What Makes A Wine Last More Than Five Years?

When I do have the opportunity to speak with you all in person (I recommend Tuesday, July 12th when we bottle next), one of the questions that invariably comes up is how long can I age my wine?  This is not exclusive to just the fine wines that we produce at Philip Carter but addressed against all wines in one’s collection.  Over 90 percent of all wines in the world are made to be consumed within one year, and less than 1 percent of the world’s wines are made to be aged for more than five years.  Wines change with age, some get better, but most don’t.  The good news is that the 1 percent represents over 350 million bottles of wine per vintage.  I will here, do my best, to address the factors that play into that age-worthy equation.

What Makes A Wine Last More Than Five Years?

The color and the grape – Red wines, because of their tannin content, will generally age longer than whites.  Certain red grapes, such as Tannat and Petit Verdot, tend to have more tannin, than, say, Pinot Noir.

The vintage – The better the weather conditions in one year, the more likely the wines from that vintage will have a better balance of fruits, acids, and tannins and therefore have the potential to age longer.  In Virginia, recent strong vintage years were 2019, 2016, 2015, 2010, and 2007.

Where the wine comes from – Certain vineyards have optimum conditions for growing grapes, including soil, weather, drainage, and slope of the land.  All of these factors contribute to producing a great wine that will taste better after aging.  Our Strother Family Vineyard in Delaplane has many of these characteristics to include elevation (1,000’) , soil composition (granite and greenstone), and aspect (southeastward facing) among others.

How the wine was made (vinification) – The longer the wine remains in contact with its skins during fermentation (maceration), and if it is fermented and/or aged in oak, the more of the natural preservative tannin it will have, which can help it age longer.  These are just two examples of how winemaking can affect the aging of wine.  Our Cleve and Tannat wines are aged for over a year in a mixture of French and American oak, in conjunction with the factors above make these age worthy wines.

Storage conditions – Even the best-made wines in the world won’t age well if stored improperly.  Best storage conditions: 55 Degrees Fahrenheit and 75% humidity.

If you’d like to discuss this topic or another at greater length both Alejandro, our Winemaker, and myself would welcome the opportunity.  As mentioned above we’ll be bottling on Tuesday, July 12th and we’ll be available for conversation for the better part of the day (outside of the work component). If you are interested in volunteering please email nora@pcwinery.com!


-Dale Clemence

Assistant Wine Maker

How to Become a 1 Minute Wine Expert

I’ve utilized the following tasting methodology in my wine training and education and I wanted to take this opportunity to share it with you.  I would consider this to be the opening gambit in beginning to understand the process for evaluating wine.  Once you get comfortable with the fundamentals and train yourself how to objectively taste a wine, the greater complexities of wine evaluation becomes easier to navigate.  This process only takes 1 minute and can be built upon as your palette progresses.  The minute is divided into four sections; 0 to 15 seconds, 15 to 30 seconds, 30 to 45 seconds, and 15 to 60 seconds.  Here is the initial approach prior to evaluation:

1.       Step One – Look at the color of the wine.

2.       Step Two – Smell the wine three times.

3.       Step Three – Put the wine in your mouth and leave it there for three to five seconds.

4.       Step Four – Swallow the wine.

5.       Step Five – Wait and concentrate on the wine for 60 seconds before discussing it.

The first taste of wine will shock your taste buds.  This comes from alcohol content, acidity and sometimes the tannins.  The higher the alcohol or acidity, the more of a shock.  For the first wine in any tasting, take a sip and swirl it around in your mouth, but don’t evaluate it  (Consider this to be the cleansing of your pallet prior to onset).  Wait another 30 seconds, try it again, and then begin the 1 minute wine expert tasting process.


