Wine served on a plane

Greetings from Hamburg Germany, where the weather is cold but the city beautiful.

My wife and I flew over to the UK on Monday to attend the wedding of my brother in Manchester and as is standard procedure with an evening flight, dinner is served along with a small selection of wine. Okay, firstly we paid almost $2000 a ticket [yes we are flying to multiple countries] so you kind of expect a few things, namely enough room at your seat to stretch your legs and enough space between you and the neighbor [by the way if a 300 pound person sits next to you, my feeling is charge him for 2 seats, he should not be able to spill over into mine. Dinner should be half decent and the wine too [ we are not flying first class despite what everyone thinks us wine makers earn].

Spacious seats, sitting next to Kath [so definitely no spill over], dinner was okay so onto the wine. I am not sure what the protocol is for ordering wine but since I was doing this for research purposes, I asked that they give me one bottle of everthing. Everything consisted of an Argentinian Malbec and a Spanish blend of Garnacha and Tempranillo, perfect, Old World vs New World.

Not to be overly critical but high-octane stuff this. The label said 13.2% abv [alcohol by volume] but I think this is one area in which both of these wines over-delivered, at least I thought I would get a good night’s sleep but all that ended up happening was me visiting the rest room 5 times on the way over. The wine was also heavily chilled which made tasting it hard [never mind, i thought quickly on my feet and promptly ordered a few more bottles of each]. First thought is that the temperature certainly suppresses any fruit that may have been in the wine for the warmer wines showed a lot better than their cold counterparts. Saying that though, the wines fell way short of being stellar and I would maybe pay $10 a bottle for them, so not too bad considering these are probably mass-produced wines, purchased for a low price, thus the vineyards crops the vineyard heavily and makes wine as cheaply as possible.

My personal favorite was the Spanish wine, it was much better than the Argentinian Malbec. It had some nice red fruit, a pleasant finish and left some of the enamel coating on my teeth. There was some complexity [maybe due to the blending] and went well with the food served [tomato and basil pasta]. Not bad to be fairly honest. I had a nice chat with the flight attendant who had been to Bordeaux and new his wines [pleasant surprised] and he came back later to chat about Virginia Wine and the future thereof. Alas, he did not know Virginia made wine but I told him to head over to the Whole Foods in London and to go and sample ours; and the others represented there, I have no doubt he will be pleasantly surprised.

Neil’s wedding went off well, he looked great, she looked beautiful and the bonus, Keswick wines were served. how cool that wines I made were poured at my brothers wedding in Manchester?

The overall impression?

 “Virginia Makes Wine ?”

Yes indeed good people and judging by the comments and how well the wine was received, you might want to start paying attention to Virginia and tasting some of the wines.

It certainly beat the wines served on the plane over



Next Post: Engligh ciders and German beer


From across the pond

Just a quick hello from sunny England, where Kathy and I are visiting at the moment. Unfortunately wine has taken a back seat to lagers and ciders and hence no real insight and input into the world of wine. If you count plum, blueberry and elderberry as wine then we have a lot to talk about.

Instead we are visiting castles, touring dungeouns and the practices of the macabre, the English did go to town on their prisoners.

I am excited to be pouring our wine at the wedding of my brother on Saturday  [the reason for us being here] and may have something to say about that once that is done, it promises to be a smashing affair with lots of colors and saris, she is British, but of Indian decent. To say we are excited would be an understatement.

If nothing is posted about that, I promise to talk about German wines when we visit there on Sunday, and if not wine, then certainly beer.

Hoping the weather is cold and my vineyard has not broken just yet, no e mails to me, no news is good news, let’s hope it stays that way.

Regards from across the pond


Keswick Vineyards

Opening up the world of Cider making

Ciders from Albemarle Cider Works

  As you may or may not know, Castle Hill (across the street from us) is starting to produce cider, which has prompted me to want to take a crash course in Virginia ciders!  It was with this in mind that I gladly accepted an opportunity to attend a cider tasting at Albemarle CiderWorks this past Saturday with a group of bloggers, friends and colleagues. Those in attendance were, and in no particular order of favorites or preference.

Andy [winemaker Jefferson Vineyards] and Neely Regan, Paul and Warren of Virginia Wine Time , Frank Morgan Drink What you Like; Grape Envy guy and VA Wine Diva of Swirl Sip Snark; Rick and Nancy of Virginia Wine in my Pocket; Jacquelin and Ben of Mountfair Vineyards; Amy Ciarametaro of the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office; Mary Ann Dancisin, contributor to the Virginia Wine Gazette, and our friends at flavor magazine.  Frank should have been at the bottom of this list for making a dig at the South African Wine Industry and the lack of terroir, NICE!

I must confess I know less about Cider making than I do about speaking Chinese [of which I do not know one word], throw in the fact that I was going to be drinking [nay tasting] and I was going to learn something. We tasted the products of 2 cider producers, Albemarle CiderWorks owned and operated by Chuck and Charlotte Shelton and Foggy Ridge Cidery, with Diane Flint [cider maker] in attendance.

