Racking the Wine and Stirring the Lees

First and Foremost, a belated Happy New Year to all! I trust and hope that 2014 will turn out to be a very special year filled with happiness and all resolutions being met and exceeded.

At Keswick Vineyards, most of the work is centered on the vineyard, ensuring we get all the pruning done before bud break in early April, but the wines and the winery still need some attention. The harvest that was 2013 was challenging to say the least, with a spring frost, a cooler than normal growing season and wildlife of biblical proportions testing the growers and winemakers across the state. I started calling myself Moses since I had 2 of everything on this farm eating the grapes.

Spur pruning the Bordeaux block

Spur pruning the Bordeaux block

For us, we had to be very careful with how we managed the vineyard and as such decided to bring fruit in a little earlier than hoped, choosing to be a touch more proactive in the winery than we would generally like to be. Since the fruit was not optimally ripe, sorting was critical and many hours were spent on the sorting table, eradicating anything unsatisfactory. We also stayed true to our philosophy of natural fermentation where possible and 50% of our wines were fermented without the addition of commercial yeast, normally we are in the 80-90% range. Although the intention is to ferment wines naturally, under certain conditions of poorer fruit quality, we will add a commercial yeast in order to better control the fermentation and winemaking.

Sorting de-stemmed red fruit

Sorting de-stemmed red fruit

Fermentations all finished [thankfully] and managing the tannin extraction was critical  in ensuring the wines remained balanced, since we were dealing with elevated acid levels and slightly greener flavors. Much is made of yeast choice, fermentation temperatures and other cellar practices but we pay special attention to a rather mundane task of extreme barrel stirring. We believe that barrel stirring really has a softening affect on the astringency of our wines, as well as creating a textural component which for us is also important.

Once fermentation is completed, the yeast that converted the sugar into alcohol dies, and settles with time to the bottom of the vessel [either barrel or tank]. At this point a lot of winemakers will employ a racking, whereby most of the wine is removed from the layer of this yeast, essentially clarifying the wine to a certain extent. This process also serves the purpose of introducing oxygen into the wine, ensuring the wine does not become reductive or start smelling like rotten eggs. Others, like myself, employ a vigorous program of stirring each and every barrel of wine to ensure the yeast remains in suspension.

Dead yeast at the bottom of the tank after racking

Dead yeast at the bottom of the tank after racking

The practice of leaving the wine in contact with lees dates back to Roman times, the chemistry behind this phenomenon was not clearly understood, but the positive effects of this practice were noticed.

When wine is left in contact with lees, enzymes start to break down the cells, producing mannoproteins and polysaccharides which are released into the wine. Through a metabolic pathway, enzyme substrates [beginning molecules] are turned into some eventual product, in this case the proteins and sugars which in turn lead to fuller bodied wines with better mouthfeel.  These products also react with phenolic compounds, reducing the astringency and bitterness of tannins, which in 2013 was a concern due to slightly under ripe fruit.

same wine taken out of barrel, pre and post stirring

same wine taken out of barrel, post and pre stirring

There is no formula or yardstick by which we measure how often we should employ these stirrings, at the moment we are doing it once a week and then tasting the wine to see if there are any distinguishable changes, either positive or negative. Negative flavors could be the reducing conditions discussed above, resulting in smells reminiscent of rotten eggs, which could reduce further, leading to potentially greater problems in the wine. At this point, a racking would be the simplest form of treatment, discarding the yeast in the vessel. Thankfully, the wines are showing a positive change and are definitely showing a richer texture than when we started so for now we will continue to monitor the wines and keep stirring. The Chardonnays are displaying a creamier texture with an almost brioche like flavor, a great counter play to the acidity and minerality that has become a hallmark of our wines. The reds have fleshed out a little bit, the wines are not as disjointed as they were a few months ago and there is a better balance between the acidity, fruit and tannin structure of the wine.

Sometimes the simplest things have the most profound effect on the wine, in this case just stirring the wine constantly.

Quality control, an important part of the job

Quality control, an important part of the job

The bright spot is that after a year with one challenge after the other, the red wines are amazing and we expect to release a Heritage [our Bordeaux estate blend] for the first time since 2007 as well as a varietal Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, both of which look superb. The whites, as always, are consistent and showcase a character that we see each and every year. Still plenty of time to let these wine evolve and develop, but I am liking where they are right now and look forward to seeing where they will end up.

Stay tuned

Cheers

Stephen Barnard

Winemaker

Keswick Vineyards

www.keswickvineyards.com

Getting to the Summit – and in style.

Virginia Wine SummitYou know it is going to be a half decent day when your father in law tosses you the keys to his Maserati and says “drive”. Creeping out of the driveway at barely a crawl, Al’s instructions were clear, “drive like this and we will never get there”. Bye bye Miss Daisy, lets see what this bad boy can do! The destination? The second annual Virginia Wine Summit at the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond Virginia.