Time Usage

·         0 to 15 Seconds – If there is any residual sugar/sweetness in the wine, you’ll experience it now.  If there is no sweetness in the wine, the acidity is usually at its strongest sensation in the first 15 seconds.  Look for the fruit level of the wine and its balance with the acidity or sweetness.
·         15 to 30 Seconds – After the sweetness or acidity, look for great fruit sensations.  By 30 seconds you want a balance of the components.  By this time you can identify the weight of the wine.  Is it light, medium, or full-bodied?  Think about what kind of food to pair with this wine.
·         30 to 45 Seconds – Start formulating your opinion of the wine.  Not all wines need 60 seconds of thought.  Lighter-style wines, such as Rieslings, usually show their best at this point.  The fruit, acid, and sweetness of a great German Riesling should be in perfect harmony from this point on.  For quality red and white wines, acidity should now balance with the fruit of the wine.
·         45 to 60 Seconds – Very often wine writers use the term ‘length’ to describe how long the components, balance, and flavors continue in the mouth.  Concentrate on the length of the wine in the last 15 seconds.  In big, full-bodied red wines from Bordeaux and the Rhone Valley, Cabernets from California, and even some full-bodied Chardonnays, concentrate on the level of tannin in the wine.  Just as the acidity and fruit balance are major concerns in the first 30 seconds, it’s now the tannin and fruit balance you want in the last 30 seconds.  If the fruit, tannin and acid all balance at 60 seconds, then the wine is ready to drink.  If the tannin overpowers the fruit at the 60 second mark, consider whether to drink the wine now, or put aside for further aging (this is why I always buy wine in multiples of 3, one for now, one for later and one to give to a friend/more for me).
It’s extremely important, if you want to learn the true taste of the wine, that you take at least one minute to concentrate on all of its components.  But, 60 seconds is the minimum time to wait before making a decision about a wine.  Many great wines continue to show balance well past 120 seconds.  The best wine I ever tasted lasted more than three minutes (Penfold’s 2013 Grange, 100 Points from Robert Parker at Wine Advocate), that’s three minutes of perfect balance of all components following consumption of the wine!  I encourage you to try this process out during your next wine tasting at Philip Carter to further evaluate our offerings (the 2020 Cleve will definitely impress).
-Dale Clemence
Assistant Winemaker 

The Wines of Germany – Summer Cruise 2023 with Philip Carter

My journey through Europe continues as I explore another country slated for the Philip Carter led cruise down the Danube River from April 20-23rd 2023 with a look at the wines of Germany.  As you read through this article, you should be able to answer the following questions by the conclusion of your read:

1.       What percentage of German Wines are white?

2.       If a German wine has the name of a grape variety on a label, what’s the minimum percentage of that grape in the wine?

3.       If a German wine lists a vintage on a label, what’s the minimum percentage of that year in the wine?

4.       How many winemaking regions does Germany have?

5.       Name the three basic styles of German wine.

6.       What’s the average alcohol range for German wines?

7.       What does ‘Spatlese’ mean in English?

8.       What is Sussreserve?

Today Germany is a minor player on the world wine stage, but it features more than 1,400 wine villages and 2,600 plus vineyards.  Seems like a lot, but if you had to study German wines before 1971, you would have had to memorize over 30,000 different names!  A large number of people used to own very small parcels of land, leading to the exorbitant number of names.  In an effort to reduce confusion, the West German government passed a law in 1971 mandating that a vineyard consist of at least twelve and half acres of land (Philip Carter qualifies!).  The law decreased the number list of vineyards, but increased owners.

Germany produces only 2-3% of the world’s wine, and what it does produce is highly dependent upon weather.  This is because Germany in the northernmost country in which vines can grow, and 80% of this done upon hilly slopes, so harvesting must be done by hand.  85% of the wines that Germany produces are white.  The most important grape varieties are:

  1.        Riesling – this is the most widely planted and best grape variety produced in Germany.  If you don’t see ‘Riesling’ on the label the wine probably has little in any Riesling grapes in it.  If the label gives the grape variety, the wine must contain 85% of that grape by German law.  If it shows a vintage, it must contain 85% of grapes from that year.  Germany has been growing the Riesling grape since 1435.
  2.        Muller Thurgau – a cross between Riesling and Chasselas, it accounts for 13.5% of Germany’s wines.
  3.        Silvaner – this grape variety accounts for just 5% of Germany’s wines.

Germany produces red wines too, but that accounts for only 15% of their wines.  Red grapes don’t grow well in Germany’s norther climate.

Germany has 13 official wine making regions, but four of them are recognized as producing the best German wines.  They are:

  1.        Rheinhessen
  2.        Rheingau
  3.        Mosel (known as Mosel-Saar-Ruwer until 2007)
  4.        Pfalz (known as Rheinpfalz until 1992)

Rhein wines generally have more body than Mosels, which usually have higher acidity and lower alcohol levels than Rheins.  Mosels show more autumn fruits like apples and pears, while Rhein wines show more summer fruits like apricots, peaches and nectarines.  One quick way to tell the difference between a Rhein wine and a Mosel wine is to look at the bottle.  Rhein wines come in a brown bottle, Mosel in a green bottle.


The three basic styles of German wines are:

  1.       Trocken – dry
  2.       Halbtrocken – medium dry
  3.       Fruity – semidry to sweet


German wines tend to contain 8% to 10% alcohol, compared to an average 12% to 14% for French wines.  A common misconception about German wines is that after fermentation is halted, the remaining residual sugar gives the wine its sweetness.  This is largely untrue, most German wines are fermented dry.  German winemakers withhold a certain amount of unfermented grape juice from the same vineyard, varietal, and sweetness level.  This Sussreserve contains all the natural sugar, which winemakers add back to the wine after fermentation.  The finest German estates do not use the Sussreserve method, but do rely on stopping fermentation to achieve their specific wine style.


