On 31 March, I called this time in which we are living crazy. And it is even crazier now.

We had that early budbreak I forecasted in my last installment and fairly robust growth in the Sangiovese, Cab Franc, and south-facing Petit Manseng when frost struck on 16 April. That cold evening caused some pretty significant damage in the aforementioned varieties, but they all seemed to come through it well enough. Yields were going to be down, but we saw a fair amount of fruit coming back from the secondary buds.

Frost damage 16 April 2020

That all came to a screeching halt the Saturday evening before and Sunday morning of Mother’s Day [9-10 May]. Officially, we had a low of 32F that morning, but the thermometer on our front porch read 30F around 5a on Sunday. Our house sits at a lower elevation than the vineyard, and it is entirely possible that it was a little cooler down here on the way to the bottom than what we saw in the vines, but the absolute number is irrelevant: We had a second damaging frost, and this time, it got everything. We are forecasting near 100% loss of fruit for 2020, a year that just keeps on giving. My friend John Wright from Sanctuary Vineyards in Currituck County [coastal NC] used the hashtag #viticuturaldumpsterfire in this Instagram post, and I can’t think of a better descriptive.

The new barn, almost complete

The tasting room is still closed because of COVID-19. Collectively, the state of NC is at two full months of being ‘shut down’ in an effort to slow the spread of the virus, and just this week, we started Phase I of re-opening. Phase I did not allow for restaurants, pubs, or tasting rooms to reopen, so we are waiting for guidance of what and when Phase II will be.

While we are closed, I took some time to create a video of our barn building project, which you can find here on our YouTube channel. It was a combination of wanting to tell the story, share some of our images, and learn new software [I had never used Adobe Premiere Pro before]. I admit to cheating a fair amount by using AfterEffects for some of the sequences, but the final project was all done in PP.

Everyone is hoping for a V-shaped recovery, but frankly, I think that is optimism to the point of foolishness. The US is looking at unemployment levels not seen since the Great Depression, hovering just under 20%, and even if every business reopens and rehires all of the employees, folks just are not in a financial position to be out and about spending money at local businesses. I am a firm believer in forecasts, managing to the numbers, and being realistic with expectations, but this is one of those times where I simply have no idea how to forecast the rest of this year. Will we see our typical summer volume? Growth? Decline? I really have no basis in fact for making that kind of call, but I have set my own expectations pretty low for the remainder of 2020. I hope my cynicism is proven wrong; it is impossible to describe how happy I would be to write another post in a couple of months shouting about my obvious ignorance in May because of strong growth through the summer.

Ranger, just for fun! He is up to eight pounds.

Small businesses are not sitting on large piles of cash, and frequently not even large LoCs. We operate on cash flow, with sales today funding products, packaging, labor, mortgage, utilities, debt payments, et al tomorrow. Chef Katie Button [someone I have admired for years, and an amazing culinary talent] says it best in this piece. Your favorite restaurant, the one that is so hard to get a reservation [like Curate!]? They don’t have large reserves; running that operation takes cash to meet all of the obligations, so your dinner reservation this evening pays for the kitchen labor or the rent. When people aren’t eating, those obligations go unfunded. Your favorite shop? Same thing. Inventory, labor, rent all cost money, and it takes sales to create that cash. Your favorite winery? The same thing applies to us too. And you can help any of the above with their obligations of today. Gift certificates are great; they are cash in hand for a future visit. Online and phone orders get product in your hand and cash to the small business you want to support, to help them be there when this is all over.