Diane from Foggy Ridge


Before I go into the actual tasting, I have to give major props to both producers in the manner in which they conducted the tasting and spoke of their products. Passion is not lacking and for that I have to tip my hat, for agriculture is hard work and you have to love it, and both the Sheltons and Diane do. 

We tasted 8 different ciders, made from curious apples such as Graniwinkle, Black Twig and Winesap. Most of them were in the 6-8% alcohol range with residual sugar [which determines how sweet it is] from 0.2% to 2.3%. Both Cider makers spoke of tannins and acids, food pairings and age worthiness [sounds a lot like wine-making] which later on I found to be true. I have to admit that I could not pick up any flavors per se, some tasters spoke feverishly about tropical notes and citrus tones, all I could clearly pick up was the differences in acid levels and the  presence of astringency. When asked to pick a flavor, I was going to play it safe and say I could definitely pick up APPLE.

I was very interested to learn about the process of making the cider, and how it differed to making wine. First difference is that cider making is far less forgiving than wine-making. Great care is taken in producing this product, it is definitely an art form, big eye opener. I was also intrigued to find out that apples are sometimes stored for a period of time prior to processing, sometimes a few months, where in my field of work grapes degrade fairly quickly and processing is done soon after picking. Pretty cool fact is that there are 16 000 apple types out there [no that was not a typo] although I am drinking a 15% alcohol Napa Cabernet while typing this blog and my memory is a bit fuzzy. Should have taken notes [a real blogger would have, but I am not one- a fact that I am constantly reminded of].

Chuck, cider maker for Albemarle Cider Works

After tasting the ciders, I honestly had to give the edge to Foggy Ridge, just because there was a far greater difference in the ciders that I tasted, from the color to the acid levels and the texture in the mouth, all three ciders tasted different. I really liked the Albemarle Ciders but they were far more similar across the board and thus the edge to Foggy Ridge [hey I bought all of them so I did not play favorites]. Furthermore, the notion of cider as sweet and generic was completely destroyed [wood chuck cider may not be the best representation]. These ciders are food friendly, have their own unique character and thanks to Chuck, Charlotte and Diane will begin to have a bigger market presence. I for one support the growth of this sector of Agriculture and wish them both the very best of luck, and to Castle Hill too when they open their doors to the public on June 1st!

So it was with a new sense of perspective that the group retired to the cottage where burgers were thrown on the grill and many a bottle of wine and cider were tasted, some good and others not. Good times were had by all and ultimately this is why we do what we do, to enjoy the fruits of our labors with people we enjoy being around.

The carnage that followed, bottles finished

So my thanks to Chuck and Charlotte for hosting us, to Diane for driving all that way to present her ciders and to Frank Morgan [a.k.a Mr. Boeing] for organizing this wonderful event.

So support our local Cider producers, they are doing an amazing job, you will be glad you did.

Albemarle Cider Works, Foggy Ridge 



Keswick Vineyards

Cork or Screw Cap

What matters is the wine on the inside of the bottle, right? Maybe long-term if the wine is good but I think the initial reason most people buy wines [especially on store shelves] is packaging. A bright-colored label will attract the attention of a consumer far more quickly than a dreary looking one, so market savvy is really important in the all competitive field of wine-making.

Perhaps the most contentious of these packaging issues is that of the way in which we seal our wines. Keep in mind that the type of closure used, can really affect the perception of the consumer to the quality of the wine [before they have even tasted it]

The romantic closure is no doubt cork, an impermeable material harvested from the Quercus Suber [the cork oak] which is endemic to Southwest Europe and Northwest Africa. Portugal produces roughly 50% of the cork harvested.

Once trees are 25 years old, cork is stripped from the trunks every 10 years with the trees being able to grow for roughly 200 years. There is approximately 2.2 million hectares of cork forest worldwide with over 30% again in Portugal.

The cork industry is generally regarded as environmentally friendly, with the sustainability and easy recycling of cork products two of its most distinctive aspects.  So far so good.

As a closure it is well suited, it is easily compressed and expands once inserted into the bottle to create a tight seal. This characteristic makes it perfect for a wide variety of bottle types and necks. So the question arises as to why more wine-makers and producers are looking at other forms of closures and moving away from cork.

There are natural flaws in cork, cracks in the bark make the cork highly inconsistent, and in a 2005 study [45% of corks showed gas leakage during pressure testing. The biggest negative of cork however, is that it can affect the quality of the wine, ever return a bottle at a restaurant because it was CORKED.

