Thursday, August 28, 2008

Hail wipes out Chaddford's '08 crop

Several winery proprietors have talked about harvest being their favorite time of the year, the climax to a long year spent pruning, training and planning. That goes for Lee and Chris Miller, the proprietors of Chaddsford Winery. Only this year they will be sitting on the sideline wondering what him them.

Asked earlier tonight how soon after this weekend’s Labor Day Jazz Festival at the winery that they will be picking, Lee said simply that they won’t be picking in their vineyard this year. “That we’re not picking means we have no grapes.”

Hail that fell as part of a vicious system that moved through Eastern Pennsylvania a couple of weeks ago wiped out their vineyard in
Elverson, located a little less than an hour’s drive northwest of the winery. The storm destroyed what’s called the Miller Estate Vineyard, which Lee said provides close to 40 percent of what they make.

“We’re still kind of in shock,” she said, “because what we make from our vineyard are the high-end wines . . . our
Due Rossi, our Merican, our Miller Estate Chardonnay [and] Miller Estate Pinot Noir, and those are all gone for this year.”

While the area as a whole got hit pretty hard, Lee said the hail damage seemed restricted to their patch of ground. “It was pretty isolated,” she said. “There’s a vineyard just on the other side of the hill, maybe a half-mile from us that did not get hit. It was a huge storm, there was a lot of damage, a lot of hail. They were talking about hail like golf balls. We were at the beach, it was either two or three weeks ago. It was a Sunday night and it came in and sliced up everything. What wasn’t literally damaged by the hail we had to go through the next two weeks, and we just picked it and dropped it on the ground because we had to get it off. The leaves were all shredded and so the vines couldn’t support a crop anymore without the leaves and the fruit was starting to rot, so we had to throw it all away.”

They’ve seen their share of bad weather, Lee said, since opening their winery in 1982. Today it produces around 30,000 cases annually. But nothing to this extent. In fact, she said that state viniculturalist Mark Chien called it the worst damage to a vineyard that he has ever seen, either on this coast or the West Coast.

They wrote up a note about the loss that will be placed on their Web site over the next couple days, and it wasn’t easy. It’s a loss that touches the entire Chaddsford family, from the Millers to a staff that include vineyard manager Brent Mihalcik. “It’s so personal to him,” she said. “He’s been in this vineyard for probably close to 20 years and it’s, you know, they’re his babies. He took it really, really hard.”

As did they. “Eric wrote up this little report about it and he was talking in there about how sad it is to wait. It’s almost like having a baby. You’re nurturing this all year and you get to harvest and you have all your plans made and you decided what you’re going to do and what wines you’re going to make and all of a sudden it’s gone. And you have to wait another year to get a chance again.

“It’s just this vintage. Obviously from a customer standpoint, most people won’t notice any difference,” she said. “We’ll adjust our inventory, we’re buying more grapes from other people, we’ll make some different wines this year. But the people who really follow Chaddsford for those things from that particular vineyard will know there is nothing in ’08."