As a result of the West German 1971 legislation, German wines fall two main categories:

  1.       Tafelwein – table wine, the lowest designation given to a wine grown in Germany, it never carries the vineyard name and rarely is exported.
  2.        Qualitatswein – quality wine, which then falls into one of two categories:
  •        Qualitatswein Bestimmter Anbaugiebiete – indicates a quality wine that comes from 1 of the 13 specified German regions.
  •        Pradikatswein – quality wine with a distinction, these wines may not be chapitalized (adding sugar before fermentation to increase alcohol levels)


Pradikatswein Levels

In increasing order of quality, price, and ripeness at harvest, here are the six Pradikatswein levels:

  1.        Kabinett Light – semidry wines made from normally ripened grapes
  2.        Spatlese – late picking, meaning that the wine comes from grapes picked after the normal harvest.
  3.        Auslese – out picked, meaning that the grapes come from a particular ripe bunch, which yield a medium to fuller style wine.
  4.        Beernauslese – berry picking, signifying that individual grapes are selected to create a rich dessert wine.  This wine is usually made 2-3 times a decade.
  5.        Trockenbeerenauslese – these grapes are dried (trocken), so they’re more like raisins.  These raisininated grapes produce the richest, sweetest, and most expensive wines.
  6.        Eiswein – concentrated wine made from frozen grapes left on the vine and pressed while still frozen.  According to law, this wine must be made from grapes at least ripe enough to make a Beerenauslese.


Dale Clemence

Assistant Wine Maker at Philip Carter Winery

For more information on the Philip Carter led wine cruise that travels through Austria, Hungary and Germany please click on the link below, e-mail WineClub@ExpediaCruises.com or call 877-615-7447.

Wine Cruise Info



Question Answers:

1.       85%

2.       At least 85%

3.       85 %

4.       13 regions

5.       Trocken, Halbtrocken, and Fruity

6.       Between 8% to 10%

7.       Late Picking

8.       When winemakers reserve grape juice and add it to the wine after fermentation

The Wines of Hungary- Summer Cruise 2023 with Philip Carter

This month I continue my exploration of the countries that will be visited on the Philip Carter led cruise down the Danube River from April 20-23rd 2023 with a discussion upon the wines of Hungary.  As you read through my blog, you should be able to answer the following questions by the end of the read:

1.       Name the three major white grapes and three major red grapes native to Hungary.

2.       Name three major wine regions of Hungary.

3.       How is Tokaj Aszu made?

4.       What are the four levels of Puttonyos wine?

5.       What is the name of the sweetest of the Tokaji wines?


The wine industry of Hungary traces back as far as the Roman Empire and it has thrived culturally and economically for nearly 1,000 years.  Tokay, its most famous wine, has been produced continuously since the sixteenth century, and Tokaj received the world’s first vineyard classification in 1700.  The reputation of Hungarian wine suffered a major decline under Communist rule from 1949 to 1989.  In that time, a state monopoly shifted production to bulk wine with little regard to maintaining or improving existing wine quality.


Since the fall of Communism, however, emphasis has returned to quality wines, with an influx of capital from Italian, French, and German winemakers.  The introduction of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Pinot Gris grapes, new vineyard techniques, and modern equipment have helped rebuild Hungary’s wine industry.  The famous vineyards of Tokaj received the first wave of attention, but investment has expanded throughout the country.


The main white varietals are:

Native to Hungary                            International

Furmint                                              Chardonnay

Harslevelu                                         Pinot Gris

Olaszrizling                                       Sauvignon Blanc

The main red varietals are:

Native to Hungary                            International

Kadarka                                           Cabernet Sauvignon

Kekfrankos (Blaufrankisch)              Merlot

Portugieser                                       Pinot Noir

The country has 22 wine regions, seven of which you should know along with their most important wines:

Badacsony:  Olaszrizling

Eger Kekfrankos:  Pinot Noir

Somolo:  Furmint

Sopron:  Kekfrankos

Szekszard:  Kadarka, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon

Tokaj:  Furmint, Harslevelu

Villany-Siklos:  Cabernet Sauvignon, Kekfrankos


Tokaji Aszu

This wine, on par with French Sauternes and German Trockenbeerenauslese comes from Tokaj, a village in Hungary’s northeastern corner and one of the oldest wine regions in the world.  Aszu refers to the dried, shriveled, botrytized grapes used to make their wines.  Tokaji Aszu usually blends four grapes native to Hungary, primarily Furmint.  Throughout the fall harvest season, the grapes affected by the Botrytis Cinerea mold (or aszu) are picked, lightly crushed, and made into a paste.  Unaffected grapes ferment into the base wine.  Workers collect the aszu paste in baskets, called puttonyos, then blend those into the base wine according to the desired sweetness, measured in puttonyos on the label of all Tokaji Aszu.  The more paste buckets that go into the base wine, the sweeter the outcome.  Puttonyos wine has four levels:

