Winemakers and Growers Tour Virginia Vineyards

Area around Thomas Jefferson's historic home now has 33 wineries, hosts winegrowing event

by Linda Jones McKee
wine grape vineyard Barboursville viognier asev-es
ASEV-ES attendees tour the Viognier vineyard at Barboursville Vineyards near Charlottesville, Va.

Charlottesville, Va.—Viticulturists and enologists from up and down the Eastern Seaboard convened in Thomas Jefferson’s hometown last week for the annual conference of the American Society for Enology and Viticulture-Eastern Section. Jefferson tried for years to grow grapes on his Monticello estate outside Charlottesville, but his attempts never succeeded. With the availability of modern fungicides, herbicides and insecticides, however, many grape varieties now thrive in the region, and the Monticello Wine Trail currently has 33 wineries, all located in the Monticello American Viticultural Area.

The annual event’s pre-conference tour took attendees to visit three wineries not far from Charlottesville. The first stop was at Barboursville Vineyards, established by the Zonin family (owners of the Cantine Zonin S.p.A., a wine company near Venice, Italy) in 1976. According to Luca Paschina, Barboursville’s winemaker and general manager, the Zonins looked at many different regions for their only winery outside Italy. They selected Virginia partly because in the 1970s not many vineyards there were growing vinifera grapes, which they intended to plant. Today the Barboursville vineyard has expanded to 180 acres, and the winery produces 40,000 cases of wine per year.

Fernando Franco, the viticulturist at Barboursville Vineyards, noted that the vineyard location was a somewhat difficult site, especially for winter temperatures. Conference attendees looked at a Viognier vineyard where a number of replacement vines were planted after the very cold 2013-14 winter. With Viognier, “We adjust the number of clusters to the vigor of the vine,” Franco stated. His overall philosophy is that “each vine is an individual. We try to get each vine to be the most productive. We’ll drop some fruit to balance the vine with grapes that will ripen and then make a better wine.”

After tasting several Barboursville wines, including the 2012 Octagon (a blend of 50% Merlot and 50% Petit Verdot), the tour proceeded to the Trump Winery, which is located not far from Jefferson’s home of Monticello. Originally started by Patricia Kluge in 1999, the former Kluge Estate Winery was purchased by Donald Trump at auction in April 2011. In the years after the sale Donald Trump was elected U.S. president, while Eric Trump was named president and general manager of Trump Winery, which now has 210 acres of vineyard and produces 50,000 cases of wine.

Not surprisingly, neither U.S. president Trump nor Eric Trump were on hand to greet conference attendees. Instead, Joseph Geller, hired this spring as viticulturist, and Jonathan Wheeler, who was also winemaker for the Kluge Estate Winery for a number of years, described the vineyard and winemaking practices of the winery from the vantage point of the Trump Winery Carriage Museum, which overlooks many of the estate vineyards.

After lunch at the Carter Mountain Orchards (Jefferson’s Monticello is on another side of Carter Mountain), the group inspected the 25-acre Carter Mountain vineyards, planted in 1998 with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay and Merlot. While many of the grapes have gone to Prince Michel Winery, a good portion now go to the Michael Shaps Virginia Wineworks in Charlottesville. Oriented in east-west rows, the vines are trained on a Ballerina trellis with three sets of catch wires. The leaves are pulled on the north side of the vines, exposing the grapes to near-constant breezes, while the leaves continue to grow on the south side. The winds keep birds at a minimum, but the vineyard is surrounded with an 8-foot fence to help with the “mammal issues” (primarily deer and raccoons).

The tour finished with a visit to the King Family Vineyards in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Originally from Texas, Ellen and David King bought a 327-acre farm in 1996, planted an 8-acre “test plot” in 1998, and opened the winery in 2000. Today the 48 acres of vineyards are managed by the Kings’ son, Carrington King, who noted that their production is now up to 12,000 cases per year. “Wet weather viticulture” is practiced at the site, according to Carrington King. Nevertheless, the vineyard is plumbed for irrigation so water is available in years that present dry conditions.

“We’re making a transition to full mechanization,” King added. That process required some modification to the ballerina trellis so various equipment, including a Pellenc leaf remover, can be used on the vines.

Conference and workshop sessions
The July 11-12 conference included presentations by researchers from across the country on a variety of technical topics ranging from the mechanizing of pre-bloom leaf-removal on wine grapes in Pennsylvania to the impact of frozen MOG (material other than grapes) on aroma compounds of red wine cultivars in Ontario. Eleven students form six different universities gave oral presentations about their research as part of the Student Oral Presentation Competition. A total of 17 posters by students and researchers from 10 universities were also discussed.