After successfully navigating rush hour traffic, and avoiding any object that could scratch the car and cause me to Virginia Wine Summitlose my house, we pulled into the parking area, having arrived on time for once. Heads were turned, sure one or two people were contemplating calling the cops seeing me get out of the car. I thought I was rather dressed up for once, having attended the meeting last year in jeans, wine stained t shirt and baseball cap. In my defense, the dress code said business attire and I would challenge anyone that thinks a winemaker dresses in a suit during harvest. Besides, chinos and flannel shirts go together like pork and beans or hotdogs and baseball, it is an ageless classic look, yet I was still very much the under dressed one of the bunch as per usual.

Virginia Wine SummitAll joking aside, the Summit is a yearly meeting of industry professionals and wine writers who talk and taste their way through a variety of topics pertaining to the Virginia Wine industry. A collection and collaboration of ideas and strategies to best promote and further our burgeoning industry. It is a day filled with informative wine tasting sessions moderated by some of the best sommeliers, wine writers and masters of wine in America. This meeting has been spearheaded by Governor McDonnell, who along with his lovely wife Maureen, have been tireless champions and promoters of this wine industry during his tenure in office. Many thanks need to be bestowed on their efforts and I am sure I speak for many industry professionals when I say that they will sorely be missed.

The day started off with a session about Cabernet Francs, aptly titled Franc-ly-Speaking. In this tasting, three Virginia wines were Virginia Wine Summittasted alongside two representations from France and one wine from the North Coast in California. In order we tasted the [1] Les Galuches: Jean Maurice Raffault 2011 [2] Fabbioli Cellars 2011 [3] Lang and Reed North Coast Cab Franc 2010 [4] Cedar Creek 2009 [5] Charles Joguet Varennes du Grand Clos 2010 and [6] Barboursville Reserve 2010. What follows is a personal opinion on the wines tasted and does not reflect the tasting of those in attendance, for, as you will later find out, opinions varied widely.

My favorite Virginia wine was the Fabbioli, a 2011 vintage that is well know among industry folk as a “crappy” year. This wine topped out at 12.5% alcohol and was matured in 25% new Hungarian oak. The nose was rather perfumy with touches of earth and spice. What made this wine impressive was the absence of the typical “vegetal” aromas that Cab Franc sometimes shows, something that you would definitely expect in a wet year like 2011. Hats off to Doug for a well crafted wine; complex, layered and could still age for 3-5 years in my opinion.

Damn that is a good one under those conditions. As far as the visiting competitors, in terms of drinking there and then, I would have favored wine number [1] but in terms of pure curiosity for the future, I gave the slight edge to the Joguet Varennes du Grand Clos. This style is not for everyone, the wine was dusty, austere, chalky and unapologetically big, needing at least 15-20 years in the bottle to truly open up, but even then it may be a surly wine. It was the most interesting though and I kept coming back to it, trying to figure it out but maybe that’s the charm of it, you cannot really put in a box, it almost stands alone.

Overall though, I favored the Virginia wines over their counterparts, proving once again that Virginia can indeed make world class Cabernet Franc. This is a well known fact amongst winemakers and writers alike, proven in a very fair tasting that we take no step back to any Cabernet Franc produced anywhere.

Virginia Wine SummitAfter a thoroughly enjoyable start to the morning, “drinking wines at 9:30 in the morning is a great way to start the day”, attendees had three break out sessions from which to choose. I chose the “Age is just a Number” session, focusing on wines with some bottle age on them.

In order, we tasted [1] Linden Avenius Chardonnay 2002 [2] Barboursville Viognier 2002 [3] Chrysalis Locksley Reserve Norton 2004  [5] Ingleside Pettie Verdot 2005 and [6] Williamsburg Winery Gabriel Archer 2003.

Both whites showed extremely well although there was some bottle variation in the Viognier from table to table. The Chardonnay was still vibrant and displayed some gorgeous palate weight and tertiary flavors from ageing. The wine is un-mistakingly made in a Burgundian style and still showed some minerality and flintiness I associate with those type of wines. Viognier on the other hand should not age, or so the opinion is, however my glass was very expressive with tropical fruit characters supported by brioche and toasty notes. I felt the moderate alcohol was starting to show a little, but Bravo to Luca for a wonderful Viognier that has truly aged beautifully.

I cannot believe I am going to say this but I favored the Norton over the other two red wines. Seeing how my opinion on Norton is well known within the industry, I almost had to choke back tears as I publicly announced that this wine was incredibly interesting and even though I wanted to hate it, I couldn’t. The wine showed showed a touch of Volatile Acid, but imparted a sweeter note to the wine and the normally tart malic acid had softened to allow some nice darker berry fruit to come through. Norton seems to showcase a certain charm 5-7 years after bottling, maybe to really give the wine it’s due, we need to allow these wines some time in the bottle. I am still not convinced that Norton is the grape to hang our Virginia hat on though. Although a true Virginian grape, customers are in the habit [for the most part] to drink wines young and while that is still the norm, Norton in my opinion will still be a polarizing grape in terms of love it or hate it. Props to Jenny though, me saying it was the most interesting of the reds is an endorsement in itself and the biggest compliment I could have paid that wine.

11 wines tasted by lunch time, how cool is this gig

Lunch included a glass of King Family Meritage and Trump Blanc de Blanc, beautiful wines, nice people, good winemakers and thoroughly enjoyed them both, “am I driving the Maserati home this evening?”

