Chasing the ellusive Cabernet Sauvignon wine

Virginia Cabernet, monticello wine trail Cabernet Sauvignon is arguably the worlds most recognized grape variety, grown in nearly all of the major wine-producing countries in the world. Planted in a variety of climates, the grape first came to prominence in Bordeaux and forms the backbone of some of the most sought after left bank wines, typically blended with Merlot and Cabernet Franc.

From France, the grape spread across to the New World to places like Napa Valley, Australia and South Africa. Napa Valley today is probably the single most recognized place where true expressions of Cabernet are currently produced, sometimes blended with Petite Verdot or Merlot, but most often as a single stand alone varietal wine.

In 1996, researchers at UC Davis California determined that Cabernet Sauvignon was the offspring of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, most likely a chance crossing that occurred in the 17th century. For many years the origins of Cabernet were not understood. The word Sauvignon was believed to be derived from the French word “sauvage” meaning wild, suggesting that it was a wild Vitis Vinifera native to France.

Being the offspring of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc makes sense since Cabernet wines can display the typical characteristics of both of its parents. In certain cases, the wines can show the spicy and pencil lead character of the Franc and in cooler climates, the more greener grassier side of Sauvignon Blanc.

Until the 1990’s, when it was surpassed by Merlot, Cabernet was the most widely planted red grape variety in the world.

Varietal wine or as part of a blend?

The answer to this question, in my opinion, is determined in large part by the climate in which the grape grows. As a late budding variety and hence later ripening than Merlot or Cabernet Franc, a warmer climate with plenty of sunshine is needed to fully ripen the fruit. In cooler climates where Cabernet might come off the vine a touch early, blending components are added to the wine to create a balanced wine. In some cases you might blend Merlot for fruit character and softening of tannins, Petite Verdot might be used for color and Cabernet Franc might be added for structure and added depth. There is definitely an art to blending and the final blend will vary based on the style of the winery or the vintage quality.

Yet for many New World winemakers, there is nothing more satisfying than creating a world-class Cabernet, a stand alone that can convey everything about the vineyard, the growing season and the subtle hand of the winemaker.

Cabernet in VirginiaKeswick Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon

Of course, I am not making wine in Napa Valley. I am making wine in Virginia, where the climate is not really known for being conducive to growing and making Cabernet.

Virginia averages about 48 inches of rain per year, as opposed to the 15-20 inches in Napa Valley. Tropical storms and hurricanes normally affect Virginia in August and September and account for roughly 40% of all the rainfall during that period. It also just happens to coincide with the time period where our red grapes are starting to reach full maturity. More often than not, rain dictates a premature picking of our Cabernet- which explains why most wines made in Virginia that contain the grape are blends. Very few varietal wines are made, and if they are made it is often only in exceptional years such as 2010.

Keswick Vineyards Cabernet

At Keswick Vineyards, we had three specific blocks of Cabernet planted on the estate. We now have two since we pulled one block up due to the fact that vineyard and fruit really did not perform as hoped. Even though we have been making wine since 2002, it was only in 2007 that we first made Cabernet based wines. Our 2007 Cabernet, blended with Merlot and bottled after 10 months in oak, went on to win the Virginia Governors Cup in 2009 and our 2007 Heritage, which spent a further year in bottle, won a platinum medal at the San Diego International Wine Competition.

In 2008 Cabernet played a supporting role, largely in part to the growing season. What followed 2008 were, in my mind, two of the most outstanding vintages of recent years. I am in the minority when I say that I believe the 2009 vintage to be stronger than 2010. Yes, 2010 made incredible wines, richly extracted and brooding, but I think that over time the 2009 wines will age better and longer in the bottle.

San Francisco International wine competitionIn both years though, we produced and bottled a single varietal Cabernet. No blending, no over manipulation on my part, just good wines that reflect the place in which they were grown, blessed by a fantastic growing season. Both wines share similarities in that they were both fermented without the addition of commercial yeast, aged for 22 months in barrel and unfiltered and unfined going into the bottle. It does give credence to the role climate plays since both wines are remarkably different from a flavor point of view. The 2010 Cabernet, which just won a gold medal at the San Francisco International wine competition and is available for purchase in limited quantities here, is definitely the brute of the two, a large wine with sappy dark fruit on the nose, inky in color and tremendous power on the palate. The 2009 Cabernet is the ballet dancer, a bit more graceful and elegant, just as powerful but with a silkier feel to it. I see these wines aging well past 10-15 years.

