Jim Law is one cool guy: a visit to Linden Vineyards

The fog is lifting on the rolling hills around us. Birds are singing in the background, and the sharp whack-whack of a woodpecker can be heard in the woods.

The scenery is stunning but all eyes are focused on Jim Law, Linden Vineyard’s owner/winemaker, as he walks TasteCampers through his vineyard.  Jim is both interesting and likeable, and his wines are the highlight of the weekend.

Linden started in 1983 when Jim bought 6 acres down a windy backcountry road in the Virginia Blue Ridge area. Similar to many Virginia winemakers, Jim is heavily influenced by Bordeaux. His vineyards include the 5 red Bordeaux grapes and a variety of whites including Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

An easygoing farmer, Jim talked about the different things he has tried over the years to constantly improve the quality of his wines. After 10 years of experimenting with spacing and clones, he is still deciding what works best in all the areas of the vineyard.

Jim takes a thoughtful, long term approach to vineyard management, seeing what works best and making adjustments as needed to pruning style, clone selection, and weed management. Wanting to improve his merlot, he took a trip to Bordeaux to learn about picking strategy and realized that he was harvesting his too early.

Many factors play into his decision for when to harvest. The weather can dictate what he has to do, sometimes forcing him to pick earlier than he would like. With his white grapes, he focuses on the acidity.

He waits for the malic acid levels to drop below tartaric acid levels to get mineral acidity instead of apple acidity. He takes about 150 berries and sends them to Virginia Tech for analysis but really relies on his taste to guide him.

With his reds, he focuses on tannin levels, making sure the tannins aren’t green yet the grapes aren’t overripe. Sugar levels are checked to ensure they don’t get too high and lead to an overly alcoholic wine.

Jim starts managing the sugar levels during the growing season by leaf pulling and increasing vine density to reduce the sugars.

One thing Jim really likes about growing grapes in Virginia is that every growing year is totally different. With the mild winter and warm spring of 2012, the entire region is about 2-3 weeks ahead of normal. Jim’s biggest fear with such an early start is an early harvest. If forced to pick too early, the whites lose acidity and don’t have time to build finesse.

The reds don’t build up color and tannins.  It will be interesting to see how the 2012 season progresses and what decisions Jim has to make at harvest time.

Linden Vineyards is definitely worth a visit and is open for tours and tastings. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll catch Jim in the tasting room or on a cellar tour. I guarantee you’ll enjoy your time with him.

To watch Jim’s vineyard tour, check it out on Virginia Wine TV which was on hand to film.

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