The Release Of the Reserve Wine at Keswick Vineyards

Yesterday saw us officially release our Estate wine from the highly acclaimed 2007 vintage.

Our Estate wine as you well may know, is our Heritage. Made in the Bordeaux mould, but not named Meritage, because in 2002 we added 10% Touriga Nacionale into the blend [making it a non Bordeaux blend as Touriga is from Portugal]

Subsequent vintages have seen us use strictly Bordeaux varietals and in the last two vintages, we have only used Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Our newly released 2007 Heritage Estate Reserve is a blend of 80% Cabernet and 20% Merlot, aged for 22 months in 100% new French oak barrels and bottle aged for a further 16 months.

This wine represents everything that I loved about the 2007 vintage in Virginia, lots of up front fruit on the nose and palate, tannins that are ripe and integrate beautifully into the wine. The oak is beautifully balanced and creates a layered wine with amazing complexity that will continue to age and evolve over the next 5-8 years.

This wine proves that Virginia indeed has the ability to produce a world-class red wine, and having been at the Virginia Wine Expo this past weekend, this statement was confirmed by many other wine producers.

To see what Al Schornberg and I have to say about the wine, check out our Facebook page and view the video we did last night.!/video/video.php?v=1604400150175&comments

Cheers to you, I hope you enjoy the Heritage as much as I enjoyed making it


Next post – I weigh in on closures, corks versus screw caps


Wine from my Homeland

It is the 25th largest country in the world, has a population of roughly 50 million, 9 provinces and 11 official languages. It is home to the world champion Springboks [rugby team], has great white sharks that breach the water, penguins and monkeys,  is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, and also happens to make some pretty darn good wine.

Of course I am talking about South Africa. Cape Town as seen from Table Mountain

I am from Cape Town, the oldest city in South Africa, and as such is known as the mother city. It is the second most populous city and is also the legislative capital of South Africa. It is located on the shore of Table Bay and was established as a supply station for Dutch ships sailing to East Africa, India and the Far East.  Jan Van Riebeeck’s arrival on 6 April 1652 established the first permanent European settlement in South Africa.

Jan Van Riebeecks's castle in the city center

The first recorded wine was produced on the 2nd of February 1659 and in 1685 the Constantia Estate was established by then Governor of the Cape, Simon van der Stel. This estate was large [1850 acres], but after the Governors death, it fell into disrepair until it was revived in 1778 by the Cloete family. South Africa has a long history of making wine and today, the Groot Constantia Wine Estate still produces some of the Capes most exciting wines, along with neighbors Klein Constantia and Buitenverwachting.

Groot Constantia also happens to be the first winery where I ever worked.

entrance to the tasting room

For much of the 20th Century, South Africa received very little international attention, its isolation was exacerbated by the international stage boycotting the products of South Africa in protest of the Apartheid system. It was not until the abolition of Apartheid, that South African wines began experiencing a re-birth of sorts, being able to export their wines to overseas countries. In essence, South Africa, despite a rich history in winemaking, was one of the new kids on the block. 

The Cellar at Groot Constantia

Most of the wine regions are located next to coastal influences of the Atlantic and Indian oceans. These regions have mostly a Mediterranean climate, marked by intense sunlight and dry heat. Winters tend to be cold and wet, with annual rainfall between 10 and 60 inches. Harvest tends to occur between late January and early April, with Stellenbosch, Constantia and lately the Swartland leading the way in terms of quality.

As of today, South Africa is 9th in terms of wine production [although I think Chile might possibly be close to overtaking that].  In the early 1990’s only 18% of the vineyards planted were of red varieties, today that number is closer to 45%. Cinsaut was the most widely planted red grape, today Cabernet is King, with 12% of the total acreage of grapes. It is however the second most widely planted grape, the number one position is held by Chenin Blanc [locally known as Steen]. South Africa has more Chenin Blanc planted than anywhere else in the world combined. Along with Shiraz and Sauvignon Blanc, I think Cabernet Sauvignon and Chenin Blanc gives South Africa the best chance to compete with international wines in terms of quality.

