' Something to Celebrate at Chatham Despite a Trying Year in the Vineyard - Chatham Vineyards on Church Creek



Something to Celebrate at Chatham Despite a Trying Year in the Vineyard

Remember last year’s mild winter followed by the cool spring? The unusually wet, tropical summer and miserable humidity that followed June’s splendid temperatures? In Mother Nature’s Rubik’s Cube of weather combinations, she certainly came up with a doozey if you’re growing grapes.


Less experienced vintners might struggle to find a silver lining after a year of early budbreak and vines that lacked the kind of resiliency a dormant winter provides.


Jon Wehner has been vintner at Chatham Vineyards since 1999.


Time — Chatham Vineyards is entering its 25th year in operation in 2024 — offers lessons that come from trial and error. The kind of wisdom that can only be earned by a seasoned vineyard manager and professional work crews walking the same rows of vines day after day, year after year. That intimate connection evolves into viticulture expertise, which in turn makes for thoughtful decision making. That level of detail in turn correlates into the winery, where Jon is and has been Chatham’s only winemaker.


“The best vineyards in the world have one thing in common,” he says. “The owner is involved and there’s continuity of the vineyard workers. What I love about the wine business is it’s a slow, subtle business. The fast way is the slow way.”


Despite the challenges the 2023 climate presented on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, the taste in barrel and tank that will age before being bottled is distinctively Chatham. The wines will reflect the unique maritime terroir that comes from the minerality of the ancient sea bed, the bleached out oyster shells and the salt deposits in the soil.


“If I pull a tank sample of our Steel Chardonnay,  people who have been drinking it since 2004 will still be able to recognize it as Chatham Steel Chardonnay,” Jon says.


The past year marked the beginning of vineyards planted in 2018 coming online, grapes anticipated to be part of Chatham wines for its next 20 years. These include a new French clone that will go into the Steel Chardonnay, adding another blending component to Chatham’s signature wine.


“While the younger vines don’t have the depth and complexity of the older ones, they are easier to manage during a challenging year,” Jon says. “The canopy is thinner, which helps with disease resistance, ventilation and air flow.”


“In the timeline of Chatham, this is a pivotal time in that we’re redeveloping, using what we’ve learned over the last 25 years to improve our wines and to reset,” Jon says. “With the knowledge, we’re empowered to make decisions, knowing what performs well and what doesn’t.”


Chardonnay is a keeper as is the Petit Verdot. So, too, is Cabernet Franc. Planted in 2007, this elegant red fruit with delicate tannins, impactful aromatics, minerality, hints of raspberry and milk chocolate and an herbal quality has transitioned from a budding performer to a sold-out superstar.


The ability of Jon, vineyard manager José Macias and a crew of familiar vineyard workers to anticipate challenges due to their intimate knowledge of each grape varietal that makes for few surprises at the crush pad, is what’s behind Chatham’s integrity and consistency, unaffected even during a year when Mother Nature was more unpredictable than usual.


Embracing the time-tested practices of good farming and stewardship, Chatham is set up to continue producing thoughtful, vineyard-driven wine for both the new year and many thereafter.


That’s something to raise a glass to when the clock strikes midnight on Dec. 31.

Post By:   Amanda Shortt
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