Eastern Section’s workshop this year was titled “Pioneering Wine Grape Varieties Adapted to the Challenges of the East” and featured presentations by researchers in three different climates: Arkansas, Minnesota and California. Dr. John Clark, professor of horticulture at the University of Arkansas, and Dr. Renee Threlfall, research specialist for the Institute of Food Science and Engineering at the same university, presented information about the hot-climate wine grape varieties Opportunity and Enchantment. Dr. Matthew Clark, assistant professor of grape breeding and enology at the University of Minnesota, discussed the cold-climate cultivar Itasca, and Dr. Andy Walker, professor of viticulture at the University of California, Davis, reviewed his continuing work in breeding grapes that have high levels of resistance to Pierce’s disease and powdery mildew.

Participants in the workshop learned about the processes that the researchers went through in breeding the different grapes and also had the opportunity to taste wines made from Arkansas’ Enchantment and Opportunity, Minnesota’s Itasca, and three of Walker’s crosses, two of which were at the 98% vinifera level.

Outstanding Achievement and Distinguished Service Awards presented
At the banquet held July 12, the ASEV-Eastern Section presented its Outstanding Achievement Award to Dr. Tony Wolf, professor of viticulture at Virginia Tech. Wolf earned a master’s degree from Penn State, and his Ph.D. from Cornell University. He joined Virginia Tech in 1986. His extension program includes workshops, development of web-based decision support tools and publication of technical print and online media. He has written more than 50 scientific papers and was senior author of the Mid-Atlantic Winegrape Growers Guide in 1995 and principal author and editor of the Wine Grape Production Guide for Eastern North America in 2008. He served as a director, secretary and chair of the ASEV-Eastern Section and as an associate editor of the American Journal of Enology and Viticulture.

Fritz Westover and Dr. Cain Hickey, two former students of Wolf who made the presentation, noted that Wolf embodies professionalism but that he also was a friend and a colleague. Lucie Morton, a well-known Virginia-based viticultural consultant, stated: “What sets Tony apart is his unstinting work ethic. He has maintained the highest standards over the three decades as professor of viticulture and mentor to students.”

The ASEV-Eastern Section gave its Distinguished Service Award to Dr. Murli Dharmadhikari, who retired in 2016 after 10 years as director of the Midwest Grape and Wine Industry Institute (MGWII) at Iowa State University. Stephen Menke, 2015-16 chair of the Eastern Section, presented the award in absentia, as Dharmadhikari was unable to attend because he was in the midst of setting up a wine competition with master of wine and master sommelier Doug Frost.

A graduate of Ohio State University, Dharmadhikari was a commercial winemaker in Indiana for 10 years before joining Missouri State University in 1986. At MSU he was involved in establishing a research vineyard, experimental winery, commercial winery, commercial distillery and a distance education workforce-training program. He served as the first extension enologist and as director of MGWII and helped to develop the multi-state proposal for the Northern Grapes Project, funded by a grant from the USDA-SCRI. 

Scholarships, awards and officers
The ASEV-Eastern Section awarded nine student scholarships this year. Recipients included Natacha Cureau and Molly Felts, both from the University of Arkansas; Jaclyn Fiola of Ohio State University; Andrew Harner and Maria Smith, both from Penn State University; Andreanne Hebert-Hache of Brock University; Anne Kearney from Cornell University; Steven Schneider of Missouri State University, and Joshua Vanderweide from Michigan State University.

In the student paper competition, Maria Smith of Penn State University was presented with the award for best student viticulture paper, titled “Removal of Five Basal Leaves at Trace-bloom and Fruit-set is Less Effective for Yield Regulation than Cluster Thinning in V. vinifera L. Grüner Veltliner.” Seth Urbanek from Cornell University received the award for the best student enology paper for a talk about the “Yeast Assimilable Nitrogen Source and Fermentation Temperature Impacts the Chemistry and Sensory Properties of Cool-Climate Riesling.”

The best poster award for viticulture was given to Andrej Svyantek of North Dakota State University for a poster titled “Ampelometric Characterization of Historic North Dakota Vitis Specimens.” Erin Norton from Iowa State University received the best enology poster award for her poster titled “Co-fermentation vs. Post-fermentation Blending of an Interspecific Hybrid with a Vitis Vinifera: Effects on Wine Tannin.”

Dr. Andrew Reynolds announced the election results for officers and board members of Eastern Section for 2017-18 at the annual business meeting. Denise Gardner, enology extension associate in the department of food science at Penn State University, is the new chairperson; Chris Gerling, extension associate for enology at Cornell University and manager of the Vinification and Brewing Laboratory, will be chairperson-elect; Dr. Justin Scheiner, assistant professor in the department of horticultural sciences and extension viticulture specialist at Texas A&M University, will serve as secretary; and Dr. Jim Willwerth, senior scientist in viticulture at Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute in St. Catharines, Ontario, will be the treasurer. Three directors were elected to two-year terms: Dr. Cain Hickey, University of Georgia; Dr. Misha Kwasniewski, University of Missouri; and Dr. Karine Pedneault, Institut de Recherche en Biologie Végétale. Andy Allen, Arkansas Tech University, was elected to a one-year tern to replace Gardner on the board.


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