Keynote Speech by Mr.Oz ClarkeVirginia Wine Summit

I have sat on many panels and tasting seminars over the years and many times I think the “pretentious” tag given to  wine is a fault of the wine writers and professionals who use effusive terms to describe wines, where they should be getting people excited about wines and how accessible they are to anyone. Anyone who starts off a speech by saying ‘Never speak longer than you can make love to a woman” and then leaves the stage, demands attention and what a personality this gentleman turned out to be. This man knows wine, has an incredible palate, but has a way of communicating that just makes you fall in love with wine all over again. Watch You Tube and look up Oz and James drink to Britain to see what I am talking about. His speech was an impassioned plea to industry professionals to embrace our history and focus on wines that truly can stand alongside the world’s best. I got the impression that he really did taste and love many of our wines and was speaking from the heart when raving about the wines he had tasted thus far, top class guy.

The afternoon was again broken up into three sessions. Since Keswick has more Viognier planted than any other varietal, we decided toVirginia Wine Summit attend the Viognier Voyage session. Moderated by Andrew Hoover of the Wine Enthusiast magazine, three Virginia Viogniers were pitted against two examples from France and one from California.  Veritas, Pollak and Jefferson were the local champions of the grape and well made in albeit slightly different styles. The Jefferson Vineyards Viognier used Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Gris in the blend and the wine came in at around 1% residual sugar. Veritas also used blending as a tool with a small portion of Petite Manseng making it into the final wine, while the Pollak was a single varietal. My favorite of the bunch was the Veritas, made by winemaker Emily Pelton. Her hallmark seems to be one of balance and elegance, as was the case here. The wine had the typical floral and tropical aromas associated with Viognier, but enough acidity to keep the wine fresh and vibrant. Aging on the lees imparted a more viscous textural quality that I really like; so a very good wine indeed, Bravo!

My favorite wine of the lot though [and I was the only one] was the 2011 Guigal Condrieu, a full M.L 100% new barrel fermented wine. It was definitely a fatter, richer wine than the rest with a phenolic bitterness on the back end that I really liked. I honestly thought it was the most interesting of the wines but at $56 retail, I would get more bottles of the Veritas [or any Virginia Viognier] at the fraction of the price. I copped a bit of flack from some wine writers that thought I was not supporting the Virginia wines, but I had to be honest and vote for the wine I thought to be the most interesting. Here at Keswick we make 4 or 5 different Viognier wines on any given year and the hardest part for me is to make wines that are each unique in their own style. I have been told that our Viognier wines are a bit more French than most Virginia Viogniers, maybe that is why I leaned a bit to the Condrieu.

Virginia Wine SummitAfter some passionate talking points and a valuable discussion on the state Grape of Virginia, we retired to taste some locally made Ciders from Potter’s Craft, Foggy Ridge, Castle Hill, Albemarle Ciderworks and others, a perfect way to wash down the copious amounts of wine we had tasted through the course of the day.

Faced with a decision of going out to dinner with the rowdy marketing folk or heading back home, we decided to make the hour long drive back to Charlottesville and call it a day. Driving a six figure worth car is so much easier after a day spent tasting wines and I duly pulled into the winery without a scratch imparted onto the paint.

This is what makes wine and the wine community fascinating. We do not agree on everything and we each have our own style, but what a great passion we share, the passion of wine and more importantly making wine in Virginia.

Cheers

Stephen Barnard

Winemaker at Keswick Vineyards and avid promoter of Virginia Wines.

Appealing to the common wine drinker – Like Me

I have got to be honest, I am getting a bit disillusioned by the overuse of wine terms such as natural, authentic, minimalistic, pure expression and so on and so forth, as well as mystified by some of the wine prices commanded out there by top wineries. What exactly is natural wine-making, pure expression and authentic, to me these are just well thought out P.R slogans that justify the rarity and sometimes price tag that goes along with it.

What I would not give to read the back of a wine label and see something like this.

“Mother Nature just did not cooperate this year, she did everything she could to ruin my grapes, which meant I had to spray for mildew, use insecticides to control the Japanese beetle and picked early to avoid losing all my fruit to the wildlife. Sorry folks, no organic viticulture here, even though I would love to market that to you. In the winery I added sugar to increase the brix, but then the alcohol was out of whack and had to use spinning cone technology to ensure the wine was balanced. I used reverse osmosis to remove some unwanted VA and used some oak chips instead of expensive barrels to impart some oak and tannin. The wine was sterile filtered and fined; and our cork is not natural because we have issues with T.C.A. This manner of wine making will beat natural wine making this year but I promise to be less intrusive next year, unless Mother Nature throws a wrench in the works.”

Now that is a bottle of wine I will buy, maybe because I can relate to all the issues a winemaker and vineyard manager faces during the course of the growing season.

