Getting to the Summit – and in style.

Virginia Wine SummitYou know it is going to be a half decent day when your father in law tosses you the keys to his Maserati and says “drive”. Creeping out of the driveway at barely a crawl, Al’s instructions were clear, “drive like this and we will never get there”. Bye bye Miss Daisy, lets see what this bad boy can do! The destination? The second annual Virginia Wine Summit at the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond Virginia.

After successfully navigating rush hour traffic, and avoiding any object that could scratch the car and cause me to Virginia Wine Summitlose my house, we pulled into the parking area, having arrived on time for once. Heads were turned, sure one or two people were contemplating calling the cops seeing me get out of the car. I thought I was rather dressed up for once, having attended the meeting last year in jeans, wine stained t shirt and baseball cap. In my defense, the dress code said business attire and I would challenge anyone that thinks a winemaker dresses in a suit during harvest. Besides, chinos and flannel shirts go together like pork and beans or hotdogs and baseball, it is an ageless classic look, yet I was still very much the under dressed one of the bunch as per usual.

Virginia Wine SummitAll joking aside, the Summit is a yearly meeting of industry professionals and wine writers who talk and taste their way through a variety of topics pertaining to the Virginia Wine industry. A collection and collaboration of ideas and strategies to best promote and further our burgeoning industry. It is a day filled with informative wine tasting sessions moderated by some of the best sommeliers, wine writers and masters of wine in America. This meeting has been spearheaded by Governor McDonnell, who along with his lovely wife Maureen, have been tireless champions and promoters of this wine industry during his tenure in office. Many thanks need to be bestowed on their efforts and I am sure I speak for many industry professionals when I say that they will sorely be missed.

The day started off with a session about Cabernet Francs, aptly titled Franc-ly-Speaking. In this tasting, three Virginia wines were Virginia Wine Summittasted alongside two representations from France and one wine from the North Coast in California. In order we tasted the [1] Les Galuches: Jean Maurice Raffault 2011 [2] Fabbioli Cellars 2011 [3] Lang and Reed North Coast Cab Franc 2010 [4] Cedar Creek 2009 [5] Charles Joguet Varennes du Grand Clos 2010 and [6] Barboursville Reserve 2010. What follows is a personal opinion on the wines tasted and does not reflect the tasting of those in attendance, for, as you will later find out, opinions varied widely.

My favorite Virginia wine was the Fabbioli, a 2011 vintage that is well know among industry folk as a “crappy” year. This wine topped out at 12.5% alcohol and was matured in 25% new Hungarian oak. The nose was rather perfumy with touches of earth and spice. What made this wine impressive was the absence of the typical “vegetal” aromas that Cab Franc sometimes shows, something that you would definitely expect in a wet year like 2011. Hats off to Doug for a well crafted wine; complex, layered and could still age for 3-5 years in my opinion.

Damn that is a good one under those conditions. As far as the visiting competitors, in terms of drinking there and then, I would have favored wine number [1] but in terms of pure curiosity for the future, I gave the slight edge to the Joguet Varennes du Grand Clos. This style is not for everyone, the wine was dusty, austere, chalky and unapologetically big, needing at least 15-20 years in the bottle to truly open up, but even then it may be a surly wine. It was the most interesting though and I kept coming back to it, trying to figure it out but maybe that’s the charm of it, you cannot really put in a box, it almost stands alone.

Overall though, I favored the Virginia wines over their counterparts, proving once again that Virginia can indeed make world class Cabernet Franc. This is a well known fact amongst winemakers and writers alike, proven in a very fair tasting that we take no step back to any Cabernet Franc produced anywhere.

Virginia Wine SummitAfter a thoroughly enjoyable start to the morning, “drinking wines at 9:30 in the morning is a great way to start the day”, attendees had three break out sessions from which to choose. I chose the “Age is just a Number” session, focusing on wines with some bottle age on them.

In order, we tasted [1] Linden Avenius Chardonnay 2002 [2] Barboursville Viognier 2002 [3] Chrysalis Locksley Reserve Norton 2004  [5] Ingleside Pettie Verdot 2005 and [6] Williamsburg Winery Gabriel Archer 2003.