3 Puttonyos:  60 grams of sugar per liter

4 Puttonyos:  90 grams of sugar per liter

5 Puttonyos:  120 grams of sugar per liter

6 Puttonyos:  150 grams of sugar per liter

·         A French Sauterne has 90 grams of sugar per liter

·         A German Trckenbeerenauslese has 150 grams of sugar per liter

The sweetest Tokaj wines, called Essencia or Eszencia, contains 180 grams of sugar per liter.  Due to the high concentration of sugar, Essencia may take years to finish fermentation and then will have only an alcohol content of 2-5 percent.  It is a very unique wine and specialty of Hungary.


Make sure to be on the look out for our next blog post about the other regions that will be explored on the wine cruise!

Dale Clemence

Assistant Wine Maker at Philip Carter Winery

Question Answers:

1.       White: Furmint, Harslevelu, and Olaszrizling; Red:  Kardarka, Kekfrankos, and Portugieser

2.       The major wine regions of Hungary include: Badacsony, Eger, Somolo, Sopron, Szekszard, Tokaj, and Villany-Siklos

3.       Grapes affected by Botrytis Cinerea are made into a paste.  Unaffected grapes ferment into the base wine, and workers blend in baskets of the noble rot paste according to the desired sweetness level.

4.       3 baskets, (60g sugar/liter), 4 baskets (90g), 5 baskets (120g) and 6 baskets (150g)

5.       Essencia


For more information on the Philip Carter led wine cruise that travels through Austria, Hungary and Germany please click on the link below, or e-mail WineClub@Expedia Cruises.com or call 877-651-7447.

Wine Cruise Info

Austria and Summer Cruise 2023 with Philip Carter

As you may be aware Philip Carter is leading a cruise down the Danube River from April 20-23rd 2023.  In preparation for this adventure, I’ve taken it upon myself to write about the wine regions that the cruise will be exploring.  First on my list is a review of Austria as several days will be spent in this region.  As you read through my blog, you should be able to answer the following questions by the end of the read:


  1. What are Austria’s four main wine regions?
  2. Name three major white grapes and three major red grapes that grow in Austria.
  3. What are the three major quality levels of Austrian wine?
  4. What is Austria’s great dessert wine?


Grape growing and winemaking in what is now Austria dates back to the fourth century B.C., but only in the past quarter century has the country earned a reputation for producing quality wines, specifically some of Europe’s most elegant and best-tasting white wines, both dry and sweet.  Its Gruner Veltliners and Rieslings pair beautifully with food, which accounts in part for the recent success of Austrian wines in America.  Both chefs and sommeliers agree that these wines work well with nearly any dish, from fish and poultry to most meats.  Austria’s wines also hold their own when paired with Asian spices.


The country contains four wine regions: Lower Austria, Vienna, Burgenland, and Styria, all located along its eastern borders.  The Danube River and the fertile valley that surrounds it define the northern wine regions, including Lower Austria – which produces 60 percent of the country’s wine – and Vienna, one of the world’s most beautiful cities and the only major city to be a wine region.  The two most important of these regions, specialties, and their wine districts are:

  • Burgenland: (red and dessert wines) Neusiedlersee, Mittelburgenland, Neusiedlersee-Hugelland
  • Lower Austria (white wines) Wachau, Kamptal, Kremstal, Donauland


The main white varietals are:

  • Gruner Veltliner (accounts for more than 1/3rd of Austrian grape plantings)
  • AutriSauvignon Blanc
  • Riesling
  • Chardonnay


The main red varietals are:

  • Blaufrankisch (Lemberger)
  • St. Laurent
  • Pinot Noir


Austria largely follows the same criteria used in other European countries, specifically Germany, with regard to wine labeling, although it maintains even stricter control.  Grape ripeness and the sugar content of the fermenting must determines quality levels, the three broadest being:

  • Tafielwein
  • Qualitatswein
  • Pradikatswein


The Austrian wine board tastes and chemically analyzes Qualitatswein and higher levels of wine, giving consumers a guarantee of taste, style, and quality.  If a label lists a specific grape, the wine must contain at least 85 percent of that grape (US in only 75%).  If the label names a wine region, 100 percent of the wine must come from that region (US only 75%).  As with German wines, most Austrian wines are white, but, unlike German wines, most of Austria’s wines are dry, with higher alcohol and more body, resembling the wines of Alsace.  Graduation of ripeness indicates the amount of residual sugar left in the wine after fermentation.  In Austrian wines, it ranges from the very dry Trocken to the very sweet Trockenbeerenauslese.


