You need to close your eyes To Really See!

Greetings again.

After 12 weeks of harvest, I have been given the friendly reminder that my blogging career has taken a turn for the worse and it has to be jump started. Welcome back I guess.

Instead of rambling on about harvest and the current crop of wines, I would like to discuss an important event that I think in time will be looked upon as maybe putting the Virginia wine industry into another gear.

The Virginia Wine Summit, which took place at the Marriott Hotel on October 2nd, brought together winemakers and industry professionals for a day long series of seminars and discussions. Discussions covered themes such as what Virginia’s next red wine will be to the art of blending and focusing on all things local.

The keynote speaker was Steven Spurrier, a name well known within wine circles for his role in the famous “Judgement of Paris”, the theme on which the movie Bottle Shock was based. Currently a consultant editor for Decanter Wine Magazine, Mr.Spurrier created the first independent wine school in France L’Academie du Vin, and is only the third recipient of the “Le Grand Prix de l’Academie Internationale du Vin” since 1982. To say this was a major coup for the summit would be a monumental understatement.

The day was kicked off by what was called the “Breakfast of Champions”, whereby Virginia wines were pitted against wines from across the globe in a blind setting. This was my kind of breakfast, tasting wines at 9:30 in the morning.

The format was simple enough, eight flights of two wines each, one an offering from Virginia, the other a similar wine produced in another part of the world. The tasting was lead by a panel of four wine professionals; Steven Spurrier (Decanter Magazine), Bartholomew Broadbent (Broadbent Selections), Jay Youmans (Capital Wine School) & Anthony Giglio (Food & Wine Magazine, author). After each flight, the panel would discuss the wines and give their personal critique, after which the audience was asked which wine they favored, as well as trying to guess which one was the Virginia wine.

As a winemaker and avid supporter of this industry, I was extremely pleased to see how well our local wines fared against the competition and ultimately proves that we are indeed on the right path to being taken seriously as a quality wine producing state. It is fair to say that we can more than hold our own with varietals such as Viognier, Cabernet Franc and Bordeaux blends. The room was constantly buzzing as the wines were revealed, on more than one occasion showing the Virginia wine to be the preferred.

I have often been discouraged by the perception of Virginia wines, constantly hearing how inferior they are in quality and how over priced they are. I have also been involved in quite a few blind tastings where Virginia wines have more than held their own against wines three times more expensive. I think consumers have a visual bias, and a negative opinion has already been made before the wine has been tasted. To truly judge the wines fairly, I believe that a blind setting is the best way in which to comprehensively prove that our wines can not only compete, but in many cases surpass like styled wines from any other state or country.

I may be over optimistic, and yes I have a biasm for favoring Virginia wines since I am a winemaker in the Old Dominion. I blindly pursue the goal of making world class wines, and have no shame in marketing the heck out of them. Are we there yet, absolutely not but are we making great strides and heading in the right direction, without a doubt and this tasting only fueled those flames and I believe made a converter out of one or two tasters.

As for Keswick Vineyards, our 2009 Reserve Cabernet went up against the Chateau Montelena in flight number 4. As folks around me tasted, I sat back and listened to some of the comments. “Balanced” said one gentleman, “clearly the superior wine” said Steven Spurrier of wine A, “clearly the Virginia wine” one remarked of wine B, “inferior to wine A by a long shot”. Did I know what wine was ours? Without a doubt, similar to picking out your blond daughter in a room full of red heads. As the wines were revealed, a murmur of disbelief as wine A was indeed ours and showed very well against the Montelena. A pretty big deal and affirmation that we have some serious potential in this State, even with a varietal that historically is not known to do very well.

Congratulations to Barboursville, Foggy Ridge, Ducard and Potomac Point for showing extremely well as well, very proud of our Virginia wines.

Subsequent sessions were theme focused and I was fortunate enough to be asked to talk about Viognier, sitting on the panel with Matthieu Finot of King Family Vineyards and Jennifer Blosser of Breaux Vineyards. Our moderator was Jennifer Knowles [sommelier for Inn at Little Washington] who kept the discussion lively, focusing on a number of topics which included style, consumer preference and acidulation. Viognier is one of my favorite wines and as Mr.Spurrier pointed out, we had a talk for almost an hour on Viognier, when you cannot talk for more than ten minutes on Chardonnay. Touché.

Unfortunately, I could not stay much longer as cellar work and harvest was calling (which might explain the fact that I was the only person there in jeans, polo shirt and baseball cap- I argue that I was merely in business attire). I did eventually get to meet Mr. Spurrier, who kindly signed my bottle of Cabernet, certainly a highlight for me as I am huge fan (think that was the first thing I said to him).

Ladies and gentleman, Virginia wines are here, they are good and they are starting to make some noise in the wine world.
As the breakfast proved, all you have to do is close your eyes to truly see the potential of our wine industry.

I would be amiss if I did not point out some of the efforts of some key folks.

Firstly, a big thank you has to be given to the Virginia Wine Marketing Office; Annette, Amy and Mary Catherine have done an amazing job in promoting our industry. I am sure I speak for many folks when I say how much I appreciate their efforts.

In addition, to Governor and Mrs. McDonnell, who have been relentless in their promotion and support of our wine industry, I sincerely thank you and applaud you for all your efforts. I promise we will work harder and continue to make better wines in the future.

This is certainly a great time to be involved in the Virginia Wine industry!


Stephen Barnard


Keswick Vineyards