Both whites showed extremely well although there was some bottle variation in the Viognier from table to table. The Chardonnay was still vibrant and displayed some gorgeous palate weight and tertiary flavors from ageing. The wine is un-mistakingly made in a Burgundian style and still showed some minerality and flintiness I associate with those type of wines. Viognier on the other hand should not age, or so the opinion is, however my glass was very expressive with tropical fruit characters supported by brioche and toasty notes. I felt the moderate alcohol was starting to show a little, but Bravo to Luca for a wonderful Viognier that has truly aged beautifully.

I cannot believe I am going to say this but I favored the Norton over the other two red wines. Seeing how my opinion on Norton is well known within the industry, I almost had to choke back tears as I publicly announced that this wine was incredibly interesting and even though I wanted to hate it, I couldn’t. The wine showed showed a touch of Volatile Acid, but imparted a sweeter note to the wine and the normally tart malic acid had softened to allow some nice darker berry fruit to come through. Norton seems to showcase a certain charm 5-7 years after bottling, maybe to really give the wine it’s due, we need to allow these wines some time in the bottle. I am still not convinced that Norton is the grape to hang our Virginia hat on though. Although a true Virginian grape, customers are in the habit [for the most part] to drink wines young and while that is still the norm, Norton in my opinion will still be a polarizing grape in terms of love it or hate it. Props to Jenny though, me saying it was the most interesting of the reds is an endorsement in itself and the biggest compliment I could have paid that wine.

11 wines tasted by lunch time, how cool is this gig

Lunch included a glass of King Family Meritage and Trump Blanc de Blanc, beautiful wines, nice people, good winemakers and thoroughly enjoyed them both, “am I driving the Maserati home this evening?”

Keynote Speech by Mr.Oz ClarkeVirginia Wine Summit

I have sat on many panels and tasting seminars over the years and many times I think the “pretentious” tag given to  wine is a fault of the wine writers and professionals who use effusive terms to describe wines, where they should be getting people excited about wines and how accessible they are to anyone. Anyone who starts off a speech by saying ‘Never speak longer than you can make love to a woman” and then leaves the stage, demands attention and what a personality this gentleman turned out to be. This man knows wine, has an incredible palate, but has a way of communicating that just makes you fall in love with wine all over again. Watch You Tube and look up Oz and James drink to Britain to see what I am talking about. His speech was an impassioned plea to industry professionals to embrace our history and focus on wines that truly can stand alongside the world’s best. I got the impression that he really did taste and love many of our wines and was speaking from the heart when raving about the wines he had tasted thus far, top class guy.

The afternoon was again broken up into three sessions. Since Keswick has more Viognier planted than any other varietal, we decided toVirginia Wine Summit attend the Viognier Voyage session. Moderated by Andrew Hoover of the Wine Enthusiast magazine, three Virginia Viogniers were pitted against two examples from France and one from California.  Veritas, Pollak and Jefferson were the local champions of the grape and well made in albeit slightly different styles. The Jefferson Vineyards Viognier used Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Gris in the blend and the wine came in at around 1% residual sugar. Veritas also used blending as a tool with a small portion of Petite Manseng making it into the final wine, while the Pollak was a single varietal. My favorite of the bunch was the Veritas, made by winemaker Emily Pelton. Her hallmark seems to be one of balance and elegance, as was the case here. The wine had the typical floral and tropical aromas associated with Viognier, but enough acidity to keep the wine fresh and vibrant. Aging on the lees imparted a more viscous textural quality that I really like; so a very good wine indeed, Bravo!

My favorite wine of the lot though [and I was the only one] was the 2011 Guigal Condrieu, a full M.L 100% new barrel fermented wine. It was definitely a fatter, richer wine than the rest with a phenolic bitterness on the back end that I really liked. I honestly thought it was the most interesting of the wines but at $56 retail, I would get more bottles of the Veritas [or any Virginia Viognier] at the fraction of the price. I copped a bit of flack from some wine writers that thought I was not supporting the Virginia wines, but I had to be honest and vote for the wine I thought to be the most interesting. Here at Keswick we make 4 or 5 different Viognier wines on any given year and the hardest part for me is to make wines that are each unique in their own style. I have been told that our Viognier wines are a bit more French than most Virginia Viogniers, maybe that is why I leaned a bit to the Condrieu.