Vine de Constance Cellar at Klein Constantia

But what of the Pinotage grape [cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut], well lets just say that I have the same opinion of Pinotage as I do of Norton. It does represent roughly 6% of the total acreage and is used in blends known as “Cape Blends”. Still I think that fad is waning and more attention is given to Shiraz and Cab [rightly so in my opinion]

View from Rustenberg in Stellenbosch

The only problem with South African wines, is that they are extremely hard to find in the US, most of the wines exported are to Europe. Familiar names on shelves are the Sibeka, the range of “Goat” wines from Fairview, Mulderbosch and Herding Cats, all fairly good quality at a very reasonable price point. But South Africa does so much more, may I recommend Chenin Blanc from Raats, Eben Sadie’s “Columella”, Hamilton Russel Pinot Noir, Neil Ellis Sauvignon Blanc or any of the Vergelegen wines made by Andre Van Rensburg. The range of wines are as diverse as the country they are made in and I hope that in the near future you will get to try them and love them as I do.

For those in Charlottesville, try the Shebeen restaurant for a wide range of wines, or send me a list as I will be travelling to South Africa in April along with my wife.

In my opinion, it is one of the best keep secrets, but hopefully not for too long



Stephen and Friend

The New Addition to the Family

Keswick Vineyards is proud to announce the new addition to our family of wines, The 2009 Pinot Grigio. Dad, the winemaker is doing well and the wine has fully recovered from bottle shock and is being presented to the public from tomorrow onwards.

our newest addition

Pinot Gris and Grigio are the same grape, named differently dependent on where they are produced. Thought to be a clone of Pinot Noir, the berries are blueish gray, hence the word “Gris” French word for grey.  “Pinot” in French means pine cone, possibly used to describe the shape of the clusters.

A steal at only $16.95, but over delivers in quality. Stainless steel fermented and matured; blended with 3% Viognier, this dry wine has vibrant acidity, lots of melon and pear undertones and is perfect for the upcoming Spring and Summer months. This wine is not meant for ageing, enjoy it young with a variety of seafood, salads and pasta. The perfect sipping wine with friends and family, or just for yourself if you do not want to share.

Daddy could not be more proud.



The Valentine’s Day Wine

Valentine’s day is named after one or more early Christian martyrs, Saint Valentine and was established by Pope Gelasius I in 496 AD. it was deleted from the Roman calendar of Saints by Pope Paul VI in 1969. The day first became associated with love in the circles of Geoffrey Chaucer in the high Middle Ages when the tradition of courtly love flourished. {Thank you to Wikipedia} Pretty Cool Fact

I cannot think of a more perfect day to open up a special wine, The Keswick Vineyards 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon.

I have only one bottle of this wine but remember making it very clearly. The vintage will be remembered as one of the best  wine makers ever had the pleasure of working, a beautiful growing season and fruit arriving at the cellar in beautiful condition. This particular wine was made with such little intervention [it just was not necessary to over work the wine]. Native yeast fermentation, natural malo-lactic fermentation, maturation for 10 months in French Oak barrels and bottled un-fined and un-filtered.

It is a blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Merlot.

The cork is partially saturated [to be expected] and there is a fair amount of sediment. The color is beautiful, dark and inky with hints of red on the edges. I love this nose, lots of dark berries with mocha and espresso undertones. It keeps changing the more I swirl the wine [actually doing this while typing with one finger]. Hints of spice starting to appear with cedar and cigar box. Now the fun part, good entry, very silky and the tannins are definitely not as coarse as I remember, good balance between the oak and the fruit and still a very long finish. For those that are still lucky enough to have this wine, I would suggest this wine will still see 5 years quite easily. Second sip to confirm. Yup, DAMN GOOD WINE [not the most scientific explanation but you get the point].  Shows you the potential of what Virginia is capable of.

For those folks wanting an excuse to open that special bottle of wine, and to share it with someone special, why not tonight. Talking of someone special, a shout out to my beautiful wife Kathy. She is the most amazing person you will ever meet, she inspires me and I am so lucky to have her as my wife.

I love you sweetheart


I Hate “Brett”

This is not the start of a teenage letter, not does it refer to the kid who picked on me in high school. Instead this “Brett” is much scarier, harder to get rid off and is the bain of many a New World Winemaker.

“Brett” is short for Brettanomyces, a non spore forming genus of yeast in the family “Saccharomycetacea” The genus name “Dekkera” is interchangeable with Brett as it describes the teleomorph or spore forming form of the yeast.

This yeast is acidogenic and when grown on glucose rich media, produces large amounts of acetic acid [it helps to be married to a micro-biologist with a Ph.D.]

Referring to Brettanomyces here on out as simply Brett.

 When  present in minor amounts, departing from perceived normal characteristics of a wine, it is simply perceived as a flaw but if this character becomes excessive [which is dependent on the particular taster], the wine can be deemed to be faulty or defective. This could be attributed to poor winemaking or improper storage conditions.