The cause of this problem 2,4,6-trichloroanisole [just checking to see if I spelled this correctly, yup] TCA can make a wine smell mouldy or like a wet dog, not exactly what you want to get from a wine. Everyone’s perception is different but generally is measured in part per trillion [a little goes a long way]. TCA is occurs when natural airborne fungi are presented with chlorophenol compounds [ironically enough, chlorophenols can also be a  product of the bleaching process used to sterilize corks].  So, I make a wine that is fruity, varietally correct and it becomes spoiled by cork, not only does that drive me bonkers, but imagine a consumer tries that wine for the first time, quite a first impression and not in a good way, so why I not immediately switch to a closure that protects the wine? Well, as mentioned, because of consumer perception, and the fact that a corks makes a pop when you pull it out of the bottle.

It is accepted that New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs are bottled under screw caps, but why not Opus One or Petrus. I would suggest that these fine wines would lose a lot of its luster if bottled under screw caps, and could they still command the prices they do on the market [food for thought]

Screw caps first and foremost are cheaper than cork, they provide a tight seal preserving the wines aromatic integrity and freshness and impart no TCA to the wine. But these wines might become reductive [the opposite of oxidation] and start smelling like rotten eggs or even in some cases like burnt rubber through a process called sulphidization. The winemaker needs to know what he/she is doing. So screw caps seem like a quick fix and viable option, but maybe not?

An often cited contradiction is the case of experiments conducted by Haute Brion in the 70’s where some of their wines were bottled under screw caps, the results. After about 10 years the screw caps became compromised and let air in, but I ask you, how many wines are being laid down for 10 years or more, but then again I do not have a cellar full of Haute Brion.

There is certainly a shift towards alternative closures to better protect the consumer against flaws which us wine makers have no control over. Will screw caps be taken seriously as a closure for fine wine, I challenge you to find 10 examples of wines above $100 that have screw caps, I can give you one though, Molydooker’s Carnival of Love, a 96 point wine also rated as a top ten wine in the world by the Wine Spectator.

Whatever your opinion on closure, may I suggest judging the wine by the quality of the wine, ultimately for me, that is what is important. Who cares if it is in a pink bottle with a blue cork, if the wine is good, I can live with that.

Man, this wine world is confusing, I have a feeling that I may never quite understand it

Maybe that is why I am so drawn to it



Winemaker for Keswick Vineyards

3 Winemakers; 1 Wine Called 3

3 wine makers, 1 wine called 3

I had the opportunity to taste arguably the most unique of wine making concepts  in Virginia to date, the official launch of the wine aptly named 3. 

3 is  a blend of 3 different varietals, produced by 3 different wine makers,Emily Pelton of Veritas Vineyards, Jake Busching of Pollak and Mathieu Finot of King Family Vineyards. Just as a warning, I am going to be mentioning the number 3 a lot during this post.

The wine is a blend of one-third of each of Petite Verdot [made by Emily], Cabernet Franc [made by Jake] and Merlot [made by Mathieu].  These three wine makers are well-known in the winemaking community and in my opinion make very good, but very different wines. 

The various components of 3

Blended wines can sometimes be dis-jointed and I was interested to see how a wine made in 3 different locations, by 3 different wine makers would taste. The only criticism, it is young and needs time but other than that, no fault at all. It has an abundance of fruit on the nose ranging from cherry to plum. The palate is layered and complex, the tannins grippy but ripe and do not overwhelm the fruit at all. It should show beautifully in 1-3 years but could remain in the cellar for 5-8 quite easily.

The wine is good, not surprising considering the quality of the vintage and caliber of the wine makers.

The wine over delivered on quality but it was truly surpassed by the marketing and the sheer saviness of the project. The wine was released 3/3 at 3:30 in the afternoon, of course priced at $33. The wine was well hyped by the launch of the 3 Facebook page, with a clever biography on all the wine makers, and it showed with a packed tasting room on Thursday with many well-known winemaking figures and eager consumers.

A resounding success and my hat goes off to all three for creating something truly remarkable; I for one  hope we get to see a yearly installment of this wine.

3 great wine makers - and me

Congrats to all three


A Call to Action

I got into winemaking for many reasons, the love of farming and definitely a love of wine. I get butterflies in my stomach when I see sweeping vineyards and land being farmed to create products that not only bring joy to customers, but also provide a much-needed boost into the economy of the surrounding areas.

It is with this in mind that I request your help regarding a certain matter, that not only affects us at Keswick Vineyards, but also potentially many other wineries in the county of Albemarle in the future. We opened our doors last year for weddings to be hosted on the property knowing that many a bride would want to say their vows surrounded by beautiful vineyards, with gorgeous views of the Southwest Mountains. What better way to start a new chapter in one’s life.

Albemarle County’s noise ordinance leaves much to personal interpretation, and dependent on the surrounding residents may be used to force the wineries to cease holding these events. It is with this in mind that I urge you to read the information regarding this ordinance, and if you feel like we do, to sign the petition as either a resident or non-resident of Albemarle County [there are two specific petitions].

Petition for Albemarle county residents

Petition for non-residents

We are having a public hearing at the county office building on March 9th at 6pm and showing your support  would be greatly appreciated.


Keswick Vineyards