2014 Harvest Report from Keswick Vineyards

My fellow wine lovers, I greet you after what has been an exhausting harvest here at Keswick Vineyards. Even as I write this, we still have fermenting wines that need close monitoring and ultimately pressing off to barrel. Hopefully at this point we should be done in the next few weeks.

The big question from our customers and wine club members is, “How was the Harvest?” Well I am happy to report that all signs point to it potentially being one of the best yet! I am especially thrilled about the quality of the red wines and have already publicly stated that I believe the 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon will be even better than the Governors Cup Winning 2007, and the multiple gold winning 2009 and 2010 wines. I said that about the 2013 Cabernet that is still aging in barrel, but the 2014 wine has me really excited. I tend to be rather reserved about the wines at this stage, knowing that there is still a lot of developing they have to do before we can really assess the strength of the vintage; but rarely have I see our wines to be this explosive so early in the process.

The biggest question is how to keep improving on these wines and what factors have led to such a wonderful harvest. The answer lies in three important factors [1] Mother Nature [2] The actual vineyard and [3] The wine-making process.

[1] Mother Nature:

We are at the mercy of all things weather, the rainfall, the sunlight, and length of the growing season. It is ultimately the quality of the growing season that determines the potential of the wines. Great wines can not be made from poor fruit. Think of Bordeaux and the great vintages of 2000, 2005, 2009 and 2010, where the growing season allowed the winemaker to make incredible wines.

we have bud break

we have bud break

Bud break at Keswick Vineyards occurred April 7th, which is quite typical for us. With bud break comes the threat of spring frosts and we negated three frost days through the use of fans, fires and spraying. Unfortunately, our Viognier took quite a pounding from the nasty winter and we already knew that our crop would be considerably less than normal. The great news is that all other varietals were in great shape, buds were healthy and fruitful. Through the course of the season we dealt with moderate temperatures, adequate rainfall and very little disease pressure. This allowed us to cut our sprays down to 11-14 day intervals while spraying the least amount of material in order to be the most effective. The evenings were cool which preserved the natural acidity and kept the fruit firm and intact, another factor in fruit surviving late season rains.

Keswick Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon

A potentially amazing crop

[2] The Vineyard:

Our vineyard was planted in 2000 and is now reaching some sort of maturity. After 15 years in the ground, we should really start seeing some quality fruit come off the various blocks. Initially young vineyards are very vigorous, producing not only a tremendous amount of foliage, but potentially a big heavy crop too. Sounds good unless the fruit is not quite ripe and leads to herbaceous, vegetal wines. Since we are in the wine growing business, our ultimate goal is find the right balance between amount of fruit and quality of fruit, with more emphasis placed on quality. We are now at a point where the vines are balanced, roots are deep and established and the vines healthy. We can now start assessing the various flavor profiles, the subtle nuances between the rows, elevation differences and exposures. Instead of dealing with macro climates [general area like Albemarle] or Mesoclimate [difference between various blocks] we have now focused on the Microclimate [the differences within the actual row itself].

soils in our Bordeaux block

soils in our Bordeaux block

Is there really a huge difference between East facing and West facing fruit, or vines that are at elevation differences? ABSOLUTELY! Factor in the soil variances, the changing topography, the tree line and the effect of sunshine on the canopy, what you essentially get is a difference in chemistry and flavor profile. We measured the sugar of Cabernet Franc at one end of the row at 21 and at the other end we got 18, that is a huge swing and you could taste the difference too. In years past, we would just pick the Cabernet Franc, now we pick certain vines, certain sections are allowed more time to mature, certain vines get more leaf removal or get pruned a different way. In the winery we get more components with which to work, wines are assembled piece by piece and although they will eventually be 100% of a certain varietal, may consist of 6 different components.

If “Terroir” refers to a sense of place, then it is our responsibility to identify what it is about our vineyard that is unique. We then also need to ensure that we communicate those differences in our wine, preserving the notion that great wines indeed are an expression of the vineyard versus the hand of the winemaker.

first day of harvest 2014

first day of harvest 2014

Over the course of the vineyards young life, we have identified various blocks as producing better quality fruit than others. Anecdotally, we have tasted wines that are just better and year after year, fruit from various parcels have been kept separate or vinified as a Reserve or designated to be a higher quality. To better understand why this might be, with the help of a company called Resource Reconnaissance we have been using drones to map our vineyard, to identify the various soil types and to photograph the ripening process from the air. After months of data collection, we discovered that all our perceived highest quality blocks were planted on a very unique soil: residuum from sericite schist, phyllite, or other fine-grained metamorphic rocks. These soils are incredibly well-drained and are mainly found on slopes of 10-20 degree gradients. Our vines planted on these soils have incredibly deep root systems, have better tolerance to climatic variations, and, most importantly, produce high quality fruit albeit in lower quantities. This discovery is significant in that it proves what we always thought, that there is a factor in why this fruit is infinitely better than others. It also allows us to search for this soil for future plantings.

