Harvest is the busiest, but also the most exciting, time of year for us here at Keswick Vineyards! I love visiting the winery this time of year, there is always something interesting going on and when you walk into the cellar you can smell the sweet scent of fermentation in the air. Not to mention it’s about the only chance I have to see my husband, Stephen, who is buzzing around between the vineyard and winery almost 24-7!
All of the grapes we use to make our wines are grown right here on our own estate. That way we can insure the highest possible quality fruit is used to make the wines you enjoy! While we historically start harvest later than many of our neighbors, harvest came early for everyone this year because of the hot dry summer we have had. We started harvest on August 20th with our Chardonnay, which grows on 1.5 acres in our back block of vineyards. The guys picked 5000 lbs of fruit and whole cluster pressed it after removing any “MOG” (material other than grapes, i.e. leaves, bugs) as well as any under ripe or spoiled fruit. The juice came in at 22.5 Brix, which is a measure of the amount of sugar in the wine. Higher Brix means higher sugar, which is what will be converted to alcohol during fermentation. The Chardonnay juice had some beautiful tropical fruit flavors.
Next up was our Viognier! Viognier is our single largest planting, of 43 acres of vineyards, 16 acres is Viognier. The reason we planted so much Viognier is because it does great here in Virginia. In fact, our Les Vents d’Anges Viognier has taken home 2 Best of Class medals at International wine competitions already this year! We have Viognier planted both in our front vineyards, right in front of the house, and in the back vineyards. We needed some extra help picking our 20,000 lbs of Viognier, so the whole family jumped in to help out! The Viognier had more citrus fruit flavors and was at 25 Brix!
Almost a week after harvest began we took in the last of our white grapes: the Verdejo. Verdejo is widely known as a Spanish grape varietal, although Stephen says it actually originated in Northern Africa. We picked 5700 lbs of Verdejo which came in at 21.5 Brix and has flavors of apples and grapefruit.
We began harvesting our red grapes on September 2nd, also earlier than in previous years. When to pick this year was a tough decision. As the grapes continue to ripen in this hot, dry weather, the sugar levels continue to increase. While high Brix is great for getting lots of complex and rich flavors, too high sugar levels could lead to an excessive amount of alcohol in the finished wine, running the risk of being off balance. On the other hand, picking the grapes too early based on just the amount of sugar runs the risk of the seeds not being ripe enough and since red wines are fermented with their skins and seeds, extraction of unripe tannins in the seeds could lead to bitter flavors in the wines. Stephen is out in the vineyard every day, not just testing sugar levels but also picking the grapes and chewing on the seeds to determine the perfect picking time. He’s done great so far, so we trust his decisions 🙂
So far we have picked our two lightest reds, Touriga and Syrah. Touriga is a Portuguese grape, commonly used in the production of port (which Stephen loves and you may see here in the future!). The 7700 lbs of Touriga was de-stemmed and then all hand sorted by Stephen, Keith, Forest, and Rob (took them 12 hours!). The Touriga came in at 23.5 Brix with lots of red fruit flavors- think cherries & strawberries.
The last grapes we took in so far were the Syrah. The 2200 lbs of Syrah was also de-stemmed and hand sorted and has much darker plumy flavors with a little bit of spice. The Syrah came in at a whopping 27.5 Brix! I was lucky enough to be working in the tasting room when Stephen got those numbers; here is a picture of the hydrometer Stephen uses to measure the Brix.
It measures the density of the juice- higher density means higher sugar, higher sugar means richer, more developed flavors as well as higher alcohol. Stephen’s reaction when he read (and re-checked) this number “27.5 Brix! What am I going to do with 27.5 Brix fruit? I’m going to make some Australian style Shirrraaaazzzz this year, I am going to go crazy on this stuff!!!”. He was a little excited to say the least 🙂
At this point the Chardonnay and Viognier are almost finished with their fermentations, having only about 1% sugar remaining in the juice. I was lucky enough to taste the juice over the weekend and it was delicious! Great fruit flavors with that nice spritzyness of fermenting wine. The whites are going to be aged in either stainless steel or in mostly neutral French oak barrels this year, and they will be aged “sur lees” (on the yeast) which will give the palate more structure. None of the whites will be undergoing malolactic fermentation (the conversion of malic acid to lactic acid) this year, so they will retain the bright fruit flavors we taste in the juice. The reds are all going to be short-vatted this year, which means they will be pressed off the skins and seeds before the fermentation is completed. As the fermentation progresses and the alcohol levels increase, so does the tannin and color extraction. We want to start the fermentation with the skins and seeds to get the nice colors and tannins out of the skins, but remove them before we start extracting much tannin from the seeds.
So there’s where we are so far! It’s looking like 2010 is going to be a great wine year here in Virginia, especially for the reds! We still have our Bordeaux reds to pick (Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, and Petite Verdot), as well as the Norton and Chambourcin, so if you want to come experience harvest first hand come on out! We can always use extra hands picking and sorting the grapes!