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Despite frost challenges, 2020 vintage “good quality” wine makers say

A vine ready to sprout new fruit. "Bud break," has not occurred yet, but is imminent, when the...
A vine ready to sprout new fruit. "Bud break," has not occurred yet, but is imminent, when the vine begins "weeping," as seen in this image.(WVIR)
Updated: Mar. 26, 2021 at 7:50 PM EDT
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ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Va. (WVIR) - Wineries are getting ready for growing season, and bud break is just around the corner. Despite losing many grapes to frost last spring, wine makers say the 2020 vintage has turned out to be quality, if not quantity.

Late freezing temperatures in April and May 2020 meant sometimes whole varietals were lost: some vintners and winemakers lost entire crops of chardonnay or viognier. For the winemakers that had some grapes remain, the wine they have produced is surprisingly good.

“The Virginia growing region is one that is used to kind of this adversity,” Veritas Vineyards General Manager George Hodson said. “Whenever the the crop load reduces, the quality improves: The fewer grapes you have on the vine, the more energy that vine can give to each grape. So, you know, the quality was good.”

“Although we made less of it, the quality is of a high standard,” Keswick Vineyards Winemaker Stephen Barnard agreed. “That is the positive out of what was essentially a very difficult and very trying growing season.”

Another unforeseen benefit: less wine to make, means less to spend on barreling and bottling.

“We made less wine last year and so a lot of those costs associated with producing wine were lower,” Hodson said.

Now, vineyards are looking towards the future. With warmer weather here – and to stay according to forecasts – bud break is not far behind. That’s a source of joy and anxiety for growers.

“We ideally like the bud break to happen as late as possible,” Hodson explained. “As soon as as buds form as they’re at risk, and so that’s when we really get nervous.”

Warm weather early means the grapes will grow ahead of schedule, leaving the young fruit vulnerable to late frosts like in 2020. However, there is a potential reward to the risk of early bud break.

“It could be a wonderful thing if you have an early bud break and you get through the season without frost, which can be a risk because then you have a longer growing season, you can potentially have, you know, top quality fruit,” Barnard explained.

They’re hoping for a less trying year in 2021, but they say the story of the 2020 vintage won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

“Every vintage tells a story,’ Hodson said. “It starts with bud break and that’s where we’ll start this year.”

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