Virginia Wine SummitAfter some passionate talking points and a valuable discussion on the state Grape of Virginia, we retired to taste some locally made Ciders from Potter’s Craft, Foggy Ridge, Castle Hill, Albemarle Ciderworks and others, a perfect way to wash down the copious amounts of wine we had tasted through the course of the day.

Faced with a decision of going out to dinner with the rowdy marketing folk or heading back home, we decided to make the hour long drive back to Charlottesville and call it a day. Driving a six figure worth car is so much easier after a day spent tasting wines and I duly pulled into the winery without a scratch imparted onto the paint.

This is what makes wine and the wine community fascinating. We do not agree on everything and we each have our own style, but what a great passion we share, the passion of wine and more importantly making wine in Virginia.


Stephen Barnard

Winemaker at Keswick Vineyards and avid promoter of Virginia Wines.

Our New Cabernet Sauvignon

Make no mistake, Virginia is a pretty tough climate in which to grow grapes, at least to grow grapes that allow you to make world class wines.

True, we can produce wines of that caliber in vintages such as 2007, 2009 and 2010, but in vintages such as 2003 and 2011, forget about it. Those years are more an endeavor of making cleaner wines than wines that can stand along side the very best of California and France.

So when great vintages come along and mother nature combines with all the other variables to produce fruit of that quality, the winemaker needs to take full advantage and convert that fruit potential into a fantastic wine.

This weekend marks the official release of our 2009 Keswick Vineyards Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine that I think ranks in our top three ever produced here at the estate.

2009 for me was a fantastic growing season. It was long and temperate and we were able to pick fruit at the optimum ripeness, which meant good sugars, developed flavors in the grapes and, more importantly for Cabernet, ripe tannins.

The winemaking protocol was actually pretty simple. We cooled the fruit and sorted after de-stemming to remove any unwanted material including green grapes, jacks, stems and leaves that bypassed the destemmer. The fruit was then transferred to open top stainless steel tanks, warmed up, and allowed to undergo native fermentation without the addition of commercial yeast. BAM we had good wine.

The philosophy here at Keswick is to produce wines that reflect the season, the area, and the soil in which it was grown. The French refer to this concept and notion as Terroir. For me it means that what you taste in a glass of wine is a product of nature and not of manipulation by me the winemaker, same thing really.

And so it was, after fermentation and pressing, the wine was barreled down to French oak barrels and allowed to mature for 22 months with very little manipulation (other than the occassional taste, purely for quality control purposes of course). Surely, there are a lot more decisions that go into making wine, but if you break it down- what made the 2009 Cabernet a stunner was, truthfully, the fruit quality which ultimately forged this quality wine. I just tried to stay out of the way and not mess it up.

So it is truly a joy to be able to release this wine to the public on Saturday. I hope you will like it as much as we do here.

It is 100% Cabernet grown right here on the estate. It is definitely New World in style, displaying the typical aromas of plum and cassis backed by ripe integrated tannins (which is a fancy way of saying that although there is oak, it is not too dominant to suppress the fruit). The wine also has a fair bit of acid which really keeps the wine fresh and focused. As far as drinkability, you are good to go- but if you would like to lay it down, I truly think this wine has the stuffing to age for another 8-10 years. It is dark and inky, brooding yet seductive, a wine that we are very proud of.

Okay, I have to brag a bit here in order to get some hype.

It was one of the wines that was selected to be in the Governors Case, following the Virginia Governors Cup Wine Competition. That meant it was rated amongst the top twelve Virginia wines for that year. It also received a double gold medal at the San Francisco International Wine Competition, the largest and arguably the most influential competition in the States [as taken from their website]. To put into perspective how well this wine did, there were only 5% of the total entries awarded the double gold, and in the Cabernet category (which was the most competitve category in the competition based on the number of entries), bested some Napa Valley wines that retail for $200 a bottle.

Okay, competitions are what they are, but this is like me beating Tiger Woods at match play in golf. For an itty bitty Virginia Cabernet to wine this award says something about the quality of the wine and also the quality that Virginia has in producing world class reds.

