Our Vineyards

Our goal as vintners and grape-growers is to produce excellent-tasting wines using the best grapes available. We aim to take advantage of our unique climate, beautiful location and the richness of our farmland in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Sounds straightforward? Yes, but growing grapes on the East Coast is not for the faint of heart.

Our brethren in California benefit from long, predictable growing seasons, including warm sunny days with low humidity and cool dry nights. In fact, in most of their winegrowing areas of California, it stops raining in March and does not start again until October or November. Not a drop! This makes winter the "green season", except for irrigated crops, like vines.

The East Coast is a different matter entirely.

Fungal diseases, summer rainfall, stifling humidity and widely varying temperatures all can wreak havoc on a vineyard. Each year can be very different: cooler, warmer, wetter, drier. There are periodic insects that cause problems such as cicadas that only show up every 17 years! In the past few years, we have faced a drought, hurricanes, a wet cool year, and a few typical years. Of course, we are faced with a much shorter growing season and we get MUCH colder weather in the wintertime than our western brethren, sometimes too cold for the classic vinifera vines, such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

To fight fungal diseases and pests (such as the same Japanese beetles that terrorize roses and other plants around us), spraying the vines cannot be avoided. We attempt to use the lowest impact chemicals possible, including a focus on chemicals acceptable to an organic regimen. While we cannot claim to be growing organically, we get as close as we can get under the conditions we face.

Our most recent challenge: stink bugs. While we don't know the total impact yet, they do not appear to be affecting the fruit, which is fortunate since they are devastating apple and peach orchards around the state. However, they do get into the clusters at harvest and one bug in the crusher can louse up a disturbingly large amount of wine. This has caused us to think of ways to keep them out. This takes time and money. Let's just say we don't like stink bugs.

Overview of Grape Varieties

There are literally tens of thousands of varieties of grapes in the world. There are more varieties of grapevines in North American than any other place in the world, including the wild Fox grapes that grow all over our farm. But alas, much as the colonists discovered hundreds of years ago, the vast majority of these vines do not produce good wines.

White grapes generally require a shorter growing season than red grapes. As a consequence of this, we have had many white wines from the east that were comparable to the best from around the world. We have found red wines to be a different story. In fact, with only a small handful of exceptions over the years, we have been able to blindly identify red wines as being from the east coast. We think this come from underripe grapes that yield characteristics that we can only describe as "plasticky".

So what does one do to make a good a red wine in the east? We think it means that you must grow grapes that, more often than not, can ripen properly in our climate. Sounds easy enough, but in reality this is not such a simple problem.

Without getting into a complex dissertation on the family tree of grape vines, there are three basic families of grapes we consider for growing wine grapes:

  • Vinifera includes the classic varieties we have all heard of: merlot, cabernet sauvignon, shiraz and pinot noir, to name a few of the reds. These varieties, when they can be ripened properly, make the best possible wines. But the key to that phrase is "when they can be ripened properly".

  • Hybrids are crosses between vinifera and American vines. Originally created to address disease problems with vinifera, the hybrids are generally better adapted to our eastern climate, including extreme cold and fungal diseases. While the best vinifera makes better wine than the best hybrids, the best hybrids make better wine than vinifera that is underripe or in poor condition.

  • Native American grapes, as can be expected, tolerate our weather conditions best. Of course, the quality of wine made from them is often not very good. But there are exceptions to this, such as the Norton variety, which has grown in popularity in the east, in particular in Virginia.

 

So we are experimenting with vinifera and hybrid varieties that can both grow well and ripen in the climate of our vineyards. With the tempering effects of the Atlantic and Chesapeake Bay, our vineyards benefit from weather that is not too cold in the winter and nice and warm, with regular breezes, in the summer. We currently have eight different varieties planted, four red and four white. These varieties were chosen for their compatibility to our site and the quality of their wine. We are constantly experimenting in the vineyard, using different, and sometimes unique, trellising techniques, planting densities, and pruning styles. And boy have we learned some lessons! We hope that each of these techniques and experiments contribute to a unique outcome that will make for very interesting wines! Visit Our Wines to learn more!