[3] The Winemaking:

While the essence of a wine can be traced back to the vineyard, the fact remains that the winemaker has to ensure the quality of the fruit is reflected in the finished product. Luckily for me, I had the privilege of working with amazing fruit. Our reds in particular were stunning which certainly makes the winemaking part a little easier. It is no secret that I tend to favor a hands off approach and this year allowed to me do just that.

Cabernet Sauvignon after many sorting hours

Cabernet Sauvignon after many sorting hours

As always, we sorted our fruit after de-stemming to remove any leaves, stems or berries that were un-desirable. This is an investment in time with roughly an hour spent sorting half a ton of fruit. With 7 tons of Cabernet in the refrigerated truck, that is many hours spent on the sorting table. So why do we do it? If we can improve the quality of fruit by just 5% that goes into the fermentor, the resulting wine can only be that much better. We feel that since we get one shot a year at this, it is worth it. We have followed a very basic philosophy of no sulfur, natural fermentations and punching down the cap where possible although we backed off how many times we punched per day. We continue to ferment a little cooler in years gone by and we do no post fermentation maceration. I felt that the wines tended to show a coarse edge, requiring a great deal of barrel and bottle time to fully integrate. As such, we pressed all our wines off after fermentation and separated the free and press sections as deemed necessary. Since most of the wines have no sulfur whatsoever, we are inoculating for secondary fermentation by adding Lactic Acid Bacteria.

pumping over the tank of fermenting Touriga

pumping over the tank of fermenting Touriga

The wines are a little shy at the moment and fairly tight, they will need a few months in barrel before they reveal their true potential and characteristics. What I can reveal at this stage is that the colors are deep and inky and the wines are extremely well-balanced. They are showing a lot more texturally than in the past, with tannins well-integrated with fruit at this early stage. I will have to be careful not to over oak the wine. Along with the Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc all look exceptional and point to being some of the best ever produced at the Estate.

If they turn out how we feel they will, thank mother nature and our amazing vineyard, for that is where the wines were truly made this year. My job was just to not screw it up.

future winemaker in training

future winemaker in training

One last note:

I would like to take this opportunity to thank my entire crew who have worked tirelessly with me to ensure this harvest went off as smoothly as possible. Their hard work and dedication is very much appreciated and I hope I can do them proud by making wines that are reflective of their passion. To Jeremy, Lewis, Luis, Dakoda and Steve, thank you very much for everything, you guys have been a pleasure to work with and you have made my job a lot easier.

The boys

The boys

A big thank you to all our wine club members and customers who keep supporting us and allowing us to make these wonderful wines. One last thank you to my wife Kathy who is my rock, and allows me to do what I love. I love you tremendously.

Kindly

Stephen Barnard and team

Winemakers and Vineyard Managers at Keswick Vineyards

Our newest wine makes its long awaited debut

Virginia wine, Verdejo and ViognierWe never intended on making a Verdejo wine; the fruit was sold off to another winery because, quite frankly, we felt the wine to be uninspiring and rather bland. It so happened that when half our Viognier crop was lost due to the Easter Weekend frost in 2006, we kept the Verdejo fruit out of necessity, and so began one of our most successful and widely anticipated wines we currently produce. Such was the response to this unknown grape from Spain’s Rueda region, that we have increased our acreage thereof and see it is one of our most important wines moving forward.

If Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc had a baby, it would be called Verdejo.

The wine is sharp and focused with mineral accents and vibrant flavors of stone fruits with some salty undertones, yet it has a textural quality and richness I associate with Viognier. It is versatile with a variety of dishes, but easily enjoyed on it’s own during the warmer months. I have fallen in love with this grape and the wine and am very excited about the future.

In the harvest of 2012, following the rather challenging harvest that was 2011 [note the subtle sarcasm], we harvested perfectly ripe Verdejo. We also picked some Viognier intended for our entry level Les Vent d’Anges brand Viognier the same day. Harvest went well, the fruit was clean and 12 hours later the fruit was sitting in cold storage. I had a plan for processing and the press was prepped and cleaned for receiving the fruit the next morning; home time!