But we have two very different sides of the coin here, because there is truth in that some of the best wines in the world are pure expressions of the best vintages, the best vineyards; that truly convey a sense of place. I think this is true specifically in Burgundy, home to some of the most ethereal Pinot Noirs in the world.  Take Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, truly one of the most iconic wine names in the world, producing some of the rarest, effusive and priciest.  How can we begin to explain why the La Tache’, Echezeaux and Richebourg wines are so distinctively different. We can speak of Terroir, the soul of the vineyard, the limestone, gravel and clay soils or the deft hand of the winemaker, but to truly understand the wine, you need to taste it and at a few thousand bucks a bottle, I probably never will. Oh and by the way, my friends do not roll that way.

To say it is just booze in a bottle is sacrilegious for us oenophiles, but to someone who just enjoys a bottle of wine every now and again, it is just that; and wine booze can be bought for $2 at Trader Joe’s. Might I add as well, for that price point the wine is not half bad. For all the smoke and mirrors of marketing gurus and label experts, it is really sad that the world of fine wine is reserved only for millionaires and billionaires, excluding most of us wine lovers who really cannot afford to drop that kind of dough, and then explain it to the wife or husband. “But honey this is worth $3000 a bottle and in ten-years will probably be more like $8000, so I really got it at a 65% discount”.

A few years ago at a seafood restaurant in South Africa, the sommelier told me my wine and food did not match and that I would be better served to order something else, and may he give me a recommendation. UH, no you may not and for your information I like fish and feel like a Shiraz today thank you very much.

Is wine not supposed to be about fun, creating memories and sharing it with you people you love being around, telling stories as you polish off your third bottle without even noticing it. One of the best bottles of wine I everhttps://www.ttbonline.gov/colasonline/viewColaDetails.do?action= had was the Watcher Shiraz 2008, around $20 and who cares what the wine rating was. What made it special was that I was with my wife in our new house, sitting in camping chairs, eating pizza and chatting; more like getting tipsy and laughing hysterically, but you get the point.  Yes, I have had a 100 point wine spectator rated wine, had a wine costing over a $1000 [thanks Al] and even had a wine that was 200 years old, all wonderful but cannot compare with the emotional attachment I have to “The Watcher” made by Fetish wines. Hopefully I will get a few bottles in the mail after that endorsement.

So want a wine to be more authentic, how about this.

“This wine tastes good so have it whenever, wherever and with whatever you like, just enjoy it with someone you enjoy being around. Do not worry that it is a Monday night, for there will be another bottle on the shelf waiting for you and it will not cost you an arm and a leg..Try this Chardonnay with a medium rare steak or this Cabernet with some seafood, but whatever yo do, please just enjoy it”.

I applaud the efforts of wine makers and growers out there, I know first hand how incredibly difficult this job is, I just wish I could afford some of your wines In the market place.

Best Regards

Stephen Barnard

Winemaker

Keswick Vineyards

The State of Virginia Wine 2002 – present

Have I really just finished my 13th harvest in Virginia? Indeed I have, and maybe now would be a good time to reflect on the decision to come to the Old Dominion and where the future lies for the 5th largest wine-producing state in America. DSC_1201small

As a young winemaker in South Africa, having just finished harvesting with Flagstone Winery I was afforded the incredible opportunity to come to the States to make wine. I was offered a job at one of the largest wine-producing estates in Napa Valley, arguably one of the most recognized wine-producing areas in the world. Producing incredible Cabernet & Chardonnay and many other fine wines’ this would have been a wonderful learning experience. yet I turned it down to come to a lesser known area on the other side of the country, the Monticello A.V.A in Virginia. It all came down to opportunities and being exposed to new things. Who would turn down the opportunity to work for a brand new winery, one that had not yet made a drop of wine. To be exposed to varietals that I had never had the opportunity to work with such as Viognier, Chambourcin, Touriga Nacionale and Norton [my love/hate grape] was far more intriguing.  At that point the intention was to only be here for a year or so and head elsewhere, ultimately ending up back in South Africa making wine. lugs

“Virginia, huh?” said my father. Yup VIRGINIA. “Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah Valley, Monticello, UVA, the canoe capitol of the world, but the wine is kind of crappy” said someone familiar with the area. Okay he did not say crappy, he used a much more colorful word to describe the wines, one that does not leave much to the imagination. “The wine is that good?” I replied sarcastically, sounds like a challenge and the perfect opportunity.

Thomas Jefferson never produced a single bottle of wine from his Monticello vineyards and neither did George Washington at Mount Vernon, yet that pioneering spirit endures today in our wine making community, for walls are to be broken down and challenges met.  Virginia might in many ways be one of the most challenging grape and wine-producing areas, but that did not stop Mr Zonin from establishing Barboursville Vineyards in 1976, hiring one of the most iconic figures in our wine industry, Gabrielle Rausse, to plant vineyards. If memory serves me correctly, Virginia had 6 already established wineries by 1970, 46 by 1995, 105 by 2007 and today a little over 200. People are starting to recognize the potential for producing fine wines in this area and are not deterred by the challenges that face them, for, as the saying goes, nothing worthwhile comes easily. I think Mr.Jefferson would be quite proud of  how far the Virginia Wine industry has come, measured by growth alone. edgewood aerial

But hang on a moment, we are in the business of producing wines, and success is measured by quality not quantity. How we are perceived by consumers and critics, measured against the benchmarks of the American wine industry? Surely this is a better indicator of our success? Leading the way in the American wine industry, in my opinion, is California. Napa has been joined by Sanoma, Paso Robles and other areas in producing distinctive wines reflecting regional character. wines that receive critical acclaim by consumers and wine writers alike.  And let’s not forget the states to the North, Oregon and Washington, who are also producing many world-class wines. Try Cabernet from Washington State and Pinot Noir from Oregon to see what I am talking about.

