Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Linden Vineyards (Linden, Virginia): Rebalancing for A-Class wines

I first visited Linden Vineyards about 5 or so years ago with the Lenn Thompson Taste Camp group and came away impressed with what I saw and heard. The size of the group did not allow the capture of detailed enough information so I did not report on the visit at that time.

Shortly after that visit, I had the good fortune to interview Dr. Bruce Zoecklein (at that time Professor of Enology at Virginia Tech and head of the Wine/Enology - Grape Chemistry Group; formerly Virginia State Enologist) and sought his impression of Jim Law and Linden Vineyards. Dr. Zoecklein saw Jim as having quite a unique situation vis a vis other Virginia winemakers:
  • Jim had dealt with estate fruit for over 25 years and had gained an empirical understanding of what works and what does not
  • Jim is great at making observations and banking them
  • Wine quality factors are in the vineyard and Jim is a great student of viticulture.
Coming from Dr. Zoecklein, this was very high praise indeed and further added to my resolve to revisit Linden for a more detailed data collection effort. I got my chance to do so when Frank Morgan ( arranged for us to visit to the estate on September 22nd of this year.

Linden Vineyards is situated on the outskirts of the town of Linden in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains. The red dot on the map below positions the estate within the context of the state and the broader region.

Red tag indicates location of Linden Vineyards
We went directly to the tasting room upon arrival and alerted staff as to our presence. The Tasting Room Attendant said that Jim was on the crush pad but had left word that he should be alerted when Frank arrived. Jim came upstairs soon after and welcomed us to the estate. After an exchange of pleasantries, Jim invited us to join him downstairs. He was in the middle of pressing some Chardonnay but could converse with us while monitoring the process.

Once on the crush pad we saw two presses being operated jointly by Shari Avenius, Linden Vineyards General Manager, and Jonathan Weber, the winemaker. We had the opportunity to observe the collegial manner in which the trio worked but there was no mistaking who had the final word.

Before addressing the Linden environment, Jim discussed making wine in the Virginia -- the wettest viticultural region in the world, as he sees it. Because of the rainfall volumes, landscape form and soil composition are major determinants of wine quality. In comparing the California and Virginia wine regions, he saw the former as having a focus on irrigation while the latter is focused on water evacuation.

Jim Law of Linden Vineyards and Frank Morgan
of Drink What You Like in an intense discussion
during our visit
Jim's guiding principles are as follows:
  • A wine's first job is to complement a meal and, as such, it should have good acidity and structure and moderate alcohol
  • Soil, site, and microclimate are more important than grape variety
  • Work hard in the vineyard to derive as much concentration as possible from the fruit
  • Non-interventionist in the cellar.
As it relates to the Linden environment, Linden Vineyards Ltd is the winery operation while Hardscrabble, Avenius, and Boisseau are the vineyard sites serving as fruit sources. Hardscrabble is the vineyard surrounding the farmstead and was the founding vineyard planted by Jim in 1985. Avenius is located 0.5 miles north of Hardscrabble and is owned by the aforementioned Shari Avenius, while Boisseau, owned by Richard Boisseau, is located 5 miles to the west in the town of Front Royal. The characteristics of these vineyards are presented in the figure below.

Looking out over one of the Hardscrabble plots from the
Six acres of Hardscrabble was initially planted in 1985 but, according to Jim, he had not planted the right grapes in the right places. As he described it, he had planted C vines on A sites and gotten B wines. He is now in the final phase of a rebalancing program aimed at addressing this initial flaw. For example, some soils are too water-retentive for Cabernet Sauvignon so they are switching to Chardonnay at those sites. The application of this rebalancing philosophy -- in relation to Bordeaux cultivars -- is shown in the chart below.

Linden Vineyards has a comprehensive set of vineyard practices which are designed to ensure that the highest quality grapes make it to the harvest. The practice architecture, and associated activities, are shown in the chart below.

I will continue this discourse in a follow-up post on winemaking and the wines of Linden Vineyards.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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