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.