Do you ever get a feeling when something is not quite right, a feeling in your gut that the stars are just not aligned perfectly? Driving to the winery I had such a feeling, no reason why but just did not feel too good. I am pretty sure a refrigerated truck is supposed to cool fruit, imagine my surprise and few choice words when I discovered that our truck was actually heating the fruit and that the inside temperature was 88 degrees, LOVELY.

Previous processing plan out of the window, new plan: toss the Viognier and Verdejo fruit together into the press and then deal with it in the winery. And so ladies and gentleman, our newest addition, the  V², was born. Our intention with this wine was to try and mimic the previous Verdejo versions that were more Sauvignon Blanc in character, showcasing green apple and stone fruit tones. I think what ultimately saved the day was the fact that our LVD Viognier grapes are picked a little earlier and do not exhibit the floral and tropical aromas usually associated with the grape.

The blend came out at 51% Verdejo and 49% Viognier and after fermentation and racking, started to really grow on me. The problem with wine nowadays is that consumers want what they had previously and the challenge with this wine was to re-introduce and re-brand the Verdejo grape and wine. We decided to bottle this wine early since it was 100% tank fermented, thereby giving it a few months in bottle before releasing it. The name V² represents the two varieties that make up the wine and with much trepidation was released to the public in early April.

Instant success; you loved it! It was quickly snapped up in the tasting room and then we started getting asked “When will the next one be available?”. Oh No, no next one, this was a once off thing due to a mistake in the …, who am I kidding? The next one is being released next weekend the 14th of June. How do you deny your customers? You don’t. We make wine for people to enjoy and get excited about and if they loved the first V², they will love the latest version.

The blend is Viognier heavy this year, with only 19% Verdejo and as such the wine is richer and more complex. The Verdejo plays an important role in that it provides the acidity and minerality, that ultimately keeps the flashier Viognier in check.

The wine was fermented in tank and saw no oak. I used a South African yeast, widely used for Sauvignon Blanc production. After minimal handling, protein stabilization and sterile filtration, the wine was bottled April 5th 2014. After 2 months in the bottle, it makes its long awaited and much anticipated appearance in our tasting room. It is a different style than the previous version and each year the blend will differ slightly, what remains the same is that this wine is just good.

I love the V², I really do and my hope is that when you taste it, you will love it too.

Let me know what you think.

Kindly

Stephen Barnard

Winemaker

Keswick Vineyards

 

The latest addition to our wine family

I get asked all the time, “What was the harvest like and how would you describe the wines?”

My response for the most part is, “wait for the wines and decide for yourself”.

Bottling time for me is actually quite a stress free day, in that my involvement in the wine officially comes to an end. As the wines mature in the winery, there is always room for reflection and doubt about whether you did the right thing in finishing them off. Did I add too little acid, are my sulfur levels correct and should I have bumped the residual sugar up just a little bit more? Constant questions we ask ourselves leading up to bottling day.

By the end of the day, with all the wines in the bottle, there is nothing let for a winemaker to do to manipulate the wine, it is what it is and customers will love it or hate it.

It was with great relief that almost 1900 cases of wine were bottled without incident on April 7th and 8th of 2014. This was the first bottling of the new 2013 vintage wines, wines that are made for early consumption and for the hot and humid months that define Virginia in May and June. As I am writing this, I am looking at the grey clouds and the pounding rain splashing on the crush pad, go figure.

Of the 5 wines that we bottled, I am incredibly proud of one of them, I may even go as far as to say it was the best wine I made last year.

That wine, believe it or not, is our new 2013 Rosé, made up entirely of Norton. Hold on a second here, did Stephen Barnard just say that his best wine he made was a 100% Norton Rosé? The winemaker that actually hates Norton and is quite open with his disdain for the grape? Yes ladies you heard correctly, the best wine I made in 2013 was our Norton Rosé.Virginia wine, Norton Rosé

It is not the best wine in the winery, but it is the best wine I MADE!

I am a big believer in the fact that the best fruit produces the best wine. As such, when you have wonderful fruit on your crush pad, all you really have to do is nurse it through the various processes and allow the grapes and their quality to be reflected in a glass of wine. Those wines ultimately turn out the be the best, reflecting the growing season and the terroir of the vineyard versus the hand of the winemaker.

We are not in California, however, and Virginia has a way of keeping you grounded. We have our good years but then we have our fair share of challenging vintages and sub standard grapes. As was the case with our 2013 Norton.

