2022 Harvest, Part 1

Sometimes Cissi and I look at each other in utter astonishment that we have passed the one-year mark of owning our farm winery. To say, “time has flown” is the biggest understatement! We took over the helm from former owner, and still current Winegrower, Ben Renshaw, on August 1, 2021. We barely remember last year’s harvest, as there was so much to wrap our heads around as novices to the wine industry. Not only that, in 2021 we custom crushed our fruit at a colleague’s winery since we were without a press. So we didn’t get to see much of the processing side of things. All of that changed in 2022. Read along about this year’s harvest at 8 Chains North.

Lugs of freshly harvest white grapes in the Waterford, Virginia vineyard.
Lugs of freshly harvested white grapes in the Waterford, Virginia vineyard

Making our Mark

As new owners, we really wanted to process all of our fruit on site. We invested in a new roof-covered crush pad, a large walk-in refrigerator, an elevator for grapes, a crusher destemmer, and a press. All of this now adorns the west end of the Tasting Room building just outside of Production. It’s these kinds of improvements that make us feel like true owners who are getting the hang of all things winemaking. We’re proud to say that we put all the parts together and they work! (Actually, today the elevator stopped functioning, but I know we can fix it. We just have to learn European electrical wiring.) Stop by when you visit next time and Cis or I will show you around.

Winegrower Ben processing fruit for harvest.
Winegrower Ben Renshaw processing fruit through the crusher destemmer and into the press

Tending the Vines

In May, we planted an acre of Petit Verdot vines, just over the winery’s fence in Waterford. They’re so close you can almost—but please don’t!—touch them. Not only did we need more grapes in the ground, we thought how cool it will be for our wedding couples to get married, literally, in the vineyard, instead of what was a large field.

We also filled in some areas of the Waterford vineyard where previous late frosts had damaged the vines. And we planted 2,600 vines of Cabernet Sauvignon at one of our leased vineyards in Purcellville. Ben and his vineyard crew have cultivated, sprayed, pruned, sprayed, netted, sprayed—you get the idea. The harvest looks great so far, knock on wood [visualize that wood being my head!].

Let Harvest 2022 Begin!

The 2022 8 Chains North harvest officially began in the early morning hours on Thursday, September 1. Up at the crack of dawn, we got the equipment ready to receive our fruit. Cis and I are working on all aspects of the crush pad operations. I’m out in the field bringing grapes back to the pad (with a few “oops” moments, as usual). Cis has become obsessed tending to the tanks, and they are immaculate. She is sparing you the purple leg bruises from climbing in the tanks’ small metal portholes.

Our crew hand harvests the clusters and drops them into lugs along the rows, then I come through with the tractor and our guys dump the lugs into a tote. The tote goes back to the crush pad and the grapes are then pitchforked into the elevator. Up they go into the destemmer crusher. Indeed, as its name suggests, the destemmer separates the grapes from their stems and the crusher gently breaks the skins. The berries make their way down the slide into the press.

The press has a bladder inside that crushes the grapes into a tray at the bottom. This takes well over an hour. At the same time, the rendered juice gets pumped into our tanks for settling. It really is an all-hands-on-deck process. Of course, Ben is coordinating, directing, and showing his expertise—in the field, on the crush pad, and overall production. But we also had a help from our friends and neighbors, Sarah and Hannes Endhardt, of Endhardt Vineyards, just a few miles away. This year we did custom crush for them, and they were such a fun part of the process. Certainly, working together has its benefits!

Finally, there’s the cleanup. To say we are sticky and wet at the end of the day is an understatement!

The Albariño and Sauvignon Blanc from our Waterford vineyard look incredibly clean—even more so that previous years. Traminette and a bit a Viognier from Furnace Mountain (along with a few lugs from Waterford) look good, but not as clean as the Waterford grapes. It is very interesting to see first hand how the fruit differs from vineyard to vineyard. We are expanding our Virginia wine production, with the new plantings, but also are bringing in Chardonnay from White Hall Vineyard, in Charlottesville. Since we don’t currently grow Chard, we are excited to have this varietal back in our lineup. Moreover, the flavor of these grapes is great, at least according to the “Assistant’s” (yours truly) taste buds. Ben also concurs on the quality of the fruit, and it will now all come down to the press and fermentation.

Stay tuned for the 8 Chains North harvest Part 2! Our reds will be coming in during the next few weeks.