to wait a few years to decide where the Octagon 2018 will be on a vintage chart. It's probably not as rich or ripe as 2009, 2010 or 2014. But Pasha's decision to explain the vintage shows that improvements in viticulture are helping his team cope with even the "most challenging vintage of the century". "
A similar weary sense of optimism came to me from other circles, including Matthew Brown, manager of the King Family Vineyards wine club in Crozet, Virginia (winemaker Matthieu Finot must have been employed in the basement.) Citing Brown's grim coverage of the year Find out that wines from difficult years often exceed the original expectations.
"Our Meritage from 2011 is one of our favorite wines, which we have practically selected in a hurricane," he said.
The memory of 2011 has also hunted winemakers this season in Finger Lakes in New York. As in that year, a warm, sunny summer, interrupted by some harsh weather, promised a favorable harvest until the rainstorms were turned on in September. "We had many sleepless nights in this harvest," says August Deimel, winemaker at Keuka Springs Winery in Penn Yan. "It does not mean that no great wines are produced, but it takes much more effort and courage to make difficult decisions."
This is not just a story of the East Coast. Improvements in winemaking and oenology help winemakers cope with the vagaries of the vintage in Bordeaux and across Europe. This is becoming increasingly important as climate change poses new challenges. Bordeaux struggled this year with higher alcohol levels than usual. Grower in Australia and along the west coast of the US and Canada's British Columbia now have to include forest fires in their calculations. Wherever vines are cultivated, the seasons on average are shorter and warmer, the harvest takes place earlier.
Extreme drought, constant rain, hail, frost: The unpredictability of the weather "makes it difficult to do the right thing at the right moment," says Gaia Gaja of the Italian Gaja wines in Piedmont and Tuscany. During a recent visit to Washington, Gaja told me that the family has changed from reactive measures (such as spraying fungicides to rain to prevent disease) to a holistic focus on promoting biodiversity to improve the overall health of the vineyard. She calls it "resistant viticulture".
"The challenge is to develop a resilient vineyard that can adapt to a variety of unpredictable challenges," she said, "rather than responding to emerging challenges."
So do not write down a tough year like 2018. If we try these wines for consumers, we should try to identify the winemakers who had the courage of their beliefs and refused to surrender. That's our challenge from 2018.