What if our religion was each other,
If our practice was our life,
if prayer our words?
What if the temple was the Earth,
if forests were our church,
if holy waters—the rivers, lakes, and oceans.
What if meditation was our relationships,
if the teacher was life,
if wisdom was self-knowledge,
if love was the center of our being.
The Pinot Noir grape has been called many names: “finicky”, “changeable”, “heartbreaker”, “cantankerous”. It is truly a grape that is an expression of its surroundings. Regardless of where it’s grown, the commonality inherent in each distinct region is its winemaker / vineyard manager: determined, reckless, intuitive, passionate–with the slightest touch of “madness.”
Christmas 2012 and I’m searching the antique shops for a Christmas ornament and not just any ornament. Each shop I entered the proprietor would ask, “May we help you find something?” and I would respond, “When I find it, I’ll let you know.” I was searching for a gift for my friends at Ankida Ridge Vineyards.
An-kee-da is an ancient Sumerian word that means “where heaven and earth join.” I first met Christine Vrooman and her family-run winery at the 2011 Wine Blogger’s Conference held in Charlottesville, Virginia. I’ll always be thankful to Virginia blogger Frank Morgan for suggesting I try Christine’s Pinot Noir, from her vineyard site lovingly called “Little Burgundy.”
Christine describes her winery as the “peaceable kingdom”—at over 1800 feet elevation, filled with granite and clay, cooling winds and fog and just under 2 acres under vine on the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
They employ “environmentally sensitive viticulture” by creating a microcosm of “biodiversity and sustainability”. You’ll find sheep nourishing the vineyard floor, honeybees and hummingbirds, guinea fowl, chickens, a plethora of wildflowers and a menagerie of dogs, cats and children. Ankida Ridge also employs biodynamic practices as much as possible in the vineyard.
Against the Grain
The Vroomans wanted to grow grapes at their site, but they hadn’t set their minds on anything in particular, other than they knew they wanted to do something unique to Virginia. Enter Lucie Morton, vineyard consultant and ampelographer, studied viticulture from the Ecole Nationale Supérieure Agronomique of Montpellier, France. She trekked all over the world as advisor on what and where to plant grapes. She’s also a Virginia native. Morton’s advice was stunning: Plant Pinot Noir. That declaration would raise many a traditionalists’ eye.
Jim Law, owner and winemaker of Linden Vineyards located just two hours North along the same Blue Ridge Mountains, said when I visited last year: “Terroir first, varietal second.” Pinot Noir is now successfully grown all over the world from the United States (California, Oregon, Finger Lakes, Hudson Valley), Italy, Germany, Austria, New Zealand, Chile, Tasmania and of course to the Cote de Nuits, Burgundy.
Consider Francois Mikulski, owner and winemaker of Domaine Mikulski who tends vines spread out over Meursault, France. He’s of Polish descent and lacks the Burgundian upbringing of other French winemakers in the region. Nonetheless he produced his first harvest in 1992 and is now making his own praiseworthy wines.
The decade prior he spent a few years working in California vineyards. He says it was a shared learning experience, “They learned our [Burgundy’s] traditional ways and sprit of winemaking. While from them, we learnt the importance of recognizing the competition.” He continues, “We must prove that terroir is there [Burgundy] and is important.” Mikulski feels the New World approach seems to be of great benefit to Burgundy. His view is that terroir involves three factors – “the vines, the ground and the people – it has to include the winemakers.” So I have to wonder, if California can learn a thing or two about Burgundy to produce its own unique style of Pinot Noir, can Virginia do the same?
I recently tasted a 1985 Clos de la Roche, and my first sip solicited an exaggerated eyebrow raise. Before I knew it, I had finished the glass and instinctively I pushed glass forward for another. I had trouble expressing what I was tasting. And now I realize it was because I had nothing to compare. I’ve tasted Pinot Noir, but nothing like this, so…elusive. Within a 20-minute span it changed completely. It felt as though I was chasing a moving train. If wines from each of the above regions were tasted side by side, would we know where each originated?
With Pinot Noir, we typically love or hate it. But is this judgment a byproduct of our expectations? Traditionally we know what this wine should taste like and which ground it should originate. But does this expectation cloud the way for making new discoveries? What if there was no singular profile for Pinot Noir?
No Easy Pass on the Mountain
Pinot Noir is notorious for acting the “diva.” Each growing season a winemaker expects to find a new foe to battle. Add a commitment to sustainable farming and we have quite the challenge to produce quality grapes.
The 2012 growing season brought Ankida Ridge the Spotted Winged Drosophila, which had made the long journey from Japan via Hawaii. Normally, the “peaceable kingdom” inhabitants, this time the guinea fowl and chickens, would earn their keep by consuming the pests, but they were overrun. Dr. Pfeiffer, entomologist at Virginia Tech’s quick solution: a mixture of cider and wine in cut plastic water bottles to catch the insects. Dr. Pfeiffer will assess the situation for next season.
And then there is the ever-present east coast threat of black rot. The humid weather has always been a bane to the winemaker and yet here we have Christine and her team producing quality juice, gaining praise after praise. What’s her secret? Could be La lutte raisonnée, or “the reasoned struggle,” which is the norm at Ankida Ridge. It’s the less-often and less-aggressive approach when battling unwanted insect guests. Or is it Christine’s absolute joy and love for her little vineyard, where she has been known to go walking between the rows, whispering encouraging words during any and all parts of the season.
Whatever the secret, the work of Ankida Ridge Vineyards is a testament to how striking out against the norm with a commitment to a particular methodology, in this case sustainable farming, can produce exciting results.
I eventually found that ornament I was searching for—an exquisitely-crafted fuzzy little sheep. After presenting my gift, I sat at the tasting bar and sipped the 2011 Ankida Ridge Vineyards Pinot Noir–a distinct core of minerality and acid, cranberry and cherry tartness, very slight barnyard earthiness and a mouthfeel of little gardenias, with a slight tannin edge for support.
As I sipped I watched Christine flittering about, so ecstatic at their first holiday celebration at the new site. Family and friends, eating, drinking, talking, laughing—and glasses in hands, raised to lips. I glanced over to Petit Mouton, lovingly named by Christine and I knew he would settle in nicely.
Tina and GUY, Partners
PROTOCOL wine studio
Note: Research for this article has elicited a wealth of information from new and exciting sources. As such, we have decided to follow up in the following week with another article loosely titled: A Peacock’s Tail of Similarities within the Differences Part Deux that focuses on a term that has been used much as of late and what it means for winemakers. Stay tuned.
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