The Vineyard is ALIVE!

After what has been an interesting last 12 months [probably the understatement of the year], was it really that unexpected that bud break would occur 3 weeks earlier than it normally does? Do not get me wrong, I love 80 degree days in March, but from a vineyard managers point of view, that was just putting the foot on the accelerator.

Bud break at Keswick Vineyards normally occurs around the 10th of April, but this year we had Chardonnay break on March 23rd. WOW!
The growth cycle of a vine and vineyard begins with bud break in the spring and finishes with harvest in Autumn, leaf fall and then winter dormancy. It is during these winter months that we prune and regulate the buds, and therefore the crop levels, for the following growing season. The time the vine spends in these phases depends on a number of factors, but most importantly on the climate and the prevailing temperature.

The start of the cycle begins when the vine starts to bleed, when we see water being expelled from pruning cuts we make on the vine. An interesting fact is that a vine can bleed over 5 Liters of water!
Buds that have been protected during the winter start swelling and eventually open up, giving birth to new growth and shoots that will bear the fruit of the coming vintage.
The energy for the plant to do this is taken from carbohydrates that are stored in the roots and wood of the vine from the previous year.

Once shoots start to develop and the temperatures really start warming up, these shoots can grow 3cm in length per day!

Not all varieties bud at the same time though, so while our Chardonnay and Viognier are way advanced, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Verdot are taking their sweet time and are in no rush.

Admittedly, there is renewed optimism for the growing season following the challenging 2011, but with premature bud break comes the increased risk for spring time frost damage. This past Monday morning saw us touch temperatures of 31 degrees, which meant a very early start to the day turning on wind machines, running frost dragons and monitoring temperatures throughout our 43 acres. In Virginia, we can get a spring frost right up the second week of May, so we need to be on our toes and use all means necessary to prevent that from happening should it occur.

40-80 days post bud break, we will start seeing flowering, whereby pollination and fertilization of the grapevine takes place, followed immediately by fruit set. At that point we will be able to determine the crop size we can expect for 2012.
This is one of the most beautiful times of the year in the vineyard bus sometimes also the most stressful, protecting your vineyard against everything that mother nature can throw your way. To be honest, she kicked my backside last year – but I am determined not to let that happen again!

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this wonderful weather and I look forward to seeing you at the winery. Back to the vineyard to finish my favorite varietal NORTON! BLAH

Stephen
Winemaker
Keswick Vineyards
www.keswickvineyards.com

If you would like to learn more about viticulture, and our vineyard in particular, join me for our Earth Day Vineyard Tour April 22nd!
I will take you on a 1 1/2 mile educational walk through the vineyard to explain how soil types and elevations affect the flavor development of the vines, the different types of trellis systems and why we chose ours, frost dangers and how we handle that, pruning, diseases, discussion on varietals like Viognier and Norton and much more, all while you enjoy a taste of the wines made from blocks on the vineyard that you are standing in!
Lunch will be provided under our beautiful event tent where you will have a chance to meet the owners, Al & Cindy Schornberg, and learn about the history of Edgewood Estate.
Space is limited so reservations are required. From 11am – 1pm. The cost is $40 for Wine Club members, $50 for non-members. Rain date is scheduled for May 12th.

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The 2012 Governors Cup Wine Competition, “The winemakers perspective”

Governor McDonnell

In December of 2011, Governor Bob McDonnell announced that the 2012 Virginia Governors Cup Wine Competition was to receive [in my opinion] a much-needed facelift. These changes were necessary to ensure the integrity of the competition, where wines were to be held to the highest standards, making it one of the most rigorous competitions in the nation.

The first significant change was that the competition has now become a single event, open to all wines produced from 100% Virginia fruit,unlike the last few years where white and red wines were judged separately. Wines also had to pass through a preliminary phase, ensuring that only technically sound wines were deemed worthy enough to move onto the final judging round. Coupled with the fact that us winemakers are also receiving the feedback of the judges, I think this is one of the boldest moves  that could have been made as no-one wants to tell someone else that their wine is flawed. Personally, I would rather know so that I can go back to the drawing board and fix it. Without proper and honest critique, how are our wines and industry to grow positively?

The lead judge this year was Mr. Jay Youmans, one of only 31 Masters of Wine in the U.S, as well as being a Certified Wine Educator and owner of the Capitol Wine School in Washington D.C. Alongside 40 other judges, all of which have a wealth of experience in the wine industry, their task was a difficult one, find the best single wine out of 430 entries that reflects the best Virginia has to offer.

At the end of the competition, only 13 gold medals were awarded, 12 of which were selected for the Governor’s Case. The Governor’s case wines are to be used in the upcoming months to promote the wine industry, and as such each winery had to agree to give 10 cases of their winning wine to the Virginia Marketing office. I think this is a fantastic step in promoting what we all believe, that Virginia can produce world-class wines that can compete with the best wines that America has to offer. This is certainly a bold statement considering the caliber of West Coast wines, but I truly believe that our Viognier, Bordeaux Blends and Cabernet Franc can hold their own with anything out there.

As the preliminary results were revealed, the following wineries were in the running for the coveted Governors Cup

A fantastic mix of wines, 75% of which were red. We were lucky enough to be awarded 2 gold medals for our as of yet un-releasedMerlot and Cabernet Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. I think this speaks volumes for the quality of the competition as both Al [my boss and owner of Keswick] and I agree that these are our 2 best wines we entered. Although young, I am very chuffed that the judges saw their potential, as I believe these wines will reach their peak in 3-5 years.

The Governor’s Gala was held at the Richmond Marriott hotel Ballroom on February 23rd, attended by Governor McDonnell and his lovely wife; who was awarded the industry person of the year for her tireless efforts in promoting our state’s wine.

And the winner is…

Glen Manor Hodder Hill 2008, a Meritage blend of  63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc and 6% Petite Verdot. On hand to receive the cup was winemaker Jeff White, who humbly accepted the award on behalf of his family. The big question, did us winemakers think it was a worthy winner? Without a doubt. It is a beautiful wine that has wonderful purity to it, dark flavors complimented by supple tannins, with amazing depth and complexity. My heartfelt congratulations are extended to Glen Manor Vineyards on a wonderful wine.

As for our wines, I am extremely proud of my team and my personal thanks need to be extended to everyone here for their influence on our wines. Being the only winery with 2 gold medals is a testament to our wonderful staff who work tirelessly to produce the best wines we possibly can. My job is certainly a lot easier with everyone supporting me, so all credit should really go to them. Congratulations to the other gold medals too, having tried each of their wines, they are all deserving of that award. Virginia has a wealth of winemaking talent and diversity to really start opening the eyes of consumers out there. I see our industry going from strength to strength in the next few years.

First Lady Maureen McDonnellAs a side note, I have to mention a wine we made using somewhat unorthodox techniques. Our responsibility as winemakers is also to educate the public and bridge the gap between the cellar and tasting room. With this in mind we made a wine using Facebook, whereby we posted videos during the winemaking process with different scenarios we were faced with. Our friends would then decide on what to do, some of their decisions included natural fermentation, not filtering or fining, using french oak and even deciding when to bottle. The Cabernet Franc [aptly named Friended Franc] was awarded a bronze medal and is due to be released in the next few months, so a job well done by our Facebook friends.

A resounding success is how I would summarize this years competition, but now to get back to work and hopefully build on a wonderful foundation. I am so lucky to be making wine in Virginia

Cheers

Stephen

Winemaker

Keswick Vineyards