Graduations of Ripeness











Very Sweet







Ausbruch, one of the world’s great dessert wines, comes from the village of Rust in Burgenland and has a history that dates back as far as 1617.  On par with French Sauternes, German Beerenauslese, and Hungarian Tokay, it’s made with botrytized grapes, primarily Furmint. 


Make sure to be on the look out for our next blog post about the other regions that will be explored on the wine cruise!

Dale Clemence

Assistant Wine Maker at Philip Carter Winery


For more information on the Philip Carter led cruise that travels through Austria among other countries please click on link below, e-mail WineClub@ExpediaCruises.com or call 877-651-7447.

Wine Cruise Info!

Question Answers:

  1. Lower Austria, Vienna, Burgenland, and Styria
  2. White:  Gruner Veltliner, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay Red: Blaufrankisch, St. Laurent, Pinot Noir
  3. Tafielwein, Qualitatswein, Pradikatswein
  4. Ausbruch

Adopt-A-Vine Update – Spring 2021


          My name is Tony McDonnell, if I haven’t met you yet, I am the Winemaker at Philip Carter Winery. I wanted to give you an update on what is happening in our vineyard right now.

           Something you might hear me saying a lot this time of year is “hope springs eternal,” a quote from Alexander Pope’s An Essay on Man.  With the first day of spring about a month away, this is a very optimistic time in the wine industry.  2020 presented some of the most unique challenges any of us have ever seen, the biggest of which was totally outside of our control.  Overall, I am very happy with the wines we produced in 2020, and it will certainly go down as one of the most memorable vintages of my career.  Keep an eye out for our 2020 “fresh wines” like Governor Fauquier, Rosewell, Sabine Hall, and the Ten Vines red blend, which were bottled within the last month and are hitting shelves soon.

           On Tuesday, February 16th, the vineyard crew and I made our first pruning cuts in our Chambourcin block, and just like that, we’re on to 2021.  Most of the 2020 reds (Petit Verdot, Tannat, Cab Franc, Norton) and Chardonnay will be allowed to continue to develop for a bit longer while we shift our focus to the vineyard.  In our area, grapevines typically break bud (start growing for the year) around the middle of April.  Between now and then, the crew and I have about 15 acres of vines to prune, along with a handful of other tasks.  Now is the time we make sure our trellis wires are tight, our adopt-a-vine signs are shining, and the vines are set up to give us another great crop.

           Pruning grapevines is hard work but has an almost therapeutic quality to it at times as well.  We cut the vines back, taking out the vast majority of last year’s growth, so they can focus their energy on growing new shoots, which will give us this year’s crop.  Grapevines fruit on a two-year cycle – in 2020 they developed buds, which will produce shoots and fruit in the year 2021.  Those new shoots will also develop buds in 2021, which will be our crop for 2022.  Our focus is on getting exactly how many buds we want and having them exactly where we want them.  What we cut off, we burn.  Old wood, especially once it’s no longer attached to the vine, can quickly become a source of contamination for the living plants.

           Outside of harvest, March tends to be our busiest month at the winery.  While pruning is the single biggest task, we also have to get ready for spring planting, typically done in May.  We are putting in close to three acres of grapevines this year, spread between the Philip Carter property and Strother Family Vineyards, our sight in Delaplane.  Cleaning up from pruning is a large undertaking in and of itself, plus we work to prep the grounds of the winery for the upcoming year – the recent wet weather conditions making this all the more important.  And of course, lest we forget, our wines in the cellar still need attention as they make their march towards the bottle.

           I am particularly excited about an event we are hosting on April 17th at Valley View Farm.  We are calling it our Spring Picnic, and we will be hosting adopt-a-vine and wine club members for a hike up to Strother Family Vineyards, and a discussion on all things viticulture with a picnic will follow. Be on the lookout for more details about the event coming soon. I hope to see you all there!

           Additionally, if you are available, I invite you to join me on Facebook Live this Friday, February 26th at 6 pm for our upcoming Virtual Tasting. If you need the info about it you can find it here.

           Until then, Cheers!

Tony McDonnell

Winemaker, Philip Carter Winery

A Quick History of Cider

In American, raw apple juice that has not been filtered to remove pulp or sediment is referred to as “fresh cider” or “sweet cider.”  The term “apple juice” indicates the juice has been filtered to remove solids.  Fermented apple juice is called “hard cider.”  Worldwide, cider varies in alcohol content from less than 3% alcohol by volume (ABV), to 8.5% ABV or above in traditional English ciders.  New tax legislation passed by Congress in December 2015 brought U.S cider definitions into alignment with international standards, raising the allowable levels of carbonation and alcohol content and including pears as well as apples in the definition of (hard) cider.

