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.