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Harvest 2015 Fauquier and Rappahannock

With all the great farms and orchards in Fauquier County, can you guess which fruit takes the longest to ripen each year? The answer is the wine grape. While we get our strawberries first, as early as April, with blueberries following in June and July bringing peaches, the grape harvest generally doesn’t begin until September and can last through the entire month of October.

The 2015 growing season began a little late with bud break taking place at the end of April. Above average rainfall and warm temperatures led to early flowering in May. Drier weather followed in late July and August that proved beneficial to the berries’ development.

In Virginia, grapevines tend to be quite vigorous, which you’d think is a good thing. But that vigor, enhanced by the abundance of rain this year, leads to a leafy, herbacious bush, not to a ripe, juicy berry. Winemakers use several methods to refocus the vine’s energy into the fruit.

At Granite Heights Orchard and Winery in Warrenton, owner Toni Kilyk works hard at taming the unruly vines. “An important part of growing a high quality wine grape is pruning and trellising the vines,” she says. Starting at the beginning of the growing season in February/March, the vine canes are laid down against a guide wire, stretched out like two arms. As the shoots come up later in the year, many are pruned away to ensure that there is enough air circulation to keep the fruit healthy.

Jason Murray of Arterra Wines in Delaplane explains that this pruning can reduce the amount of his crop by roughly half. Why would a farmer want to do that?

Quality is his passion, Jason states firmly. “In order to get the kinds of aromas and flavors needed in a high quality wine, you have to concentrate the vine’s energy into each individual cluster of grapes,” Jason explains. “It’s a difficult concept to accept, but what you want is a small crop with intense flavor in the fruit.”

At Narmada Winery, in nearby Rappahannock County, as well as at Granite Heights and Arterra, attention to individual vines is critical in late summer. “In the field, we walk each row of vines and remove any leaves that are shielding the berries from getting enough sunlight,” says owner/winemaker Sudha Patil. This labor-intensive practice helps the fruit to ripen to perfection as well as putting a stop to the downy mildew which is a perpetual threat in our humid climate.

As this story goes to press, 2015 looks to be a great year for wine. But, as with all agricultural endeavors, grape farmers are dependent on unpredictable weather conditions. Severe rain storms or hurricanes can take out an entire year’s effort. It’s one of the reasons we prize our magnificent wines so much. They are indeed a miracle of nature, helped along by passionate, hard-working and dedicated winemakers.

After the harvest is done, Toni Kilyk jokes she likes to “hibernate!” Toni says, “Harvest is exhausting. At the end of a long day of bringing in the grapes, we set out some cheeses and light fare and of course a few bottles of wine. We are all tired, but happy.” Plan a visit to a winery this fall, and let the owners and staff share with you what it takes to turn those grapes into an enchanting beverage.

Granite Heights Orchard and Winery
8141 Opal Rd.
Warrenton, VA 20186
540 249 5185

Arterra Wines
1808 Leeds Manor Rd.
Delaplane, VA 20144
540 422-3443

Narmada Winery
43 Narmada Lane
Amissville, VA 20106