The first recorded references to cider date back to Roman times; in 55 BCE Julius Caesar found the Celtic Britons fermenting cider from native crabapples. The people of northern Spain were making sidra before the birth of Christ. The Norman Conquest of England in 1066 resulted in the introduction of many apple varieties from France and cider soon became the most popular drink after ale. Cider began to be used to pay tithes and rents – a custom that continued later in America.  Cider is still very popular in England, which has the highest per capita consumption as well as the largest cider producing companies in the world.  Cider is also traditional in western Europe, including Brittany and Normandy in France.

Cider in America

Only 9 years after first landing at Plymouth in 1620, European colonists planted apple trees in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In Colonial America, cider was the most common beverage, and even children drank it in a diluted form.  In many places, the water was not safe to drink and most homesteads had an apple orchard.  Pressing and fermenting fresh apple juice was the easiest way to preserve the large fruit harvest.  In rural communities, taxes, wages and tithes were often paid in cider. It was also the basis for other products, such as vinegar, which was used to preserve fresh foods and for other purposes around the farm.

However, by the late 1800s, cider began its decline from the most popular beverage in the nation. Several unrelated forces combined to essentially wipe cider from the collective memory of America.  A major factor was the Industrial Revolution, bringing people from the farm to the city to live and work. Many orchards were abandoned, resulting in reduced production.  Unfiltered and unpasteurized cider did not travel well from farms to the new centers of population.  An additional element was the increased consumption of beer, especially in cities. Immigrants arriving from Germany and Ireland, and cheap grain available in the Midwest, led beer to replace cider in the popular market.

The most damaging factor for cider was the rise of the Temperance movement.  By the time Prohibition was enacted in 1919, the production of cider in the U.S. had slipped to only 13 million gallons, down from 55 million gallons in 1899. Over the next several decades, the once proud American tradition of cider making was kept alive by only a few local farmers and enthusiasts.  In recent years there has been a resurgent interest in cider making and today cider is one of the fastest-growing segments of the liquor industry.

Virginia’s cider scene has exploded over the past few years, boasting more than 20 cideries across the Commonwealth. Virginia is the sixth-largest apple producing state by acreage in the United States and cider is a rich part of the Commonwealth’s heritage. Cider styles vary from large bottle heirloom ciders to canned and draft cider. Virginia’s cider makers continue to make innovative beverages that honor their rich history while looking to new trends, tastes, and styles.  Virginia Cider Week is celebrated the second week of every November.   Stop by Valley View Farm to try our Virginia Apple and Virginia Dry ciders produced by the winemaking team at Philip Carter.

Why Does Vineyard Site Location Matter?

At Philip Carter we have three vineyards; Bigfoot in Warrenton, Philip Carter Winery (PCW) in Hume, and Strother Family Vineyard (SFV) in Delaplane.   Each is situated at a unique location.  While you are all familiar with the vineyard at PCW, the strongest vineyard that we have is our youngest, SFV.  It exemplifies some aspects of site location that I am about to go over.  When you see Tony or me in the Tasting Room, feel free to ask us about this great site and what exciting developments it is bringing to Philip Carter Winery.

Let me preface this by saying that site location is a complex topic with myriad factors going in to having the right location for a vineyard, but in a perfect world, we would take all of these elements into account when selecting a site.  Vineyard site selection is probably the most important decision in the life of a vineyard. It takes several years to develop a vineyard and produce a regular crop of grapes.  A vineyard will remain productive for decades.  Although grapevines can grow in many places, successful cultivation for quality wine production is limited to sites where specific conditions are met and rigorous management practices conducted. Some of the primary factors affecting vines are as follows:

  • Physical Environment (e.g., elevation, latitude, slope, aspect, soil type);
  • Natural Phenomena (e.g., climate, seasonal variations, weather & hazards);
  • Viticulture and Vineyard Management (e.g., layout of vineyard, grape varieties and rootstocks, infrastructure (irrigation, wind machines)).

This is a lengthy topic and for today’s conversation I am going to address some of the physical aspects that you must evaluate when selecting a vineyard site.  Be warned, that this discussion is going to get a little technical.


Elevation influences the minimum and maximum temperatures in a vineyard. Lower elevations are preferable at high latitudes, and higher elevations are more desirable at lower latitudes. On average, the temperature falls 1.1 degrees F per 330 feet (0.61°C/100 m) of elevation, which means the growing season will be shorter increasing the possibility of frost at higher elevations.