Cabernet is not supposed to do well here. I heard way back that Virginia could not make reds; whites were okay but the reds were weak. So how is it that we can make something that has gone on to win double gold and gold medals at the San Francisco International Wine Competition in California, competing against wines that have the clear advantage in what is considered the largest and most prestigious competition in America?

Let me offer my take (and none of it has to do with the winemaker).

Our soils are weak and that is good.

nasum loam soilWe have done some soil mapping and have found a unique soil that makes up 50% of the Estate. Our soil on which the Cabernet is planted is alluvial based, with rock and shale deposits and very little clay. The soil is extremely well draining and hence the root system of the vine is deeper since it has to go down further to source water. The shale and rock also absorbs and radiates heat to the vine which aides ripening.  Why do you think more Merlot is planted on the clay and limestone soils of the right bank and the Cabernet more planted on the gravelly soils of the left bank? The vine is also naturally a low producer of fruit since the soil does not support a lot of vegetative growth. What you get is a small crop of small berries with intense flavor that lead to richly extracted wines. The winemaker’s role in that situation is to not screw it up!  The other factor which is largely overlooked is the age of the vine. Planted in 2000, these vines are now 14 years old and are starting to reach their full potential.

Can we make Cabernet every year? The honest answer is no, since we are at the mercy of mother nature. We have, however, produced a Cabernet wine five times in the last seven years and our 2013 vintage might just be the best one yet. That in itself is a victory for the Virginia wine industry. Ask me today if Virginia can make reds, hell yes we can- and world-class reds to boot!

Many producers tend to focus on blends and many a viable argument is made why blended reds are the future for Virginia. It is hard to disagree from a philosophical standpoint. But now that have proven we can make a Cabernet that can compete with some of the big boys out west, that will always be our goal and dream- to make a world-class Cabernet that represents not only Keswick, but also the quality of Virginia.

Our newest wine makes its long awaited debut

Virginia wine, Verdejo and ViognierWe never intended on making a Verdejo wine; the fruit was sold off to another winery because, quite frankly, we felt the wine to be uninspiring and rather bland. It so happened that when half our Viognier crop was lost due to the Easter Weekend frost in 2006, we kept the Verdejo fruit out of necessity, and so began one of our most successful and widely anticipated wines we currently produce. Such was the response to this unknown grape from Spain’s Rueda region, that we have increased our acreage thereof and see it is one of our most important wines moving forward.

If Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc had a baby, it would be called Verdejo.

The wine is sharp and focused with mineral accents and vibrant flavors of stone fruits with some salty undertones, yet it has a textural quality and richness I associate with Viognier. It is versatile with a variety of dishes, but easily enjoyed on it’s own during the warmer months. I have fallen in love with this grape and the wine and am very excited about the future.

In the harvest of 2012, following the rather challenging harvest that was 2011 [note the subtle sarcasm], we harvested perfectly ripe Verdejo. We also picked some Viognier intended for our entry level Les Vent d’Anges brand Viognier the same day. Harvest went well, the fruit was clean and 12 hours later the fruit was sitting in cold storage. I had a plan for processing and the press was prepped and cleaned for receiving the fruit the next morning; home time!

Do you ever get a feeling when something is not quite right, a feeling in your gut that the stars are just not aligned perfectly? Driving to the winery I had such a feeling, no reason why but just did not feel too good. I am pretty sure a refrigerated truck is supposed to cool fruit, imagine my surprise and few choice words when I discovered that our truck was actually heating the fruit and that the inside temperature was 88 degrees, LOVELY.

Previous processing plan out of the window, new plan: toss the Viognier and Verdejo fruit together into the press and then deal with it in the winery. And so ladies and gentleman, our newest addition, the  V², was born. Our intention with this wine was to try and mimic the previous Verdejo versions that were more Sauvignon Blanc in character, showcasing green apple and stone fruit tones. I think what ultimately saved the day was the fact that our LVD Viognier grapes are picked a little earlier and do not exhibit the floral and tropical aromas usually associated with the grape.

The blend came out at 51% Verdejo and 49% Viognier and after fermentation and racking, started to really grow on me. The problem with wine nowadays is that consumers want what they had previously and the challenge with this wine was to re-introduce and re-brand the Verdejo grape and wine. We decided to bottle this wine early since it was 100% tank fermented, thereby giving it a few months in bottle before releasing it. The name V² represents the two varieties that make up the wine and with much trepidation was released to the public in early April.