So the big question.

” Are we making wines that are world-class and can compete with anything the West Coast can throw at us?”

If we are comparing apples to apples, Cabernet to Cabernet, then the simple answer is No, not every year. However, every now and again we get vintages like 2009 and 2010 where we produce something special, our 2009 Estate Grown Cabernet was one of only 22 wines that received a double gold medal at the San Francisco International Wine Competition. So there is certainly potential there, even if mother nature only allows us the opportunity once every 4-5 years. If we talk about Viognier, Cabernet Franc and blended reds, then the answer, in my humble, biased opinion, is that you bloody well betcha. I have tried some Meritage blends, Cabernet Franc and Viognier wines that I think can more than hold their own with our West Coast counterparts. I would even go as far as to say that they can hold their own with other wine regions in the world. Not consistently year in and year out, but us winemakers are working on achieving that. _DSC4634_2

I think the biggest issue facing Virginia and the future is one of identity.  in that I think we currently lack one. Using Viognier as an example, purely because it is the  State grape of Virginia, does a distinctive style come to mind? Not really. Viogniers can be sweet and syrupy, austere and centered on acidity, over oaked and dry, light and thin or rich and unctuous.  Viognier wines run the gamut and in a lot of ways lacks a regional identity, i.e. the customer can not readily recognize it as Virginia. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, on the other hand, is distinctive and unique, as is Cabernet to Napa, Blends from the right bank of Bordeaux, Pinot Noir from Burgundy and Shiraz made in Australia. Wines that scream of place, un-ashamed and loud. Virginia needs this, needs a wine [or wine style] that proudly claims to be ours. Unfortunately, I think it will take a few more years to get there, but the results and the improvements over the last 10 years are nothing short of miraculous.

So what are consumers saying about us ?

If growth and sales of Virginia wine are anything to go by, then we are doing really well.  Domestic sales of Virginia wine went up by 6% and exported wine sales went up by 70 odd %. We have seen increases in sales out of state, out of country and within the state itself, which points to recognition from consumers that Virginia is producing world-class wines. I have always said that the best of Virginia can stand alongside the best from anywhere else, seems like I am not the only who now thinks that. FANTASTIC.

The Future

I would like to recognize a few people who I think have been instrumental in promoting our wines and our State. I think Governor McDonnell and the First Lady deserve a lot of credit for promoting our wine industry. Emerging markets have been opened through trade missions to Asia and to Europe, our wines are now being exported to China and London. By serving only Virginia wines at the mansion and by creating the Virginia Wine Summit, the Governor has really put a focus on our wines. Wine Enthusiast named Virginia as one of its top ten wine destinations in the world. Along with Secretary Haymore and the Virginia Wine Marketing Office, we producers have the backing of people who can make things happen and get the word out there, a big thank you to you. Governor McDonnell

In Tony Wolf and Dr. Bruce Zoecklein we have two gentleman whom I admire tremendously. Their work and willingness to be available to us has certainly increased the quality of our wines and vineyard practices. One need only attend any of the number of technical meetings to see the amount of work and effort being put into our industry, benefits that a
re reaping big rewards today. And of course all the winemakers and vineyard managers in the State. I am amazed at the talent and the enthusiasm shown for this profession, combined with the willingness to work together. Lead by stalwarts such as Luca Paschina, Dennis Horton and Jim Law, the future of Virginia wine is in good hands and I for one am excited to write another blog in 10 years, raving about how our wines have progressed.

There is still a lot of work to be done, we cannot rest on our laurels and we need to recognize that we are not there yet. We are moving in the right direction and at a frenetic pace, and people are noticing.

So do I have any regrets about coming to Virginia and making wine? With the state of this industry, a beautiful wife and daughter to show for it and some decent wines in the library and nothing but a bright future ahead, WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Our 2011 creation

Our 2011 creation

Kindly

Stephen Barnard

Proud winemaker in Virginia @ Keswick Vineyards

How good wine is really made at Keswick Vineyards, 5 easy steps.

We have all read about how great wine is made in the vineyards- that if all being equal, the best fruit will ultimately equate to the best wine being made. True enough, better fruit gives you the chance to make better wines, but there are a few steps in the middle between the harvest and the bottling.

So before you think this is about picking time, phenolic maturity, indigenous yeast and oak selection, let me offer you a different insight as to how we make great wine here at Keswick Vineyards.

May I present, 5 simple steps for a winemaker to be successful.