Relative Elevation

Poor relative elevation can significantly reduce the quality of an otherwise good site; such is the case with vineyards located within valleys.  Although the vineyard may fall within the acceptable absolute elevation range, because of its location at the lowest point at an otherwise good elevation, it may be prone to spring and fall frosts.  It is better if the vineyard is located at an elevation referred to as the “thermal belt.” The thermal belt is a mountainside zone where frost or freezing temperatures are less likely to occur than they are at either higher or lower elevations.



Grapevines are temperate-climate plants; the major viticulture regions of the world are concentrated between the latitudes of 30 and 50 degrees.  In this zone the relatively large diurnal (daytime vs. nighttime) temperature range is optimal to produce the combination of sugar and acid levels that enable grapes to be made into quality wine.



The slope of a site refers to the degree of inclination of the land expressed as a percentage.  For example, a 5-foot fall over a 100-foot horizontal distance would be a 5 percent slope. The ideal site for grapevines is on gently sloping land that allows cold air to drain into lower areas.  This reduces the risk of frost injury and cold winter temperatures.  Further, good air drainage promotes faster drying canopies, which reduces the frequency of disease.



A vineyard’s aspect refers to the direction that the slope faces (e.g., east, southeast, etc.). Aspect affects the angle that the sunlight hits the vineyard and heat balance.  Aspect is more important in higher latitudes where radiation is weaker, due to the angle of the sun, and light interception may be limiting to growth.


  • Southern-facing Aspects

Vineyards with southern aspects (for the Northern Hemisphere) warm earlier in the spring and the vines may undergo bud break earlier than vineyards with northern aspects. The early bud break is desirable in locations that do not have a danger of spring frost because it translates into earlier bloom and harvest of the fruit.


  • Western-facing Aspects

Western-facing slopes are a popular choice for late-maturing varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, promoting fruit ripening in the waning heat and daylight of fall.


  • Eastern-facing Aspects

Eastern-facing aspects receive the first of the morning radiation, warming canopy and soil temperatures fastest when temperatures are generally at their lowest and most limiting.


  • Northern-facing Aspects

In cool climates where summers are cool and growing degree-days are low, northern slopes (for the Northern Hemisphere) should be avoided and southern aspects (S, SE, and SW) are preferred to allow maximum heat accumulation on that site to grow and ripen grapes.


Soil supports vine root structure and influences the amount of minerals and nutrients available to the vine.  The ideal soil condition is a layer of thin topsoil and subsoil that retains water but also has good drainage so that the roots do not become overly saturated.  The ability of the soil to retain heat and/or reflect it back up to the vine is also an important consideration that affects the ripening of the grapes.  Some of the more common soils that we see in Virginia are as follows:

  • Clay

Sedimentary rock based soil that has good water retention ability but poor drainage. The soil is often very cool and high in acidity. The Right Bank of Bordeaux is dominated by clay-based soils.


  • Granite

Composed of 40-60% quartz, 30-40% Orthoclase and various amounts of hornblende, mica, and other minerals. This soil warms quickly and retains heat well. The soil’s high level of acidity works to minimize the acid levels in the grapes.


  • Loam

Warm, soft, fertile soil composed of roughly equal amounts of silt, sand and clay. It is typically too fertile for high quality wines that need to limit yields in order to concentrate flavors.


  • Shale

Fine grain sedimentary based soil that can turn into slate when under pressure. The soil is moderately fertile and retains heat well.

I have just hit you with some very technical information, my suggestion is that the next time you are at a winery with an attendant vineyard, take some of these factors into account and evaluate the site.  Then ask questions during your tasting or with knowledgeable members of the winery staff.  You will learn more and it can be fun for the staff to have an in-depth conversation.   Personally, I love to geek about wine and have great conversations with others who are interested in our industry.

The History of Port

Port was developed in the early 1700s because of a trade agreement between England and Portugal.  England and France had been in a mercantile war that oftentimes broke into open warfare and of course, England is too far north to really grow and ripen grapes (though they’ve been exploring Sparkling wines of late).  Therefore, the English were looking for other places where they could possibly find wine, and one of those places was Portugal.  They concluded a treaty in 1703 that reduced the duties on English woolen goods, which would then be shipped to Portugal, and reduced the duty on Portuguese wine, which would then be brought back to England.

Well, this all sounded well and good except that the Portuguese wine didn’t taste the same as the French wine, and the English consumers didn’t accept it.  Therefore, the individuals who were involved in the trade had to come up with a new type of wine, and they were the ones who developed what we know today as Port.  They arrested fermentation when the wine was still quite sweet and added alcohol until the wine roughly reached 18% alcohol.

