Bloggers – Meet Charlottesville and her wine!

What do you get when you take 350 bloggers from around the country, the who’s who of the local wine industry, and plenty of out-of-state colleagues? Throw in sweltering temperatures and you have the 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference, which saw the creme de la creme of the blogosphere descend upon the Omni Hotel for a three-day seminar on wine blogging.  Local wines were well represented at this conference, as well as wines from Spain, California, South Africa and Italy amongst others.

The fact that Charlottesville was awarded this conference speaks volumes for the Tourism and Marketing offices who had many months ago proposed that the conference be held in the beautiful state that is Virginia. I also think that this speaks volumes for Charlottesville as a tourist destination, as well as recognising that we have built up a fairly solid reputation of producing wines that can hold their own against anything that the other 49 states have to offer.

The official launch of the weekends festivities took place on Thursday evening with a tasting of wines from around the world, however not being an official attendant, Keswick Vineyards, along with BlenheimPollak and Mountfair decided to have an unofficial Virginia wine tasting at Siips restaurant on the downtown mall. A big thank you to George, who allowed us to occupy some of his popular floor space in order for each of us to pour one wine to any customers who wanted to get a sneak peak of some Virginia wines.  Along with our Verdejo, Blenheim’s fantastic Viognier, Pollaks ever good Merlot and Mountfair’s awesome Cab Franc, the evening turned out to be a vibey affair with folks coming in throughout the evening to sample the wines. Ever present Virginia Wine Bloggers, Swirl Snip Snark, Virginia Wine Time and Drink What You Like came by to say hello as well as bloggers from California, Texas and Florida, who were quite surprised by the quality of our local wines, MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.

I was given strict instructions by my beautiful wife of what was required of me over the next few days, and it was with these in hand along with the absolute fear of her wrath, that I descended upon the Omni Hotel on Friday afternoon for the first of my commitment, pouring our 2010 Verdejo at the Live Wine Blogging for white wines. I have never conducted a tasting like this before, going to 12 tables and introducing, pouring and explaining the wines in the short alloted time of 5 minutes, before bidding adieu and doing it all again. We chose the Verdejo to highlight the diversity of the industry. It is well known that we produce killer Viognier but I was thrilled to see Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris poured, varietals that sometimes do not get as much recognition as their more illustrious counterpart. Comments were tweeted in real time, and then shown on multiple big screens in the room, no place to hide. Luckily from what I saw, most Virginia wines were received rather favorably. 5 Minutes seems like a long time but with that bell constantly reminding me that I was due to move, one hour flew by in no time at all.

Act 2, pouring one white and one red at the home of the father of Virginia wine, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. Pouring wine in 100 degree heat is no fun at all and it was no surprise that the whites were the wine of choice, honestly ice cold water would have tasted like the best bottle of wine you have ever tasted. This was the first time that we have poured our 2010 Viognier to the general public, but if that was not pressure enough, Jancis Robinson made her way to the table and introduced herself.

Educated at Oxford [you might have heard of it], with an honorary doctorate from the Open University, this woman knows her stuff, oh and by the way she was the first person outside of the trade to become a Master of Wine. Play up the accent I thought, because dripping with sweat is certainly the way to make an impression. Generally I am happy to pour my wines for anyone, but Jancis Robinson, known to me only by reputation, struck the fear of God into me. Need not have worried, “nice to try a Viognier that is varietally correct, full bodied and rich, can taste that is Viognier” she stated of the Viognier in her British accent, and “this Merlot is complex and interesting, very well done”. She may well have given me the  keys to Buckingham Palace, stoked.

Saturday morning came way to quickly, and after dropping Kathy off at the Omni, it was off to Cafe Europa to pick up lunch for the bloggers who were due to arrive at Keswick Vineyards at 12:15pm. With a heads up from Kathy who was traveling with them, bus #7 duly arrived and the bloggers were quickly ushered into the cool cellar for 3 hours of pouring our wines and having their undivided attention.

I was soon given the floor after a warm welcome from owners Al and Cindy Schornberg. Time to throw out the heavy hitters. Viognier Reserve followed barrel samples of 2010 whites which lead into barrel tastings of our 2010 Bordeaux varietals, with Al’s favorite, the 2007 Heritage and my favorite, the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. This was not about Keswick Vineyards, rather about the Virginia Wine industry, and promoting our versatility, and the passion that goes into making these wines, something that cannot be conveyed in 5 minutes. truthfully this was the highlight of the weekend for me. Hopefully the bloggers, most of whom were from out of State, left with an appreciation of Virginia wines and the industry that we all love.