Instant success; you loved it! It was quickly snapped up in the tasting room and then we started getting asked “When will the next one be available?”. Oh No, no next one, this was a once off thing due to a mistake in the …, who am I kidding? The next one is being released next weekend the 14th of June. How do you deny your customers? You don’t. We make wine for people to enjoy and get excited about and if they loved the first V², they will love the latest version.

The blend is Viognier heavy this year, with only 19% Verdejo and as such the wine is richer and more complex. The Verdejo plays an important role in that it provides the acidity and minerality, that ultimately keeps the flashier Viognier in check.

The wine was fermented in tank and saw no oak. I used a South African yeast, widely used for Sauvignon Blanc production. After minimal handling, protein stabilization and sterile filtration, the wine was bottled April 5th 2014. After 2 months in the bottle, it makes its long awaited and much anticipated appearance in our tasting room. It is a different style than the previous version and each year the blend will differ slightly, what remains the same is that this wine is just good.

I love the V², I really do and my hope is that when you taste it, you will love it too.

Let me know what you think.

Kindly

Stephen Barnard

Winemaker

Keswick Vineyards

 

My Top 5 Keswick Wines of all time!

_DSC3164Customers always want to know what my favorite Keswick wines of all time are, interesting question! I have found out that Virginia is not the easiest place to grow grapes and make wine.

We have vintages that allow you to make world class wines, and you have vintages where you have to use every resource and ounce of experience to make something palatable that will sell in the tasting room. Sometimes creating such a wine is the most rewarding experience, since I can be proud of the wine, knowing the origin and state of the fruit that I had to deal with.

So allow me to give an honorable mention to the 2003 Chardonnay, the only white wine to win a Governors Cup Gold medal in the 2004 competition. The 2003 growing season could only be described in one way: WET! Summer brought sunny, warm weather with only occasional rain., but that all changed when Hurricane Irene passed over the region in late August and the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee came just two weeks later.

It helped that our Chardonnays are made in more of a French style, focusing on lower sugar levels and healthy acidity, so maybe the chemistry of the fruit helped to some extent. At any rate, this was a manufactured wine that I could be proud of, having known the growing difficulties and the state of the fruit when it came to the winery.

Wine quality is judged by recognition by competitions and wine writers, and, more importantly, by your customers. So here follows in my opinion the best 5 wines I have made at Keswick Vineyards.

[5] 2007 Chardonnay

Chardonnay has been the one wine that we have tinkered with over the years, trying to hone in on a style that we think best represents our site. We now focus on tank fermented Chardonnays that are matured in oak for 8-10 months prior to bottling. I was delighted when I looked back at my notes and realized the 2007 was fermented in tank and matured in oak, 50% French and 50% American. I remember loving this wine off the get go, but had the chance to re-taste the wine in February at our Open That Bottle event. The 2007 showed the best of all the Chardonnay wines in the flight and was just gorgeous. The oak was so well integrated with the fruit and the wine had developed some gorgeous baking spice aromas such as cinnamon and clove. The hallmark of this wine though was the texture. The wine was layered and complex, but bright enough due to the acidity. After 7 years in the bottle, this wine has developed and and is reaching optimal drinking age. If you have the wine you could probably hold onto it for another year or two, but drinking it now will not be a disappointment. One of my top favorite white wines of all time here.

Honorable Mention: 2008 Chardonnay Reserve and 2012 Signature Series [needs more time]

vio1[4] 2009 Viognier

It is no secret that I think 2009 was one of the great vintages of the past 10 years, producing as equally impressive wines as the 2007 and 2010 vintage. 2009 was a growers dream- a long growing season with fruit coming in perfectly ripe and clean, recipes for great wine. When you have fruit of this quality, the job of the winemaker is to represent in a glass all the good things the fruit has to offer. We made this wine as naturally as possible, the fruit was gently pressed and the juice was settled in tank for 2 days prior to being transferred to neutral French oak barrels. Fermentation took place naturally [without the addition of yeast] and was completed in 10 weeks, after which the wine got it’s first sulfur addition to block the secondary fermentation. Other than filtration and protein stabilization, nothing else was done to this wine. Viognier is a gorgeous aromatic wine, and this example just exemplified all those characteristics. The oak came across in a brioche or almond manner, the acidity kept the wine bright and light on it’s feet. The flavors were tropical with anise and apple undertones and it remains just as beautiful today as it did back then. Viognier wines are typically not knows as wines that you can age, but we have quite a few examples that defy that logic. This remains one of my favorite Viognier wines ever made at Keswick.