So ladies and gentleman, come by on Saturday to taste what we think is one the best reds we have ever produced in our short wine making history. We’re smack in the middle of the 2012 harvest (which I am hoping will produce more high calibur wines!), so I will be working away in the cellar racking the whites- feel free to come back and let me know what you think of the Cabernet!




Keswick Vineyards

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

Keswick Vineyards

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.

Happy Anniversary Chris and Laura!

All my blogs up until this point have been focused on the workings of the winery and the wines, but today I would like to make an exception and chat about a very special couple who are celebrating their one year wedding anniversary.

I first met Chris and Laura in the tasting room in January of 2010 on what was a miserable winters day. Along with my wife Kathy, who was the manager on duty that day, we quickly learned that they were looking for a wedding venue, for they were to be married in August of 2010.

Out came the computer and many hours were spent showing them photographs of the property and our own wedding photos from the previous year.  This was a bit of a tough sell, for Keswick is definitely beautiful, but with leafless vines, inches of snow on the ground, and no actual wedding venue up and running yet, it would take some imagination to envision what your wedding ceremony would like. It was with some trepidation that we hopped on the golf cart and spent the next hour or so fighting our way through snow, talking about where the tent would be, where Laura would enter from, where their first dance would take place and so on.  They are a lovely couple and time spent with them was truly a pleasure.

A few weeks later I had the chance to meet the folks, everyone knows you have to get the Mom to love the place, but they were just as lovely as Chris and Laura and with the help of photographs and lots of personal experience from our side, we felt confident that we could make their day truly special.

Holy cow, they booked with us and we were to have our first, non-family wedding on the property!

Chris and Laura were such a wonderful couple to work with, plans kept changing as our wedding venue started to come together- artificial grass was put in, the beautiful sperry tent was put up, tables and chairs were ordered, an event planner was hired- and they just went with the flow with everything and kept us inspired and excited about this new venture we were undertaking.

Thank goodness for helping hands from Barb Lundgren and Cindy Schornberg, who are way more experienced at these sort of things. With preparations and details taken care of, the big day duly arrived. Laura looked radiant and Chris looked dashing, I even got to drive Laura around in the golf cart for her pre-wedding photographs.

By all accounts the nuptials were beautiful, Chris remembered all his first dance steps and these two individuals were to start their amazing lives together. I did sneak a late night visit to the tent to wish them well and their joy together was easily seen.

We might have hundreds of weddings over the next few years, but yours will always be our first, and will always remain a special one for both me and Kathy. From all of us at Keswick Vineyards, we wish you a very happy first year anniversary. May your love continue to grow and may you continue to experience eternal happiness.

Stephen and Kathy

You can read Chris and Laura’s review on The Knot here! Thank you!

Chris and Laura celebrating their 1 year anniversary with us!

A Call to Action

I got into winemaking for many reasons, the love of farming and definitely a love of wine. I get butterflies in my stomach when I see sweeping vineyards and land being farmed to create products that not only bring joy to customers, but also provide a much-needed boost into the economy of the surrounding areas.

It is with this in mind that I request your help regarding a certain matter, that not only affects us at Keswick Vineyards, but also potentially many other wineries in the county of Albemarle in the future. We opened our doors last year for weddings to be hosted on the property knowing that many a bride would want to say their vows surrounded by beautiful vineyards, with gorgeous views of the Southwest Mountains. What better way to start a new chapter in one’s life.

Albemarle County’s noise ordinance leaves much to personal interpretation, and dependent on the surrounding residents may be used to force the wineries to cease holding these events. It is with this in mind that I urge you to read the information regarding this ordinance, and if you feel like we do, to sign the petition as either a resident or non-resident of Albemarle County [there are two specific petitions].

Petition for Albemarle county residents

Petition for non-residents

We are having a public hearing at the county office building on March 9th at 6pm and showing your support  would be greatly appreciated.


Keswick Vineyards


Coming soon…

Join us on Saturday, January 15th for the release of one of the most anticipated wines of the 2009 vintage, our 2009 Cabernet Franc!

This 100% Cab Franc was matured for 10 months in American oak barrels and exhibits aromas of cracked black pepper, spices and red fruits which follow through onto the palate. With firm integrated tannins, this full-bodied wine may be laid down for 6-8 years but can also be enjoyed young.

We will have light fare to compliment this wine available throughout the day free of charge!