Done right? Not quite, still needed to pour our Governors Cup Winning 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon at the live wine bloggers conference for red wines.  Thank goodness cops were not shooting radar, this Kia made it there in 10 minutes and with a quick swipe of deodorant my lovely wife and I were ready to pour the wine. The vibe in the room felt a lot more relaxed, which I am sure had nothing to do with the high octane wines that were consumed prior. 5 minutes felt longer, probably because I was a bit more efficient with my speech, and trusted that the wine would speak for itself. Tweets were positive so maybe the wine did something I could not, promote itself. I followed Jefferson Vineyards wonderful 2005 Petite Verdot, a hard act to follow as I am a huge fan of Andy Reagan’s wine. I must say that I was happy to not see many Cabernet Francs, we all know that arguably this is the varietal that Virginia does best, but Virginia does so much more, Petite Verdot, Pinotage and Pinot Noir, and by the way our wines do age well, the Jefferson Petite Verdot was a wonderful 2005.

With my duties duly taken care of, at least I hope I did a fair job, it was with eager anticipation that I joined some of my colleagues and other bloggers at the tables to enjoy a 5 course meal, paired with Viognier wines not tasted at Monticello. With wines freely flowing, new friendships were formed while enjoying corn chowder paired with a wonderful Petite Manseng, salad paired with exotic Viognier’s and a main dish of Portobello Mushroom [I’m vegetarian] paired with an exquisite Cabernet Sauvignon. With the 2 perennial showstopping dessert wines of Rockbridge and Gray Ghost, accompanying an array of local cheeses, dinner was finished all too quickly. Honestly, some of the wines did not (in my opinion) pair the best with the foods, but I thought it was fantastic that the Virginia Wine Marketing Office exposed the bloggers to a wide variety of Virginia Wines.

So the big question. Was the conference a success?

In terms of exposure, without a doubt, incredible job by Allan, Reno and Elle of Zephyr Adventures, and Amy, Annette and Mary-Catherine from the Virginia Wine Marketing Office . It is still to soon to really quantify what bloggers and iPads will do for the industry, success cannot be measured by dollars, rather by the fact that Virginia is being written about at all, and that if one persons opinion has been changed to the positive, then I would give a resounding hell yeah to the Wine Bloggers Conference 2011, held at the Omni Hotel, in beautiful Charlottesville.

All the best, and extremely proud

Stephen

Keswick Vineyards

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Romantic winemaking; is an Oxymoron, or is it?

I love wine making, I really do; to me being amongst the vines beats sitting in front of a computer compiling spread sheets any day. I have also met many people in the tasting room who dream of one day owning their own vineyard and making their own wine. I can only imagine the thrill of pouring a wine that carries your name, knowing the love and passion that went into crafting and creating that bottle of wine.

But let’s be real for 2 seconds here, wine farming, like any other farming is hard work. Mother nature has really reared its ugly head these past few months and thrown all sorts of curve balls at us. Dry hot days are interrupted by intermittent down pours and periods of high humidity, creating a haven for all sort of molds and fungus in the vineyard.  The vineyard is loving the excess rain, producing canopies that are overly vigorous and difficult to stay on top of. Grass is growing faster than we can mow it, why anyone would want to be growing grapes this year, beats the heck out of me.

Well let me tell you why.

I love a challenge. We have been blessed with 4 good vintages in a row and we were bound to experience a wetter growing season sometime or other. This year just happens to be that season.

I firmly believe that the wines are made in the vineyard, it was how I was taught and I truly buy into it. For us to make quality wines this year, means spending more time in the vineyard ensuring that  only the best possible fruit arrives at the cellar door.

I have already put out over 8o tanks of fungicides and insecticides, crawling between the vines at a blistering rate of 2.5 miles an hour, sometimes waking my bosses up at 5:30 in the morning to beat the rain. I think I could drive through the vineyard blind at this point.  I am happy to report, so far the vineyard is devoid of any major disease, bar a little botrytis in the Chardonnay that has subsequently been cut out.  The guys are working hard in the vineyard,  I feel quite bad that they are out there and I am in the air-conditioned office writing this post [fear not I will join them soon].

They have done a great job in staying on top of the growth and we are about 2 weeks away from finishing up the canopy work. All that is left to do is pray for a warm August with little rain, and to fine tune the crop levels on the vine, ensuring that what we leave is fully ripe by the time we harvest the fruit. If we get that right, then the wine-making will take care of itself.

All things being equal, this year will truly showcase the best vineyard managers and wine makers. No-one knows how the 2011 wines will stack up to previous vintages, but should they be good, it will make all the hard work of this year worth it, and that ladies and gentleman  is why we do what we do, and why we love it so much.

Plus we have these killer farmers tans to boot too.

By the way, I have really come to appreciate all the members of the Keswick team and I wanted to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of them, from the tasting room staff to the back office staff who work hard day in and day out.  The guys in the vineyard to the grounds staff who make Keswick Vineyards a truly special place to work at, thank you. Lastly a special mention to my wife who puts up with me being here all the time and supports me 100%.

You know what, that is why we do what we do, because we enjoy working with a great bunch of people, pouring wines for our fantastic customers, and doing it in one of the most beautiful places on earth

Loving Life

Stephen

Winemaker for Keswick Vineyards.