The State of the Vineyard

This week we talk with Todd Wuerker about viticulture at Hawk Haven Vineyard.

Q: How are things in the vineyard? What can we expect for the 2010 vintage or is it too early to tell?

I’m happy to report that we’re almost a month ahead of schedule.  Our bud break started on April 5th, due to the early and consistent days of warm weather.  Bud break in our vineyard historically begins towards the end of April.  This early bud break means that we’ll have a longer growing season.  For late ripening varieties, like our Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, this means more ripe fruit, producing a fuller bodied more intense wine.  Also, if we get a jump start on the growing season, we can avoid pushing back harvest into late October for these varietals.  Being able to harvest just a week earlier will allow us to avoid late season rain storms and damage to the fruit which nets more volume.

Q: Speaking of storms, there has been some question about how the harsh winter and whether the flooding affected the grapes.  Have you noticed any lasting effects?

That has been a very popular question in the tasting room over the past several months!  Although the flooding and standing water created hours of extra work for me and my vineyard supervisor, Lalo, we were able to pump out all the standing water in the vineyard by the end of March.  Immediately following, we had several days of 80-90 degree weather.  Those few days of hot sun dried up any residual water just as the grape vines woke up from dormancy.  Thanks to our vineyard’s sandy soils, the excellent drainage of our fields and some dedication, there was no water damage to the vines.

Q: What’s happening with the vines at the moment?

Right now the vines are in bloom.  The buds have already burst open and the vines have begun to climb the trellising.  Today and for the next two weeks, the clusters of flowers on the vines are developing into tiny grapes.  The clusters are so small that it doesn’t seem to the untrained eye that much is going on, but I see the start of what could be a great vintage year.

Q: Do we have anything new to look forward to this coming harvest?

This fall will be the first harvest for three new grape varietals at Hawk Haven.  We have been growing the vineyard each year, increasing our staples and adding a few new varietals that have not been grown in the area yet.  Our goal is to find what grows best in our vineyard and make the best wines we can with what our vineyard produces.  It’s a surprise to many nearby vineyard operators that Merlot is our best varietal, which goes to show that there are variations from vineyard to vineyard even within our Outer Coastal Plain AVA.  We are in our third growing season for our tempranillo, gewurztraminer and viognier grapes.  We expect a nice harvest from each this year and will most likely get a full crop load within the next 2 to 3 years.  Look for our 2010 white wines to be released summer of 2011 and our 2010 red wines to be released late summer of 2012.  Don’t worry, our new releases for this season are just around the corner.

Q: Now, as far as the retail operations go at Hawk Haven, you’ve been busy with events this winter and spring.  What are your thoughts behind having events rather than just tastings at the winery?

Sales and Marketing are my wife’s side of the business.  I turn that question over to Kenna. 

I think a lot of people feel that the wine world has the stigma of being too serious and stuffy – with all the sniffing, swirling and spitting.  It even has it’s own special vocabulary:  body, tobacco, brix, buttery, decant, robust, barnyard (what the heck does all that mean?)  Our approach to retail is relaxed, but we certainly don’t want people to mistake that for a relaxed approach to viticulture and wine making!  Our tasting room is meant to be inviting.  We built a large tasting bar with seating, so patrons would feel comfortable staying for a while.  Our staff is warm and friendly, and my husband and I are always a few steps away to meet and greet customers.  We host wine pairing dinners, teaming up with local restaurants and pairing our wines with the local culinary talent.  We want our dinner guests to learn about food and wine pairing by experiencing it for themselves.  If you’ve ever been to one of our dinners, you know that we want you to have fun and meet new people too!  In the summer, we have a weekly event- Sangria Sundays.  This is the day the winery takes off.  No vineyard work, no wine making chores, no maintenance projects.  We take the day to relax and have fun with our customers, listening to live music and enjoying a little sangria and Caribbean food.

NEXT WEEK: Get ready for the new face of Hawk Haven winery!  Todd and Kenna, now with a year in business under their belt, have had the opportunity to catch up on a few improvement projects they’ve been planning on since they opened.  The rich family history and the help of a few talented friends/contractors, has brought even more of a feel of Old World charm to the winery.  See the transformation of a working farm into an operating vineyard & winery in the before and after photos.  You will not believe it’s the same place!

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