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Vintage 2018

Soggy is how I and most wine producers in the Mid-Atlantic would characterize the 2018 vintage. Northern Virginia got anywhere from 40-90 inches of rain for the 12 month period October 1, 2017- September 30, 2018. This is anywhere from 125%-175% of normal. It was even wetter in western Maryland. If you consider that the region is normally wet by wine growing standards, then all this extra rain just exacerbates an already difficult growing situation.

The impact on vineyards here was intense fungal disease pressure. Most vineyards had at least a little bit of everything - black rot, downy mildew, phomopsis. Even powdery mildew, which is relatively rare, was seen. 2018 was about managing fungal disease pressure, not preventing it. To make matters worse (to some it was a blessing) rain during the flowering period reduced fruit set. If disease did get the best of your vineyard, at least you didn't make a lot wine from compromised fruit. Diligent growers were spraying their vines weekly. Because it never stopped raining, fruit was swollen with rainwater. Breaking 20° Brix was a feat.

Winemakers addressed this vintage a number of ways. Many avoided tempting fate with red wines and converted a large portion of their red program to rosé. By this I mean that they harvested red grapes earlier than they normally would have to avoid rot issues associated with more ripened fruit. But instead of making a weak imitation of a red wine they pursued making a good rosé where less ripened characters (e.g. more acid) are valued. White fruit, that generally requires fewer ripening days than red fruit to achieve ripeness, fared better. Besides, unless you attempt to make a sparkling wine with white grapes, you don't have any other option.

There were a few silver linings to this vintage though. If you did manage to keep disease away from your fruit, the grapes did eventually ripen, even with the excessive rain. This is not the kind of exceptional ripeness seen in New World style wines, but it is enough to pursue making wine in the traditional way. There is a notion in this industry that I'm a firm believer in - that grapevines will ripen their fruit within a relatively narrow time frame, regardless of prevailing weather conditions, at the same time every year. Sugar and acid will be reflections of vintage, but more substantial characteristics of ripeness such as seed and color development, are traits of scion clone and site. So if you can manage to keep fruit on the vine in a soggy year as long as you would in a normal vintage, you will have largely ripe (though waterlogged) fruit.

Some producers fared pretty well despite the weather. Client producer Antietam Creek Vineyards in Maryland kept their vineyard maintained about as much as humanly possible and produced ripe fruit. Vinifera red (which one would assume to produce poor fruit in a soggy year) performed relatively well. I addressed waterlogged fruit by simply pumping it out after destemming the fruit and increasing the ratio of skins to juice. The removed juice is made into a rosé wine. The 2018 Cabernet Franc is actually darker than the 2017 vintage wine (which was a great vintage). The big winner though is Petit Verdot. We utilized a small window of dry, sunny weather in early October to allow for some ripeness development and made a wine that is indistinguishable from the 2017 vintage.

There's an expression in the wine industry - "wine in made in the vineyard." Some years exemplify that notion more than others, but 2018 is the absolute epitome of this concept.

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