Some of the most famous wines have a whiff of Brett that tasters refer to as character or “Terroir”, think Chateau de Beaucastel for example. But one person’s pleasure is another’s disdain. Essentially this could also be the definition of a New World Winemaker and one from the Old World. While I drink my weight in French wines [not the only wines that have Brett character, tried South African and Californian infected wines too], I would be bitterly upset if that character were to be present in one of my wines at Keswick.

It is believed that Brett can be introduced into a winery by insect vectors such as fruit flies or by purchasing infected barrels, as such Brett is most common in red wines aged in oak. The ability to metabolize the dissacharide cellobiose, along with the irregular surface of a barrels interior, provide ideal conditions for Brett growth.

Okay, enough of the mumbo jumbo and fancy words, what does a wine infected with Brett smell and taste like?

This yeast can produce an array of metabolites when growing in wines, some of which are volatile phenolic compounds, which together are often refered to as Brett character. The compounds responsible for the various sensory characters are;

4-ethylphenol [barnyard, band-aid and manure] YUCK

4-ethylguaiacol [bacon,spice and cloves] YUM

isovaleric acid [sweaty leather, cheese] YUCK AGAIN

Depending on what compound is the most dominant in the wine, the consumer might find it desirable or totally repulsive. Note that none of the above descriptors are fruit, and in the new world where fruit is king [both in aroma and flavor] Brett character is viewed with a fair amount of disdain, with all efforts taken to ensure it never enters into the winery.

So the obvious control os to never ever get it into the winery, but it if it does? Well a new marketing strategy might be in order along with heavy doses of sulfur, sterile filtration and the addition of dimethyl dicarbonate, all of which in my opinion reduces wine character. Ask any of my interns who have worked a vintage with me, all I do is stress cleanliness and if that means cleaning up the winery at 2am instead of heading home after a long day of processing, then so be it. Why? Well even though I love drinking wines with a bit of that Brett character, I HATE BRETT in any wine that I make.

Disclaimer – the opinions of this blog reflect those of one crazy winemaker with a wide variety of tastes and thus should not be taken seriously. Trust your own palate and decide for yourself.



The next blog, Wines from my home Country

Bubbles, Bloggers and a Winemaker

This past Saturday saw a group of bloggers and myself [the winemaker], conduct a blind tasting of mostly Virginia bubblies, with a California and French thrown in for good measure. Now you know the reason why I was so nice about them in my previous post, it would have been awkward sitting in a room with them if I spoke negatively.

But before we talk about the tasting, lets chat about bubblies or champagnes. For a wine to be called “Champagne” it needs to be made in the region of the same name in the North East of France. Other similar wines from different regions can be named either as sparkling wines or Cava in Spain and Prosecco in Italy. The traditional method of production for these wines is to conduct a secondary fermentation in the bottle by adding a small amount of sugar and yeast, capping the wine and trapping the resulting carbon dioxide in the bottle. This method is refered to as the “Method Champenoise” although this secondary fermentation can be conducted in tank [Charmat] or Carbon Dioxide can be injected into the wine.

Most French Champagnes are made from three principal grapes, namely Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, although there are four other grapes permitted [mostly for historical reasons due to rarity in usage]. The other four are Arbanne, Petite Meslier, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris.

Champagne has quite the history too, Romans were the first to plant vineyards in this area, with the region being cultivated by at least the 5th century.

Contrary to popular belief, Dom Perignon did not  invent Champagne. the oldest recorded sparkling wine is Blanquette de Limoux, apparently invented by Benedictine Monks in the Abbey of Saint Hilaire near Carcassonne in 1531. Dom Perignon is credited with many advancements in the production of these wines, including holding the cork in place with a wire collar [muselet].

Most Champagnes are non vintage, in that they are blends of wines made from various harvest years, the base wine will be of one year with up to 40% of wines added from other vintages. There are also various types of Champagnes such as Blanc de Blanc [white wine from white grapes] Blanc de Noir [white from black grapes], Rose Champagnes and Cuvee de prestige [usually considered to be the top of a producers range], think Kristal, Dom Perignon and Cuvee Femme from Duval – Leroy.

Before I finally get to the tasting, I do want to address the stigma of only opening a Champagne for a special occasion, while this is all well and good, Champagne is a wonderful wine that can be enjoyed at any time and pairs wonderfully well with a variety of foods, from cheese and fruits to pasta’s and seafood.