[1] Invest in an awesome wife or partner.BarnardWedding-10404edit

I think sub-consciously that I am trying to win a few points here, since my 4th year wedding anniversary is coming up and I still have no idea what to do. My wife Kathy [a.k.a the BOSS] is pretty understanding of what I do and puts up with me when most others would not. To be a winemaker means a lot of time spent at the winery, instead of being at home hanging out with the missus and the family. To be at your best, a winemaker needs a supporting [check], loving [double check] and understanding [mostly] wife who buys into your philosophy and passion about making wine. She does not mind waking up to grape skins in the bed and me spending money on obscure varietals such as Alvarinho and Molinara for purely “research” purposes. So to my loving wife, I say thank you for letting me do what I do, could not do it without your love and support and by the way, Happy Anniversary in advance for the 1st [in case I forget].

[2] Work for someone who allows you to express yourself.DSC_1201small

Okay, I admittedly work for my in-laws and they by law have to put up with me.  Truthfully though, they give a fair amount of free reign to experiment and tinker in the winery and vineyard. Sorry Al, I know you prefer V.S.P but I really think the ballerina system is the way to go. It is easier to work for someone who shares your love and passion for wine, and sees the bigger picture.  Al still has not bought into the notion of drinking his 50 year old first growth wines for research purposes on a Sunday evening, but I cannot get everything I want. Maybe I need to talk to his boss Cindy. Truly a big thank you to them for allowing me to do what I do.

[3] Have a good vineyard/support staff.lugs

As much as I have tried, I cannot maintain 45 acres of vines on my own, I have to delegate and rely on others. These are the guys and girls that deserve a lot of credit, working in 95 degree heat is not fun and they do it day in and day out for me. Virginia is not the easiest place in which to grow grapes and a lot of work, effort and sweat goes into producing them. I like to say that we are minimalistic in our approach to making wine, but it takes a lot of work to be that in the vineyard. You can only be hands off in the winery if you are hands on the vineyard and while I ask and demand a lot in the vineyard, my crew over delivers each and every year and deserves extra kudo’s. So kudo’s to you, Thomas and PJ, from me, thank you guys for a wonderful job.

[4] Have a great front and back office staff.

_MG_7680 (800x533)I think that what is in the bottle is only a small part of the whole experience when you visit a winery. A wine can be well made but the taste left in your mouth can be sour if the experience and customer service is not up to par. We put a lot of effort into training and I think we have an exemplary staff who do a wonderful job in presenting our wines to the customer through our tasting room and wine club. I am always proud to hear first hand from a customer that they had a wonderful experience, and more importantly, that they will be back in the future. No-one can tell your story better than you, and I am lucky to have a staff that do a great job in promoting not only our wine, but all of those made in the Commonwealth. In their hands, the future of our winery is a bright one. Thank you also to the back office staff, Leah for paying me on time [always appreciated] as well as to Brian and Kathy who tirelessly promote our winery.

[5] A loyal customer base and fantastic wine club._MG_7730 (800x533)

The reason we pour heavily is to make people happy!  Not quite true, but we are here to make the customer happy. Customer is king and we thank each and every person that has and will buy a bottle of our wine. We are blessed to have a loyal following and I believe the 4th largest wine club in Virginia, some that have been members since our tasting room opened in 2006.  It is a great feeling to call a lot of them our friends and I thank everyone for their support.  In return I am happy to take case orders for that endorsement.

Wine-making and farming is not an easy endeavor, but it does help when you have some of the finest people supporting you and having your back. This is a shout out to my wife, my family and all of my staff for making my job a helluva lot easier.  Our winery success is in no small way directly attributed to them.

Personally, I thank everyone of them.

Kindly

Stephen Barnard

Winemaker for Keswick Vineyards

P.S – if my staff are reading this, please get back to work!

Ladies and Gentleman, may I present our newest Viognier

Ah, the often mispronounced grape of Croation origin [possibly] and revered in the Rhone appellation of Condrieu and Chateau Grillet. It also happens to be the State grape of Virginia and, lucky for us here at Keswick Vineyards, the largest planting under vine on the estate.

With up to 6 annual bottlings each year, it is safe to say that Viognier has, and will continue to play a major role in wines produced here at Keswick Vineyards.

Following a challenging 2011 harvest, I was looking forward to getting back on track and working with better quality fruit from the 2012 vintage. Having negotiated the threat of early season frost [which always seems to affect Viognier the most] the growing season was fairly ideal, with enough rain and moderate temperatures to keep the vines healthy and balanced, that was until we got the heat wave in July.

These warmer temperatures ultimately led to the harvesting of our Viognier in late August, a full 2 weeks earlier than what we normally do; albeit at great physiological ripeness and, more importantly, clean fruit.

Our goal with our Keswick Viognier, differentiated from the Reserve, Signature and LVD brand, is to highlight the wonderful aromatic character of the grape. To that end, this wine is generally a blend of wine fermented and matured in a combination of tank and neutral French oak barrels. 70% of the final blend was fermented in tank and kept there for the duration of the maturation to ensure we had a component that was bit more acidic, brighter and ultimately fresher. Viognier has a tendency to be really oily and acidity in the final wine, in my opinion, is sometimes lacking, so greater emphasis for us is placed on this component. We picked this fruit slightly greener, using acid as the primary indicator as to when to pick. Fermentation was really slow and conducted at colder temperatures, finishing only 28 days after first being initiated. After fermentation, we sulfured the wine to prevent the secondary fermentation, where malic acid turns into the softer and richer lactic acid, and topped the wines off to ensure the wines were stored safely.

