Fans of Maryland and Virginia wines have reason to cheer this year’s harvest. The 2014 vintage promises wines of good quality that will showcase how vintners have learned to express the terroir of the Mid-Atlantic region.
This year’s growing season started with a late spring, making growers nervous about a late harvest amid fall rains. But mild temperatures and cool evenings throughout the summer helped grapes ripen evenly while maintaining acidity and moderating sugar levels. It rained enough to keep the vines growing, but not enough to increase the risk of disease. That will translate into elegant wines with ripe flavors and moderate alcohol levels, about 14 percent or less.
“In 25 years in Virginia, I have never seen grapes ripen as evenly as they did this year,” says Luca Paschina, winemaker at Barboursville Vineyards, north of Charlottesville. The even ripening makes the vintner’s work a bit easier. Typically, a grower will “green harvest,” or discard, grape bunches that turn color slower than others, because those might add unripe flavors to the wine. Without that pressure, vintners had larger yields at high quality.
“This was a great year,” says Jake Busching, winemaker at Grace Estate Winery in Crozet, Va. He said his chardonnay, petit manseng, petit verdot and cabernet franc were especially strong.
The year was not without its challenges, of course. The harsh winter took its toll on more-fragile grape varieties, severely reducing this year’s crop of viognier and tannat, the latter a red grape that is becoming increasingly popular in Virginia. And the cool, dry summer ripened many grape varieties at the same pace, taxing vintners’ abilities to juggle tank space in the winery and compressing several weeks’ work into a shorter time span. Merlot, the main red grape around Charlottesville, was slow to ripen, though quality seems high.
I recently tasted newly fermented 2014 wines at several wineries in Virginia, including Wineworks, Veritas, King Family, Grace Estate, Early Mountain and RdV, and at Black Ankle Vineyards in Maryland. These were raw, young, unfinished. But the whites were effusively fruity and aromatic, while the reds were ripe and lush, with none of the green characteristics that frequently plague wines on the East Coast.
In a region where vintage variation has a strong effect on quality, 2014 might be a Goldilocks year. It was neither too hot — like 2010, with its opulent, powerful wines — nor too rainy — like 2011, when several weeks of constant rain, hurricanes and tropical storms during harvest diluted the wines.
“Classic” describes this year, says Jim Law, owner and winegrower at Linden Vineyards.
“For those wanting to get an idea of what Virginia wine tastes like, 2014 will be one of the best expressions of who we are,” he says. The cool summer will yield wines with good acidity but not powerhouse fruit, “a compelling style for the dinner table, but perhaps not for wine-writer points.”
Maryland wine lovers have other reasons to celebrate 2014: not because of weather, but because of new vineyards producing wine for the first time.
At Black Ankle Vineyards, near Mount Airy, owners Ed Boyce and Sarah O’Herron harvested their first crop from new vineyards they planted three years ago to keep up with consumer demand. Next spring, when the whites are released, fans of their albariño and grüner veltliner should be able to line up to secure a few bottles, instead of having to scramble in a rugby-style scrum. We’ll have to wait a few years for the reds from these new plantings to age in barrel before we can taste them. But deferred gratification has its virtues, after all.
Over in Rohersville, near Antietam, Big Cork Vineyards harvested its first substantial crop from 24 acres of vines planted in 2011. Winemaker Dave Collins produced wines from purchased grapes in the past few years; 2014 will be his first from estate plantings of viognier, nebbiolo and cabernet franc. The new winery is scheduled to open for business next spring.
Wine takes time. We won’t be able to drink this year’s whites until spring, and the reds until a year or more after that. First impressions indicate that the 2014 vintage will help establish Maryland and Virginia as a world-class wine region.