http://www.winespectator.com/webfeature/show/id/43147

Honorable Mentions: 2002 and 2010 Viognier Reserve

[3] 2007 Cabernet Franc Reservephoto

I have never been the biggest fan of Cabernet Franc, I find many of them to be under ripe and and packed with green bell pepper flavors. Some like that style and that is quite okay, but for me it’s not an attractive quality in wine. I do not get the opportunity to work with 25 brix grapes all the time and when the opportunity presented itself to me in 2007, we were not going to let it go to waste. We aged this wine for 22 months in brand new American oak barrels and bottled the wine unfined and unfiltered in August 2009.  Re-visiting the tasting notes, I found notes where I just said “WOW”- enough said. Time in the bottle has only improved this wine. I recently opened the wine for my brother in law at my house, a huge fan of Cabernet Franc. When someone gets that giddy about a wine, you know you have something special. The wine is still massively huge, with sweeter oak kept in check by ripe tannins with the underlying spicy character of the grape in the background. The wine has a dominant coffee note on the palate but cracked black pepper and dark fruits are all there too. This wine is incredibly complex and can probably see another 3-5 years in the bottle, but it is hard to not open it now.

Honorable Mention: 2013 Cabernet Franc from barrel [this wine will be incredible when bottled]

IMG_5793[2] 2007 Heritage: 80% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Merlot

Many consider 2007 to be the best vintage in Virginia, and it would be hard to argue with that considering the quality of the wines made here at Keswick Vineyards. We made a Heritage in 02, 04 and 06, so when presented with the chance to make another in 07 we jumped at the chance. Our Cabernet from that year went on to win the Virginia Governors Cup, but I always loved the Heritage.

The blend was classically left bank Bordeaux, with a large portion of Cabernet dominating the blend, complimented by Merlot. We looked at Petite Verdot as a possible blender but thought less was more. Aged for 22 months in French oak barrels and then bottle aged for 15 months prior to release, this was a blockbuster of a wine. I implored customers to hang onto this wine, even though it was tasting wonderfully back then. So how about today?

I have tasted this wine on a few occasions and I love it. It has developed a lot of that typical cigar box, leathery characteristics you get from aged Cabernet. The fruit of the Merlot is still lingering, although a touch more red than black. The wine is incredibly supple and dare I say it sexy, yes wines can be sexy. It was hard not to list this as my number one favorite wine of all time but it sure came close.

Honorbale Mention: 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon [2009 Governors Cup Winning Wine]

[1] 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon_DSC4634_2

This is going to cause a bit of a ruckus for sure, but it wins as my favorite wine of all time for a few reasons. Firstly it is 100% Cabernet, made up entirely of Estate grown fruit. Virginia is not really known as Cabernet country, and it is used mainly as a blender or has other varietals blended into it. Matured for 22 months in New French oak barrels, this wine was always a beauty. Some wines evolve into something special, this wine always showcased it’s purity of fruit and hinted at how good it would be. Coupled with the fact that this wine is a pure expression of our vineyard, it has to be my favorite of all time. It is everything Cabernet should be. It is muscular with great big tannins surrounded by a wall of drippy black fruit, with acidity keeping everything in check and ensuring the wine remains vibrant. It was one of only 22 double gold medal winning Cabernet wines at the San Francisco International Wine Competition, competing in a field of over 500, mostly produced in California. It hints at what Keswick can do in certain years and now it is up to me to ensure we do it on a more consistent basis. If you have this wine, thank your lucky stars that you do. If you have more than one bottle, lets talk because I am always int he market for more. This is not just good Virginian Cabernet, this is just good Cabernet period!

Honorable Mention: 2010 Cabernet and 2013 Cabernet from barrel [might be better than the 09]

 

Whatever your top 5, we have been fortunate to make a few that could quite easily and proudly be added, think 10 Merlot, Malbec and Syrah for example. I think we can be incredibly proud about the wines we have produced, and proud that they were produced in Virginia. The trick is now to do them consistently and showcase what Keswick and Virginia is capable of. With the 2013 wines developing in the bottle, my top 5 favorite wines of all time list is sure to change soon.

I would be interested to hear what your favorite Keswick wines are!

Kindly

Stephen Barnard

Winemaker

 

The latest addition to our wine family

I get asked all the time, “What was the harvest like and how would you describe the wines?”

