The over-rated Sideways Phenomenon

Most people know the plot, two guys head off to Santa Barbara wine country, one to have a last fling before his big day, the other to savor the fine foods and wine of the region, perhaps a little golf thrown in as well. It becomes well documented that “Miles” played by Paul Giamatti adores Pinot Noir, while denigrating Merlot. He is entitled to his opinion, who is not, but here is the rub. After the release of Sideways, Pinot Noir sales increased by 16% and Merlot sales decreased by 2% [as documented in a study by the wine economists].

Do we not trust our palates enough to enjoy something despite what anyone says about it. It has long been my opinion that if you enjoy a steak and Chardonnay or a Fish dish and Cabernet, then good on you.  Foodies might disagree, these are non-classic pairings but isn’t the beauty in enjoying the wine, and in that; drinking it in a manner that is enjoyable for you, despite what so-called experts say about it? I say throw the rule book out the window, allow us to make serious wine, but for heaven’s sake, please enjoy the stuff and have fun with it.

In the 10 years we have been making wine, up until our newly released 2009, we have only made one varietal bottling of Merlot, which was in 2006. Admittedly there is some trepidation, perhaps the sideways phenomenon affected more than just the consumer, the winemaker too? Well time to make a stand and win back those doubters.

Pinot Noir can no doubt be ethereal, but I think Merlot can make somewhat of a comeback. If Petrus labeled their wine as Merlot [which the wine is mostly composed of] then I think consumers would start viewing it as a serious grape and wine.

Merlot is one of the six permitted red grapes in Bordeaux  and is the most widely planted in that region, thriving in the regions of Pomerol and Saint Emilion. Unfortunately many see its value as a blender, usually as a foil to the sterner and more tannic Cabernet Sauvignon. That statement has merit and we have used it in exactly that manner [in both our Heritage and Cabernet bottlings].

But fine tuning the vineyard over the last few years has changed our thinking somewhat, in that following the bottling of our 2009 Merlot, the 2010 which currently matures in oak, might be the wine of the vintage. I think it is time for the new Merlot resurgence.

A star waiting to be discovered

So may I introduce to you, the 2009 Merlot. A majority Merlot blended with small amounts of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon to give it some backbone. Matured for 10 months in second fill French oak barrel and then bottled un-fined and un-filtered, this wine should surprise a few consumers for its incredible nose of dark fruits that follow through onto the palate, all held together by fine tannins and mouth-watering acidity. It is a young wine that we feel might need to be aged a few years to really reach it’s potential. It’s darn good I can tell you that, but I am biased so come down to the tasting room and try for yourself.

I any case, I think Merlot although underrated in my opinion, has a bright future in at Keswick Vineyards. It is time to shrug the moniker of “blender” and be viewed as a serious stand alone.

Just my opinion



Keswick Vineyards

The Bridesmaid of Bordeaux

When one thinks of great wines, the growing region of  Bordeaux and the Chateaus of the Right and Left bank must surely spring to mind. Petrus, Margaux, Lafite and Chateau D Yquem are names that most avid wine lovers are familiar with, more than likely most of us have not had the privilege of tasting all of them so I speak not from personal experience, although I have been lucky enough to taste a few.

Merlot is the most extensively planted grape varietal in Bordeaux,  followed by Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc;  Malbec and Carmenere are rarely used any more. Then there is the Petite Verdot grape, the bridesmaid of Bordeaux which many wine-makers believe, has  a bright future in the state of Virginia. Mostly recognized as a blending component, more wine-makers are bottling Petite Verdot as a single varietal wine [yours truly included].

Petite Verdot is one parent of Tressot, the other being Duras, a grape from the upper Tarn Valley near Toulouse. It also more than likely predates Cabernet Sauvignon, but origins are unclear.

So the million dollar question. If Bordeaux [arguably the most famous wine region] is not using it anymore, focusing instead on the Merlot and two Cab grapes, why are we in such a tizzy about it on this side of the pond?

Petite Verdot which means “small green” alludes to the  problem it has of ripening in cooler climates, but get it ripe in the vineyard [it is the last of the Bordeaux grapes to ripen] the wines turn out to be inky and tannic; with banana aromas that turn into more intriguing aromas of violets and leather as the wine matures.

A Petite Verdot cluster

So does it’s value lie in its ability to add complexity, color and tannin to another wine [hence a blending grape] or does it have the ability to stand along the Cabernet’s and Pinot Noir’s of the world as a stand alone wine? I do not know so that is why we are experimenting doing both, using it as both a blender and a stand alone, although the 2009 has 8% Cabernet Sauvignon blended into it. Time will tell so  check back with me in a few years for a straight forward answer.

Newest Release

Tomorrow sees the official release of our 2009 Petite Verdot, a wine made in such small quantities that if it last longer than 2 months in the tasting room I will be truly astonished.  It was barrel matured for 10 months in American oak barrels and was bottled un-fined and un-filtered in July of last year. Our version tends to be a bit more fruit oriented with black berry, the predominant aroma and flavor for me. The oak is quite integrated but easily recognizable on the palate, so if you had the patience, some time in the bottle would do it no harm whatsoever.

It is quite easily consumed on its own but screams for a grilled steak, try a green pepper sauce which I think will marry well with the wine.

I hope you enjoy it



Just trying to keep up

It’s hard to beat Spring time in Virginia, let alone when you work amongst the vines with the South West Mountains as a beautiful backdrop. Temperatures are manageable and the humidity has yet to arrive which makes working outside a pleasure at the moment.

a perfectly manicured row

Admittedly this is my most favorite time of the year, other than harvest of course.

As discussed in previous blogs, spring time is a fairly challenging time in the vineyard. The threat of frost needs to be monitored and with all the rain we have been having of late, I have already sprayed the vineyard twice to ensure we do not get any powdery or downy mildew. The weather forecast suggests some more rain in the next few days so more than likely, Ol Betsy [my tractor] and myself will be spending some good quality time together.

uniform growth throughout the block, a very good sign

The vineyard looks very good though, we did a bud and shoot count the other day and we worked out that we are hanging in the 5 ton range per acre which is great. The little clusters are easily visible and if we have some good weather during flowering and fruit set, we should be good to go.

A little Viognier Cluster

A great time to be working on some infra-structure projects, straightening up some end posts, fixing wires and taking care of the weeds in between the vines by spraying a pre-emergent herbicide. Trunks are being stripped and the shoots are gently being tucked into the catch wires [to ensure they grow vertically and do not flop over into the row]. I wasn’t kidding when I said shoots can grow up to one inch a day, that kind of growth is easily seen in our Chardonnay block, these are young vines that have a tendency to get off to a quick start in the spring.

2011 is off to a good start, we have consistent bud break and growth in the vineyard. Blocks that have struggled in the last few years have started to show incredible signs of improvement [Norton and Malbec] in particular; and the guys are working hard to ensure we stay ahead of the game. For now at least, we can enjoy an incredibly positive start to the 2011 growing season with a good glass of vino, {Keswick Vineyards wine of course}

Al teaching Stephen

This allows me to start focusing on the bottling scheduled for May 30th and 31st. Viognier and Touriga are being prepped and look good, everything you have come to expect from our wines. Luscious and full of character, and very expressive in the glass. Just exercise some patience as they might require a little bit of aging as they are massively structured wines.

Come on, you have to admit being a winemaker in Virginia has to be one of the coolest jobs on the planet.

Cheers to you and Virginia Wine