I had an interesting conversation with a fellow Virginia winemaker the other day. He made a comment that he could pick out Keswick wines in a flight every single time, that is to say that there is something about our wines that make them uniquely Keswick!
Huh, I guess in a way that means that we are making wines that are consistent despite the variations in vintages [of which there are many in Virginia]. But what is it that defines our style I asked, the answer. “I dunno, I can just pick them out”.
Well that helps me as much as reading a book in Chinese.
There is no question that Bordeaux wines have a unique style, the same can be said of German Rieslings, New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs and Burgundian Pinot Noirs. There is a quality in those wines that cannot be replicated anywhere else in the world that defines the very essence of where the grapes were grown and how the wines were made. The wine makers touch is important too, it takes some work to get that finished wine to reflect the quality of the grapes, trust me I have made mediocre wine out of fantastic fruit.
So back to Virginia and it’s style. With almost 200 wineries in operation today and the state being the 5th largest in wine production in the U.S., it’s safe to say there are a fair number of folks who believe in the quality and the potential of Virginia wine. just look at the awards some of the wineries have won in international competitions and you will see that we have come a long way in a short amount of time.
To be truly competitive in the global market and to gain the trust of the consumer, I believe that Virginia has to market an identity of sorts and start playing to our strengths. I believe those strengths to be Viognier and Cabernet Franc. Both these varietals do well in the vineyard, unlike others that are less forgiving in poorer vintages. Yes we make good Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon; but consistently? I am not so sure about that, a bit of hit and miss for me. Furthermore, can we compete with the best versions of those wines world-wide? Again the honest answer for me is no. Can the best version of a Virginia Cabernet Sauvignon compete with the best Bordeaux or Napa Valley? Maybe in the future but not right now.
Viognier and Cabernet Franc are a completely different story though. Outside of Virginia, Cabernet Franc is generally used as a blender and Viognier (outside of the Rhone) is planted in such small quantities that varietal bottlings are hard to find. That just screams market opportunity and the chance to create an identity for Virginia by putting our best foot forward. I have tasted many Virginia Viogniers and have found them to be comparative to the best offerings from around the globe (maybe a bit of bias creeping in). In a recent blind tasting, conducted by my good friend Andy Regan, Virginia wines rated consistently in the top against many fine and well-known producers from California, France, South Africa and Australia.
For me at Keswick, I have been focused on producing consistent wines, despite the vintage variations. That means understanding the vineyard and producing fruit that will allow me to push the envelope of quality and style, even if we cannot define it.
In any case, Virginia is a state to watch, and man it is good to be making wine in this part of the world.