The portion of barrel fermented Viognier was picked a full 7 days later, with greater emphasis placed on sugar and flavor development within the berry. After pressing, the juice was transferred to neutral barrels [ones that do not impart any perceptible oak]. 50% of the wine was allowed to ferment naturally [without the addition on commercial yeast] while the remaining 50% was inoculated with a variety of strains to build up variety of flavors and layers. To this end, we conducted a rigorous barrel stirring regime throughout the maturation period to take full advantage of the dead yeast [lees] in the barrel. Enzymes start to break the cells down, releasing mannoproteins and polysaccharides into the wine, creating a wine that is fuller, richer and creamier than wines generally fermented in tank.

Prior to assembling the final wine to be bottled, we blended multiple lots and barrels together until we were satisfied with both the wine and the style of the wine. We felt that 70% of the tank wine ensured that we did not compromise the freshness and brightness of the Viognier, while the remaining 30% of barrel fermented wine ensure the palate was still layered and complex, ensuring the final wine was extremely well-balanced.

We think the wine is fantastic and have chosen to release it tomorrow officially in the tasting room. The wine was bottled in March and has had an additional three months in bottle to really come together and integrate. Having tasted it last week, we think it is both varietally correct and representative of the style of Viognier that our customers have come to love.

I believe that 2012 will prove itself to be a strong year for whites and our new Viognier will hopefully validate that point. Time for Viognier to take center stage again. Hopefully you will enjoy the wine as much as I enjoyed making it.

Kindly

Stephen Barnard

Winemaker

Keswick Vineyards

Some Great Wines in the South

This year, my wife Kathy and I decided to take a trip filled with danger and unexpected challenges; a 36 hour journey with our 15 month old daughter to South Africa. With a semi-successful trial flight to Detroit, it was with some major trepidation that we boarded the Lufthansa flight to Munich from Dulles. The little monster turned out to be an absolute angel, having slept the whole way, but as soon as we touched the ground the little ball of energy woke up. Every inch of the airport was purveyed during our 10 hour lay over, with more than a few rides on the escalator. Another 12 hour flight to Cape Town with our little one fast asleep, travel bliss for mom and Dad.

The whole point of this trip was to introduce Aria to Grandpa, who had as of yet still not met our little one. Bonding was swift, as Aria was taken to a multitude of beaches and taught the intricacies of building sand castles. Grandparents were loving their new role, so Mom and Dad decided that the time was right to venture off and introduce our friend Aaron, who was also visiting from the US, to the offerings of the Constantia and Stellenbosch winelands.

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Our first stop was Groot Constantia, the oldest wine estate in South Africa established in 1685. It also happens to be the winery I first started working at in 1995, so I always try and make a point of stopping in and saying hello.  The Constantia area is located just a few kilometers from False Bay, with the influence of the sea breezes regulating the vineyard and ensuring that it is a relatively cool climate site. As such, Sauvignon Blanc does incredibly well. The wines tend to have vibrant acidity and range from pure grassy, grapefruit character, to a more flamboyant and flashy gooseberry and granadilla flavors; with wonderful weight and texture. Some winemakers are experimenting with small portions of oak fermented wine, back blended in with the tank for that added weight and complexity. Semillion is also making a splash, playing more than just a supporting role to Sauvignon Blanc; Groot Constantia blends 58% into theirs and was one of my favorites.  My favorite red wine was their Gouverneurs reserve, a Bordeaux blend showing an abundance of dark fruits on the palate, supported by big tannins with a hint of chocolate and mint on the finish. This is truly a beautiful wine that will only improve with cellaring of 5-8 years in my opinion.Groot Constantia Winery, Cape Town South Africa

JC LeRoux Winery, Stellenbosch South Africa

After a short 30 minute drive up the N2, we found ourselves in Stellenbosch, surrounded by the picturesque Helderberg mountains. Our first stop was at the house of J.C Le Roux, a winery that specializes in sparkling wines. The tasting room is contemporary and hip, with a vivid display of colors and little tasting nooks that lead out to decks with panoramic views of the mountains. Typically when one resorts to talking about the views at a winery you can infer that the wines do not warrant much of a discussion, but this winery creates an impressive portfolio of wines made both in the traditional and carbonated method. Kathy’s favorite was the Le Domaine, an off dry carbonated sparkler with 7.5% residual sugar, made up of a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and White Muscadel grapes. The wine is fresh, vibrant, easy drinking and sweet on the finish, no wonder it is the most popular sparkling

JC LeRoux sparkling wines, Stellenbosch South Africa

wine in South Africa. My favorite was the 2007 Pinot Noir, a traditional method sparkler with a drier finish, displaying red fruit character and a creamy finish which I imagine comes from the 18-24 months maturation on the lees. We also purchased their flagship wine, Scintilla which was not available for tasting. This blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay was drunk recently at a dinner party and did not disappoint. I found the wine to be a bit more citrus dominated, with typical bread and toasty character on the mouth, all in all a beautiful wine.