Philip Carter’s Port Style Wine – ‘1762’

In the spirit of this tradition, our port style wine is made from 100% Chambourcin grapes from the 2015 harvest.   It has been aged in Bourbon Whiskey barrels from the A. Smith Bowman distillery for 38 months.  The wine is fortified shortly after fermentation with high alcohol grape brandy and is both unfiltered and unfined.  This wine shows an intense deep red color with orange hues from longer barrel aging.  On the palate, it is full of ripe red fruit flavors, rich dark chocolate, and a touch of bourbon leading to a long-lasting finish.  It is 6.3% residual sugar and 18.8% alcohol.

Food Pairing Notes

This port pairs well with both mild goat cheese as well as aromatic blue cheese. A fine cigar is also a worthy companion for this wine.

Vineyard Activity during the Depths of Winter

At this time of year we are frequently asked, what if anything is going on at Philip Carter Winery? While the production work has slowed following the conclusion of harvest, it is one of the most important times of year for our vineyard management program.

The main purpose of vineyard management is to achieve a maximum yield of fruit, at the desired quality level. One of the greatest influences on both yield and quality is winter pruning. Winter pruning involves the removal of up to 90% of the previous season’s vine growth. The overall goal of winter pruning is to prepare the vines for the upcoming growing season. This pruning helps to construct the location and general development of the canopy. A properly constructed canopy has great influence on overall grape yield, health, and development.

This highly influential pruning is normally conducted during the winter months, while the vines are dormant. In the fall, the vines begin moving complex minerals and nutrients via the vascular system from the leaves, down into the permanent wood (roots, trunk, and cordons). Pruning too early in the season can disrupt this nutrient transfer, leaving the vines deficient for the upcoming growing season. Pruning too late can sometimes lead to a delayed bud-break, which in turn can affect the entire growing season. In addition, pruning while the vines are dormant and absent of foliage allows for easier wood selection and cane tying.

The first round of winter pruning removes the majority of the cane (the previous season’s growth) to allow for a more precise bud selection at the final pruning pass.

Pruning removes buds, via cane removal, that would otherwise become new shoots and bear fruit the following season. By removing buds, growth is concentrated into the remaining buds, and eventually, canopy and fruit development. Before winter pruning, a single vine can have well over 100 buds. On average, a single vine is pruned down to 30-36 buds per vine.

Pruning either too much or too little can lead to an unbalanced vine and grape development. Pruning the vines too much means more buds were removed than necessary and the growth from those remaining buds might not provide enough nutrients and minerals to fully ripen the fruit. During dormancy, precious nutrients and minerals are stored in all woody parts of the vines, and the more woody material removed, the fewer nutrients and minerals available for the upcoming growing season. Not pruning the vines enough means too many buds were left on the spurs, which will result in an excess of vegetative growth, leading to uneven fruit development.

Selecting how many buds to leave per spur depends on many different factors. Usually, the younger a vine the fewer buds left per spur. As the vine matures, more buds are left per spur until vine and grape development are at an achieved balanced state. If vines sustain cold damage over the winter, more buds may need to be left per spur to achieve proper vine and grape development.

Winter pruning should be seen as just the first step in a growing season towards achieving vine balance and optimum grape development. When properly pruned, shoot vigor can be controlled permitting the vine to fully ripen its fruit to the desired yield. Equally important to consistently ripening fruit from one year to the next is the overall long-term health of the vines.

At PCW, we have three distinct vineyard locations, Vineyards at Hume, Strother Family Vineyards in Delaplane, and Bigfoot Vineyards in Warrenton. Three unique vineyard sites across the northern Piedmont totaling 20 acres of vineyards.

Of our three locations, the Strother Family Vineyards offers one of the preeminent vineyard sites in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. Its southeast aspect and dramatic slopes are perfectly positioned at a 1,050’ altitude. The soils are a silty clay loam with a complex residuum mix of weathered granite and gneiss, and are classified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as being of statewide importance. There is a sense of place to SFV and its terroir produces exceptionally delicate wines with beautiful minerality that are both expressive and reflective of the Piedmont of Virginia region. At this site, we grow Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Manseng.

Buds – One or more embryonic shoots protected in a series of modified leaves called bud scales.
Bud Break – When buds begin to swell and grow.
Cane – The vine shoot from the period it matures and lignifies (turns brown and woody) until the end of the second year of growth.
Canopy – The foliage cover of the vine.
Compound-bud – The mature axillary bud that survives the winter; typically possessing three immature buds in differing states of development.
Cordon – An arm or trunk extension positioned horizontally or at an angle to the axis of the trunk.
Spur – A short cane possessing the desired bud count.
Trunk – The vertical wood stem of a vine up to the origin of the branches.
Vitis vinifera – The primary grape species cultivated and used as a source of wine, table grapes, and raisin grapes.
Yield – The fruit crop per area planted.