A letter from Ryan, our winemaker:
"The growing season.
There are many ways to assess the quality of a wine. We can use romantic language to extoll the virtue of a particular plot of land, the handling of a grape varietal, or the obsessive skill of a winemaker to express their own vision or years of experience. We can also use deductive reasoning to critique, find flaws, assess the “trueness of style” or strength of a vintage as it pertains to a comparison over the recorded years. However you choose to describe it, we are assessing our enjoyment of an agricultural product. As with any farmed crop, the growing season and the farmer’s response to those conditions will have the greatest effect on the overall “quality of a wine”. I have made wine in several different countries in my short career, but I have chosen to return to Niagara for the main reason that, for better or worse, every year is different. Why we choose to make wine the way we do at Rosewood is simply to eliminate egotistical variables in the winery that would detract from the expression of each season’s story. While the wine matrix is incredibly complex, the set of conditions to prepare, consider and react to in the vineyard are monumentally larger. In our capacity as students of creation and preservation, we are trying to learn about the Niagara Region through each unique vintage.
From bud break through to harvest, our focus is on vine balance. Grapes are a lovely byproduct, however, our concern with our farm is the health and understanding of the living soil. Through observation and dedication, we strive to perfect our technique, rather than to automate our process. Within this living soil, a network of complex mycorrhizal fungi thrive and communicate with the grape rootlets, permitting the uptake of numerous trace minerals that impact the nutrition of the vine and help achieve balance. We help build this life through the minimal use of pesticides, herbicides and compaction from equipment. Each season brings with it an entirely new set of soil characteristics, air movement, canopy temperature and incident light that must be considered with every vineyard decision. It would be easy to rely on theory and deduction when noticing pressure from disease or variations in insect ecology by applying the prescribed spray. Though, as with human medicine, we have learned that it is more effective to analyze and cure the disease, rather than simply treat the symptoms. Our vineyard farming principles are centred around transparency and pragmatism to achieve thriving farm ecology and the most accurate story of that vintage.
Many assume when we speak of vine balance that we are referring simply to the amount of fruit on each vine. While that is an important consideration in terms of wine quality, we are also referring to decisions throughout the entire season that facilitate the level of ripeness within the fruit selected to hang on the vine. Starting with pruning, we are not only eliminating the excess growth from the previous season, but selecting a healthy and well-positioned cane with enough nodes to create adequate nutrition for the vine and control the following year’s growth. Decisions to thin the buds or the shoots are made to control the upright growth, filling the trellis to spread the canopy net as full as possible to capture the sunlight provided in the summer months. Pulling leaves in the fruit zone to allow air flow may alleviate humidity, but at the expense of photosynthetic area to increase ripening. Passing through to drop excess green grape clusters may seem like waste, but it’s better to have slightly less fruit at harvest than an excessive amount of unripe material that must be later adjusted in the winery. All of these decisions about vine balance must be uniquely made each season in response to the varying vintage conditions we experience in Niagara. This tightrope of vine balance has an incredible impact, not only on the sugar accumulation in the grapes, but the properties of their structure and composition.
Much like a wine’s life immediately before bottling, there comes a time during the growing season where your decisions have been made with the best intentions and reacting to what has been given to you. It is at this point where we put up the nets to protect our work from the scavengers, and then we wait. We observe the weather, walk the rows, taste the fruit and wait with bated breath for the perfect moment that we have planned for since pruning, the harvest. But, as Robert Burns said, “The best laid schemes of mice and men / Go often askew, / And leaves us nothing by grief and pain, / For promised joy!”
Until the harvest.