Okay, so how do Virginia bubblies stack up. Honestly I was surprised at the quality of some of these wines. The tastings were conducted in three flights of four wines each, the wines were all brown bagged and no other information was given.

In my opinion there were two seriously flawed wines, one of which was the French, the other a Virginian. The wine was cloudy and I guess it has something to do with protein instability, but without testing the wines, this is purely guess-work on my part. Some of the wines had bright green apple aromas, that followed through to the palate, they were good without being remarkable, most of my wine notes reflected a lack of acid rendering the wines slightly flabby in my opinion.

However, I really loved 5, all of which were Virginian. The aromas ranged from baked apple pie, nuts, yeast and biscuits, with long rich flavors and great length and texture. They were extremely well-balanced and at around $20-$25 dollars, in my opinion are a steal. I could not help but think that in certain years with our fruit being really acidic and slightly under-ripe, sparkling wines might be the way to go.

By the way, I did get to sit next to Mr. Richard Leahy, who I think has a wonderful palate, and when we compared notes, we were pretty much spot on. I do not drink a lot of bubblies, and I was pumped to see I was not that far off the mark.

I think the most positive thing to come out of this tasting for me, is that Virginia is proving itself to be quite diverse in the production of many wine styles, and if this tasting is a benchmark, then we are heading in the right direction as far as quality goes.  Thank you to all for letting me be a part of the tasting.

So why not try a Virginia bubbly tonight, I think you will be surprised at just how much you might like it.

On a side note, spare a thought for Mr. Frank Morgan and his beloved Steelers, hate to say it buddy but




Wine Bloggers [Friends or Foes]

This blog entry is sure to provoke some measure of debate.

What do us wine makers think of wine bloggers, do we like them, hate them or are we just indifferent?

The buzz word right  now is social media. What is it exactly? It is defined as the use of web-based and mobile technologies to turn communication into interactive dialogue. When I did a bit of research, I found well over 50 social networking websites. This is not a passing fad, it is trendy and your business is not current unless you spend a great deal of time on social media. Even here at the winery we pay a lot of attention to social media, to stay connected and informed. The person responsible for our social media is non other than my beautiful wife Kathy. Little did I realize how many hours it takes to stay current and connected. So far so good.

Being in a service related industry and creating a product we sell or present to customers, it is inevitable that social media would be used as a forum for dialogue and opinion on our wines and on the customer experience.

I have long accepted that not everyone will like our wines. Out of a tasting of 6 wines, you should really only like 3 or so. The reason for this is quite simple. We try to make a variety of wines that will appeal to a variety of customers. We make crisp dry white wines for the summer, oak driven whites that are a bit bolder and require some ageing. We make fruit driven, easy drinking reds and then we make big tannic wines that I would not touch for 5 years or so. Based on your preference, you will like some of those, but probably not all.

What makes a wine blogger different to a regular customer is that those personal preferences and tastes are communicated to a huge audience, sometimes thousands of followers. Am I okay with this, OF COURSE!

I love it when people have opinions, positive or negative they are entitled to them and how I choose to deal with them is really my problem. You can take a lot of information from a blog post, and we use that information to better the business and the wine. If someone talks about how they hated the wine, I want to know why, was it off, do you just not like oak, what was wrong with it and how can I improve it? Afterall I am constantly trying to make better wines and who better to critique them than our customers and those that will gladly write about their experiences.

At the end of the day, I stand behind my wines and the staff that pour them. I am happy for people to taste them and not like them, after all some of us like classical music and some like hip hop, we all have different tastes, just as long as you stay true to them and trust your palate.  If my wine does not do it for you then so be it, I would much rather you drink something you like, instead of what I like.

The other point of note  is that these bloggers are cool people and over the years I have developed some good relationships with them. I value their opinions and their insights and look forward to what they have to say about our future wines. You bet I will be reading all their posts, and rest assured I have no problem telling them I disagree with them, after all that is what makes the world of wine so fun. The world would be a boring place if we all agreed on the same things.

If you are interested in following some blogs that I find interesting and informative, check out the following ones

– Virginia Wine Time

My Vine Spot

Swirl Sip Snark

Cellar Blog

Hagarty on Wine

Charlottesville Un-corked

And Mr. Frank Morgan himself drink what you like  who is never short of an opinion. There are many more that we follow and if I have left you out, I apologize.

So cheers to wine, and individualism