That was the answer when I visited a vineyard a few years ago on the coast of North Carolina, to my question about challenges from pests and the environment. The answer, in other parts of the country and the world, is usually steadily increasing temperatures, or a lack of water, or even occasional hail.
In coastal North Carolina, it’s dragonflies.
Wineries and entire swaths of communities in the southeastern United States are bracing for a different category of challenge this week, in advance of Hurricane Florence that’s threatening catastrophic rain and flooding when it touches down tomorrow or Friday in North and South Carolina, then Virginia and Maryland.
But in the proverbial calm before the storm, it’s worth taking a moment to observe how local wineries are responding to the storm’s threat; the impact of nature on grape harvests is a never-ending point of interest around the world, from hailstorms in Burgundy to intense rains and extremely low yields motivating growers on the island of Pantelleria to actually steal each other’s zibibbo grapes.
In the state of Virginia, where my colleague and fellow Forbes.com wine writer Susan Gordon is currently visiting, vineyard crews at Early Mountain Vineyards are harvesting merlot and syrah grapes this week in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, at about 1000-foot elevation. (Gordon took the image for this article from Early Mountain’s Quaker Run vineyard, where intense fog has settled over the area.)
Early Mountain Vineyards lies at the tip of the Monticello Wine Trail, which is largely considered the birthplace of American wine, inspired by Thomas Jefferson’s eighteenth century vision and initiation of grape growing and winemaking. Just last week, Early Mountain was nominated “Best American Winery of the Year” for the Wine Enthusiast Wine Star Awards, making it the first Virginia winery and the first East Coast winery outside of New York state to be recognized for the honor.
We took some time to taste through a selection of Early Mountain Vineyards wines, partly to add to our understanding of Virginia wines and partly to pause in appreciation of what that particular part of the wine world is facing at this particular moment in time. Early Mountain, and the Virginia wine industry as a whole, will have some recovery ahead of it after this weekend; I hope it will inspire you to seek them out for tonight’s Wednesday Night Wine, and in the weeks and months ahead.
2017 Early Mountain Rosé (SRP $25)
This is the winery’s most popular wine, and it’s easy to see why. Dry and mouthwatering, this merlot-dominant rosé is substantive the way that writer Meg Wolitzer’s novels are substantive: you think you’ve got just another pretty wine (and a pretty narrative) in your hands, but before you know it you’re ready for a hearty meal and Glenn Close is starring in the movie version of the story. Don’t let the pitch-perfect pale salmon look or the grapefruity, floral nose of this wine mislead you. It’s game on.
2016 Early Mountain Cabernet Franc (SRP $34)
Early Mountain likes to say that their approach to cabernet franc is more Burgundy than Bordeaux, meaning they look for silky rather than tannic structure, and that they favor the potential of the grape over the flavor of the barrel. I get that. I also get that this cab franc was “raised” in the Shenandoah Valley – which is familiar territory for me, personally – and I can attest to the wine’s reflecting the place where it’s from: more substance, less makeup, more charm, less brute force. At $34, I call it a value.
2015 Early Mountain Eluvium (SPR $38)
From some of Early Mountain’s oldest vines comes extends the classic merlot profile: dark fruits of plum and blackberry on the nose, cedar and mint on the palate, mild tannins with just enough grip to say “I see you” without dominating the conversation. Composition: 82% merlot, 17% petit Verdot, 1% cabernet franc.