The New Addition to the Family

It is sometimes said that for a winemaker, wines are his or her kids. If that is true, I have accumulated quite a few over the 10 vintages that I have worked in the U.S. It is also true that I do not like all of them [the horror]. Some have matured beautifully and I am proud of those and some, well lets just say that I would deny knowing them if asked the question.

If the wines are the kids, then the vintages must be the wives. 2011 is my divorced ex-wife, one I never hope to see again. She left me, took everything I had and expected me to turn out some wonderful wines [for the sake of the analogy, lets just say kids]. I did the best I could and fingers crossed that they turn out half decently.

The first of the new additions is a wine that is well-known to lovers of Virginia wine and is one of the workhorses of the Keswick Vineyards portfolio, Viognier. With 16 acres of Viognier out of the 43 total acres planted, Keswick Vineyards makes up to six different styles of this varietal on any given year. For the 2011 vintage, we scaled that down to only three: Signature Series, Les Vent D Anges and regular Keswick bottling. We de-classified the Reserve this year as we felt that while the wine is good, it just did not quite meet and exceed the quality of the 2010 vintage.

What made the 2011 vintage so challenging was the amount of rain we received just prior to harvest. Since quality wines almost always start with the quality of the fruit, we were always behind the eight ball with this harvest.

To give you a sobering idea of the vintage variation, in 2010 we harvested our Viognier at 26.5 brix, in 2011 the most we got was 20.5. Brix is a sugar measurement of the two main sugars glucose and fructose, the fermentable sugars. The first issue was that at 20.5, the fruit is really under ripe, and with Viognier that means not making wine that has all those pretty floral aromas that consumers have come to love. Odorous compounds, found mainly in the skin and layers of cells underneath it, intensify as the fruit ripens, so under ripe fruit also reflects a lack of intensity for the resulting wine.

All is not lost however for there is still one major factor that can save the day, the winemaker. The winemaker get’s no respect [Dangerfield accent here for effect], a fantastic wine is definitely made in the vineyard and a bad wine, well that is all winemaking or the lack thereof. While 2010 was a dream vintage, 2011 was challenging and the winemaker’s craft played a major role. Time will tell if I did a good job or not.

On the 25th of June we bottled our Keswick Vineyards Viognier, a 100% varietal that admittedly is slightly different from the previous vintages. While the 2010 Viognier is aromatic and bold, the 11 is more understated and elegant. The major positive this year was the acidity of the juice, something that judges of Viogniers tend to complain about. Acidity keeps the wine fresh and focused, without which the wine can seem a bit heavy and oily, in the wine world FLABBY. Imagine calling one of your kids flabby, the nerve of it.

We tried to retain the acidity and build the wine around this core. This is 100% barrel fermented in neutral French oak. Neutral means that the barrel has been used many times previously and as such, does not impart many of the flavors derived from oak. We inoculated most of the wines this year, a practice that is not too common here anymore as we prefer to ferment the wines naturally without the addition of cultured yeast. We had no problems getting the wine dry [all the fermentable sugars have been converted to ethyl alcohol], and chose to prevent the onset of secondary fermentation.

We aged the wine sur lie [on the dead yeast] and stirred the barrels vigorously over the course of 8 months. Batonage [the actual stirring of the barrels] is a stylistic tool we employ that enables us to build palate weight and texture to the wine. What we tried to do is create a balance between the acidity or freshness of the wine and the weight and overall complexity. To that end I feel we were pretty successful.

I tasted the wine last night and my overall impression was that it is still in bottle shock and pretty tight. It started opening up after an hour or two and I got some really pretty floral tones, with melon and pear aromas. Although the wine did not show too much, the acidity is definitely the hallmark of this wine with bright granny smith apple flavors on the front, but it definitely has some palate weight and complexity. I am hoping that with some time in the bottle, the new Viognier will flesh out a touch more and show some more of the tropical and stone fruit characters that are a hallmark of our Viognier vineyard.

Considering how challenging the 2011 vintage was, this new Viognier I would say shows some promise, but it is still too early to really judge it. We hope to age it a few months in the bottle before releasing it to you, the public. I look forward to hearing what you have to say about it.

Remember though, you are talking about my kids, and I am very protective of them.


Stephen Barnard


Keswick Vineyards