Next Stop Tokara, with once again gorgeous views of Stellenbosch, surrounded by beautiful mountains. South Africa has an abundance of natural beauty, it is truly breathtaking. Once again, we were very impressed with the wines, with my two favorites being the Director’s Reserve white and red, amazing how I gravitate towards the more expensive wines. The Reserve white, vintage 2011  is a Tokara Winery, Stellenbosch South Africabarrel fermented wine of Sauvignon Blanc 71% and Semillion 29%, matured for 9 months in French oak. This wine had an intriguing palate of almond and brioche, an extremely viscous and complex weightiness without sacrificing the brightness and citrus undertones that is Sauvignon Blanc.  John Platter rated this wine 5 stars and it is also regarded as one of South Africa’s top 100 wines; I would totally agree. The 2008 Director’s Red is a Bordeaux blend made up of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Merlot and Malbec, matured for 20 months in 100% French oak, 83% of the oak being brand new. The oak is really integrated though, allowing the dark fruit character to shine through, while finishing with an almost espresso finish. What made this wine most intriguing though, was the underlying mint character in the wine. I wanted to ask where this character was derived from, but unfortunately the winemakers were hard at work with harvest and were not available. What is interesting to note, is that their neighbor Thelema actually makes a Cabernet wine called the mint, so it must be something about the vineyard or soil, all in all it makes for a very unique character.

Neil Ellis, was our next visit, and we were excited to see the winery since we get their Sincerily Sauvignon Blanc in our local South Neil Ellis vineyards, Stellenbosch South AfricaAfrican restaurant, The Shebeen, right here in Charlottesville. Kathy opted to taste their premium range  flight while I opted for the vineyard selection, swapping back and forth to get the full experience.  The 2009 Aenigma, a blend of Cabernet, Cabernet franc, Merlot and Shiraz really stood out for the spicy character with leather and earthy undertones. The 2012 Groenekloof Sauvignon Blanc was one of our favorite wines, being a touch more tropical than others, with good cut and chisel to the frame. This was one of the most elegant wines we tasted during the day. The stand out wines were definitely from the Vineyard Selection flight. I am always a bit skeptical when wineries bottle small lots under a vineyard designation, I feel that the wines are very similar to other wines produced and do not display enough of a varietal or quality difference to labeled as such, not in this case.

The Cabernet, Shiraz, Grenache and Sauvignon Blanc were all gorgeous. The Cabernet was an understated, focusing more on purity of fruit than raw power. The tannins were soft and supple, the oak well balanced and managed, beautiful. The Syrah was dominated by crushed black pepper with an almost jammy quality underneath, not in the sense of over extraction as once again this was an extremely well balanced wine. The Grenache was the most floral of the wines, with the fruit coming from bush vines in mountain vineyards of the Pieknierskloof.  The wine is medium bodied in structure, but is bright in fruit, supple in texture and extremely well made. My only criticism of this winery is the fact that I cannot get these wines in the U.S. and unfortunately space was limited in the suitcase, although I think I may have left a few clothing items down there to make some.Vineyards in Stellenbosch South Africa

Driving back to Cape Town, Aaron fortunately persuaded us to stop at Meerlust Estate. Established in 1756, this winery has been in the hands of the Myburgh family for 8 generations, it has history and charm which transcend to the wines. The 2010 Chardonnay struck me as being more Burgundian in style, with flinty and citrus undertones backed by a weighty and creamy frame. This is a wine I would put in the cellar for a few years, I believe this wine will be beautiful in 3-5 years. The Pinot Noir was an intriguing blend of mustiness and perfumed fruit, supported by bright acidity and supple tannins. The standout wine for me was the 2008 Rubicon, a blend of mainly Cabernet, with Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot. This is a fantastic wine displaying dark fruits, cigar box and underlying spiciness. I loved this wine, but unfortunately this wine shattered in my suitcase on the way back to the States. I sucked every drop out of any piece of clothing that absorbed this wine, dang it, as this was truly one of the iconic wines of South Africa. I will have to persuade Aaron to open up one of the bottles he brought back with me; I think this wine will be a blockbuster 10 years from now.

Groot Constantia vineyards, Cape Town South AfricaThis trip was more centered around family, but the wine industry and wines are truly remarkable. The Estates are gorgeous, the history of the industry is evident and you will be hard pressed to find more picturesque vineyards in the world. The wines are truly coming into their own and can compete on any international stage. Sadly, most of these wines do not make it to U.S shores, most of the wines are exported to the UK and German market and most of the wines mentioned in this blog will be impossible to find unless you visit. Hats off to the vineyard managers and winemakers, I know first hand the challenges in creating a fine wine, but this industry has proven to be up to the task, and I thoroughly enjoyed the efforts of your labor.

As for the trip back home, out little monster was wide awake for the trip from Munich back to Dulles, but those tales are to be chronicled in an other blog post. Unfortunately the wine on the plane was not up to the same standard as what we had just tasted, but it did help me deal with a very active toddler confined in a plane.

Cheers

Stephen

Winemaker and Vineyard Manager

Keswick Vineyards