How good wine is really made at Keswick Vineyards, 5 easy steps.

We have all read about how great wine is made in the vineyards- that if all being equal, the best fruit will ultimately equate to the best wine being made. True enough, better fruit gives you the chance to make better wines, but there are a few steps in the middle between the harvest and the bottling.

So before you think this is about picking time, phenolic maturity, indigenous yeast and oak selection, let me offer you a different insight as to how we make great wine here at Keswick Vineyards.

May I present, 5 simple steps for a winemaker to be successful.

[1] Invest in an awesome wife or partner.BarnardWedding-10404edit

I think sub-consciously that I am trying to win a few points here, since my 4th year wedding anniversary is coming up and I still have no idea what to do. My wife Kathy [a.k.a the BOSS] is pretty understanding of what I do and puts up with me when most others would not. To be a winemaker means a lot of time spent at the winery, instead of being at home hanging out with the missus and the family. To be at your best, a winemaker needs a supporting [check], loving [double check] and understanding [mostly] wife who buys into your philosophy and passion about making wine. She does not mind waking up to grape skins in the bed and me spending money on obscure varietals such as Alvarinho and Molinara for purely “research” purposes. So to my loving wife, I say thank you for letting me do what I do, could not do it without your love and support and by the way, Happy Anniversary in advance for the 1st [in case I forget].

[2] Work for someone who allows you to express yourself.DSC_1201small

Okay, I admittedly work for my in-laws and they by law have to put up with me.  Truthfully though, they give a fair amount of free reign to experiment and tinker in the winery and vineyard. Sorry Al, I know you prefer V.S.P but I really think the ballerina system is the way to go. It is easier to work for someone who shares your love and passion for wine, and sees the bigger picture.  Al still has not bought into the notion of drinking his 50 year old first growth wines for research purposes on a Sunday evening, but I cannot get everything I want. Maybe I need to talk to his boss Cindy. Truly a big thank you to them for allowing me to do what I do.

[3] Have a good vineyard/support staff.lugs

As much as I have tried, I cannot maintain 45 acres of vines on my own, I have to delegate and rely on others. These are the guys and girls that deserve a lot of credit, working in 95 degree heat is not fun and they do it day in and day out for me. Virginia is not the easiest place in which to grow grapes and a lot of work, effort and sweat goes into producing them. I like to say that we are minimalistic in our approach to making wine, but it takes a lot of work to be that in the vineyard. You can only be hands off in the winery if you are hands on the vineyard and while I ask and demand a lot in the vineyard, my crew over delivers each and every year and deserves extra kudo’s. So kudo’s to you, Thomas and PJ, from me, thank you guys for a wonderful job.

[4] Have a great front and back office staff.

_MG_7680 (800x533)I think that what is in the bottle is only a small part of the whole experience when you visit a winery. A wine can be well made but the taste left in your mouth can be sour if the experience and customer service is not up to par. We put a lot of effort into training and I think we have an exemplary staff who do a wonderful job in presenting our wines to the customer through our tasting room and wine club. I am always proud to hear first hand from a customer that they had a wonderful experience, and more importantly, that they will be back in the future. No-one can tell your story better than you, and I am lucky to have a staff that do a great job in promoting not only our wine, but all of those made in the Commonwealth. In their hands, the future of our winery is a bright one. Thank you also to the back office staff, Leah for paying me on time [always appreciated] as well as to Brian and Kathy who tirelessly promote our winery.

[5] A loyal customer base and fantastic wine club._MG_7730 (800x533)

The reason we pour heavily is to make people happy!  Not quite true, but we are here to make the customer happy. Customer is king and we thank each and every person that has and will buy a bottle of our wine. We are blessed to have a loyal following and I believe the 4th largest wine club in Virginia, some that have been members since our tasting room opened in 2006.  It is a great feeling to call a lot of them our friends and I thank everyone for their support.  In return I am happy to take case orders for that endorsement.

Wine-making and farming is not an easy endeavor, but it does help when you have some of the finest people supporting you and having your back. This is a shout out to my wife, my family and all of my staff for making my job a helluva lot easier.  Our winery success is in no small way directly attributed to them.

Personally, I thank everyone of them.


Stephen Barnard

Winemaker for Keswick Vineyards

P.S – if my staff are reading this, please get back to work!


Ladies and Gentleman, may I present our newest Viognier

Ah, the often mispronounced grape of Croation origin [possibly] and revered in the Rhone appellation of Condrieu and Chateau Grillet. It also happens to be the State grape of Virginia and, lucky for us here at Keswick Vineyards, the largest planting under vine on the estate.

With up to 6 annual bottlings each year, it is safe to say that Viognier has, and will continue to play a major role in wines produced here at Keswick Vineyards.

Following a challenging 2011 harvest, I was looking forward to getting back on track and working with better quality fruit from the 2012 vintage. Having negotiated the threat of early season frost [which always seems to affect Viognier the most] the growing season was fairly ideal, with enough rain and moderate temperatures to keep the vines healthy and balanced, that was until we got the heat wave in July.

These warmer temperatures ultimately led to the harvesting of our Viognier in late August, a full 2 weeks earlier than what we normally do; albeit at great physiological ripeness and, more importantly, clean fruit.

Our goal with our Keswick Viognier, differentiated from the Reserve, Signature and LVD brand, is to highlight the wonderful aromatic character of the grape. To that end, this wine is generally a blend of wine fermented and matured in a combination of tank and neutral French oak barrels. 70% of the final blend was fermented in tank and kept there for the duration of the maturation to ensure we had a component that was bit more acidic, brighter and ultimately fresher. Viognier has a tendency to be really oily and acidity in the final wine, in my opinion, is sometimes lacking, so greater emphasis for us is placed on this component. We picked this fruit slightly greener, using acid as the primary indicator as to when to pick. Fermentation was really slow and conducted at colder temperatures, finishing only 28 days after first being initiated. After fermentation, we sulfured the wine to prevent the secondary fermentation, where malic acid turns into the softer and richer lactic acid, and topped the wines off to ensure the wines were stored safely.

The portion of barrel fermented Viognier was picked a full 7 days later, with greater emphasis placed on sugar and flavor development within the berry. After pressing, the juice was transferred to neutral barrels [ones that do not impart any perceptible oak]. 50% of the wine was allowed to ferment naturally [without the addition on commercial yeast] while the remaining 50% was inoculated with a variety of strains to build up variety of flavors and layers. To this end, we conducted a rigorous barrel stirring regime throughout the maturation period to take full advantage of the dead yeast [lees] in the barrel. Enzymes start to break the cells down, releasing mannoproteins and polysaccharides into the wine, creating a wine that is fuller, richer and creamier than wines generally fermented in tank.

Prior to assembling the final wine to be bottled, we blended multiple lots and barrels together until we were satisfied with both the wine and the style of the wine. We felt that 70% of the tank wine ensured that we did not compromise the freshness and brightness of the Viognier, while the remaining 30% of barrel fermented wine ensure the palate was still layered and complex, ensuring the final wine was extremely well-balanced.

We think the wine is fantastic and have chosen to release it tomorrow officially in the tasting room. The wine was bottled in March and has had an additional three months in bottle to really come together and integrate. Having tasted it last week, we think it is both varietally correct and representative of the style of Viognier that our customers have come to love.

I believe that 2012 will prove itself to be a strong year for whites and our new Viognier will hopefully validate that point. Time for Viognier to take center stage again. Hopefully you will enjoy the wine as much as I enjoyed making it.


Stephen Barnard


Keswick Vineyards