My response for the most part is, “wait for the wines and decide for yourself”.

Bottling time for me is actually quite a stress free day, in that my involvement in the wine officially comes to an end. As the wines mature in the winery, there is always room for reflection and doubt about whether you did the right thing in finishing them off. Did I add too little acid, are my sulfur levels correct and should I have bumped the residual sugar up just a little bit more? Constant questions we ask ourselves leading up to bottling day.

By the end of the day, with all the wines in the bottle, there is nothing let for a winemaker to do to manipulate the wine, it is what it is and customers will love it or hate it.

It was with great relief that almost 1900 cases of wine were bottled without incident on April 7th and 8th of 2014. This was the first bottling of the new 2013 vintage wines, wines that are made for early consumption and for the hot and humid months that define Virginia in May and June. As I am writing this, I am looking at the grey clouds and the pounding rain splashing on the crush pad, go figure.

Of the 5 wines that we bottled, I am incredibly proud of one of them, I may even go as far as to say it was the best wine I made last year.

That wine, believe it or not, is our new 2013 Rosé, made up entirely of Norton. Hold on a second here, did Stephen Barnard just say that his best wine he made was a 100% Norton Rosé? The winemaker that actually hates Norton and is quite open with his disdain for the grape? Yes ladies you heard correctly, the best wine I made in 2013 was our Norton Rosé.Virginia wine, Norton Rosé

It is not the best wine in the winery, but it is the best wine I MADE!

I am a big believer in the fact that the best fruit produces the best wine. As such, when you have wonderful fruit on your crush pad, all you really have to do is nurse it through the various processes and allow the grapes and their quality to be reflected in a glass of wine. Those wines ultimately turn out the be the best, reflecting the growing season and the terroir of the vineyard versus the hand of the winemaker.

We are not in California, however, and Virginia has a way of keeping you grounded. We have our good years but then we have our fair share of challenging vintages and sub standard grapes. As was the case with our 2013 Norton.

With the usual suspects causing issues [rain, lack of sunshine and short growing season], we also had the pleasure of dealing with damage caused by animals. The biggest culprits last year were the squirrels and the starlings. I was eventually being called Noah, since I had 2 of everything on the property.

The starlings really went to town on our Norton, and no matter how much netting we used we could not keep them under control. We were losing a fair amount of fruit and the decision was made to pull the fruit irrespective of the chemistry and try and do something with it in the winery.

For those of you who know a little about Norton, you will be aware that it has an excessive amount of acid when picked at even ripe sugar levels. Imagine for a second that you now are faced with 14 brix [measurement of sugar] grapes on the crush pad, and that the berries taste like a warhead candy.

Time for the winemaker to dig into his bag of tricks and make something of this.

Making a red wine was just out of the question, the fruit had no color and I was not confident of us making something decent. In hindsight, I should have made a sparkling wine, but at that point the only thing I could think of doing was to make a Rosé.

At this point I would like to take a moment to thank our sponsors Domino for the use of their sugar.

After de-stemming and then pressing, the brix of the juice was adjusted to 20.5 and then transferred to American oak barrels for fermentation. We inoculated the juice with a yeast that partially degrades malic acid and primary fermentation was completed without any incident. Unlike our other white wines and Rosés of previous years, we inoculated the finished wine to initiate secondary fermentation [allowing the malic acid to turn into the softer lactic acid] because we were so concerned with the acidity of the wine overwhelming any fruit and oak.

I think it was mid March, when I really started to get excited about the wine. Having been in South Africa for 3 weeks, this was the first time I tasted the wine in a while and I really liked it. Considering the quality of the fruit and the issues we had to deal with, this wine was not bad. The nose was quite aromatic, with lots of red fruits. The sweeter American oak was starting to come though and the acidity was there, but way more balanced within the context of the wine. Most importantly though, the wine was not screaming Norton, most thought it was a Bordeaux grape, BIG PLUS!

So after three weeks in the bottle, the wine finally makes it debut in our tasting room this coming Saturday at our Run for the Rosé event. In celebration of the Kentucky Derby, we will have games, a hat contest, delicious food from Black Jack’s mobile soul food truck and, of course, great wine including our new Rosé!

I hope it does well, despite the fact that it is a Rosé and made from Norton.

I can honestly say it was the best wine I made last year, and will be a great addition to our portfolio of wines we are currently pouring.

Let me know what you think of it.

Regards

Stephen Barnard

Winemaker

Keswick Vineyards

 

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