James River Cellars Winery in Hanover County battles back after ‘shortest harvest season on record’

Hanover County

GLEN ALLEN, Va. (WRIC) — With a late frost in Virginia’s 2020 grape growing season, 2021 wines may be in short supply.

According to Dr. Tony Wolf of the Alson H. Smith Jr. Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Winchester, the quality of 2021 wines is expected to be good, but consumers should buy it while they can.

James River Cellars Winery has expanded its outdoor space to account for social distancing amid the pandemic. (Photo: Olivia Jaquith)

Dr. Mitzi Batterson is the co-owner of James River Cellars Winery in Glen Allen. The family-owned winery has been open to the public for 19 years, with 2020 reportedly being the worst on record.

“This year’s growing season was a true 2020 experience,” Dr. Batterson said. “It was our shortest harvest season on record.”

It all started with an April frost, which impacted different parts of the state to various degrees.

“We have different climates; you’ve got mountains, you’ve got beaches, so the good thing is a a frost coming in in one area doesn’t normally hit the whole state,” Dr. Batterson said. “And then Mother’s Day weekend came, and we had two back-to-back 25-degree days, so May 7 and 8 just killed us. It took everything out in our entire vineyard. Normally, we could see — I mean, we’ve got 25 acres of grapes — we would see so much tonnage. We knew on May 8, we had no harvest from our own vineyard.”

The cellars at James River Cellars Winery are stocked with barrels filled with 2019 grapes. (Photo: Olivia Jaquith)

The owners of James River Cellars Winery also manage and maintain a vineyard seven miles away, which was damaged in the frost, as well, but not to the same extent.

“So harvest for us, knowing it was very small, very minimal, we just would’ve changed some things we were doing this year, delayed some bottlings and things like that,” Dr. Batterson said. “We’ll be bottling our 2019 next month, since we knew we weren’t going to have to worry about massive tons of grapes coming in. So it was our shortest harvest season on record.”

Dr. Batterson tells 8News that 2019, however, was a solid harvest year, which is what the winery will be falling back on to aid its production.

“We had great yields, quantities, great fruit quality, and so we’re going to be living off of 2019 for a couple of years,” Dr. Batterson said. “[There was a] massive drop in production with 2020, and so we’re going to focus kind of like on our popular or biggest sellers. So I don’t anticipate — so as long as we don’t have back-to-back years, as long as we don’t see something like this again, the ability to rebound for the majority of the wineries should still be there.”

James River Cellars Winery is making adjustments to account for the shortest harvest season on record in 2020. (Photo: Olivia Jaquith)

The winemaker at James River Cellars Winery has since made some adjustments to what was being done with the fruit from 2019. Dr. Batterson says the grapes are being kept in the barrels longer to develop more character before they are bottled.

But not every winery had such success in the previous year.

“The smaller the winery, the newer the winery, they may not have that buffering ability,” Dr. Batterson said, “they may not have an inventory that’s going to carry them through.”

Her advice?

“For your favorite Virginia wine, I probably would say this regardless of the year, if you find something you really like for that particular vintage year, stock up,” Dr. Batterson said. “Virginia always has some unique challenges thrown at us, and it’s usually different combinations of hurdles each year.”

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