With the usual suspects causing issues [rain, lack of sunshine and short growing season], we also had the pleasure of dealing with damage caused by animals. The biggest culprits last year were the squirrels and the starlings. I was eventually being called Noah, since I had 2 of everything on the property.

The starlings really went to town on our Norton, and no matter how much netting we used we could not keep them under control. We were losing a fair amount of fruit and the decision was made to pull the fruit irrespective of the chemistry and try and do something with it in the winery.

For those of you who know a little about Norton, you will be aware that it has an excessive amount of acid when picked at even ripe sugar levels. Imagine for a second that you now are faced with 14 brix [measurement of sugar] grapes on the crush pad, and that the berries taste like a warhead candy.

Time for the winemaker to dig into his bag of tricks and make something of this.

Making a red wine was just out of the question, the fruit had no color and I was not confident of us making something decent. In hindsight, I should have made a sparkling wine, but at that point the only thing I could think of doing was to make a Rosé.

At this point I would like to take a moment to thank our sponsors Domino for the use of their sugar.

After de-stemming and then pressing, the brix of the juice was adjusted to 20.5 and then transferred to American oak barrels for fermentation. We inoculated the juice with a yeast that partially degrades malic acid and primary fermentation was completed without any incident. Unlike our other white wines and Rosés of previous years, we inoculated the finished wine to initiate secondary fermentation [allowing the malic acid to turn into the softer lactic acid] because we were so concerned with the acidity of the wine overwhelming any fruit and oak.

I think it was mid March, when I really started to get excited about the wine. Having been in South Africa for 3 weeks, this was the first time I tasted the wine in a while and I really liked it. Considering the quality of the fruit and the issues we had to deal with, this wine was not bad. The nose was quite aromatic, with lots of red fruits. The sweeter American oak was starting to come though and the acidity was there, but way more balanced within the context of the wine. Most importantly though, the wine was not screaming Norton, most thought it was a Bordeaux grape, BIG PLUS!

So after three weeks in the bottle, the wine finally makes it debut in our tasting room this coming Saturday at our Run for the Rosé event. In celebration of the Kentucky Derby, we will have games, a hat contest, delicious food from Black Jack’s mobile soul food truck and, of course, great wine including our new Rosé!

I hope it does well, despite the fact that it is a Rosé and made from Norton.

I can honestly say it was the best wine I made last year, and will be a great addition to our portfolio of wines we are currently pouring.

Let me know what you think of it.

Regards

Stephen Barnard

Winemaker

Keswick Vineyards

 

Racking the Wine and Stirring the Lees

First and Foremost, a belated Happy New Year to all! I trust and hope that 2014 will turn out to be a very special year filled with happiness and all resolutions being met and exceeded.

At Keswick Vineyards, most of the work is centered on the vineyard, ensuring we get all the pruning done before bud break in early April, but the wines and the winery still need some attention. The harvest that was 2013 was challenging to say the least, with a spring frost, a cooler than normal growing season and wildlife of biblical proportions testing the growers and winemakers across the state. I started calling myself Moses since I had 2 of everything on this farm eating the grapes.

Spur pruning the Bordeaux block

Spur pruning the Bordeaux block

For us, we had to be very careful with how we managed the vineyard and as such decided to bring fruit in a little earlier than hoped, choosing to be a touch more proactive in the winery than we would generally like to be. Since the fruit was not optimally ripe, sorting was critical and many hours were spent on the sorting table, eradicating anything unsatisfactory. We also stayed true to our philosophy of natural fermentation where possible and 50% of our wines were fermented without the addition of commercial yeast, normally we are in the 80-90% range. Although the intention is to ferment wines naturally, under certain conditions of poorer fruit quality, we will add a commercial yeast in order to better control the fermentation and winemaking.

Sorting de-stemmed red fruit

Sorting de-stemmed red fruit

Fermentations all finished [thankfully] and managing the tannin extraction was critical  in ensuring the wines remained balanced, since we were dealing with elevated acid levels and slightly greener flavors. Much is made of yeast choice, fermentation temperatures and other cellar practices but we pay special attention to a rather mundane task of extreme barrel stirring. We believe that barrel stirring really has a softening affect on the astringency of our wines, as well as creating a textural component which for us is also important.

Once fermentation is completed, the yeast that converted the sugar into alcohol dies, and settles with time to the bottom of the vessel [either barrel or tank]. At this point a lot of winemakers will employ a racking, whereby most of the wine is removed from the layer of this yeast, essentially clarifying the wine to a certain extent. This process also serves the purpose of introducing oxygen into the wine, ensuring the wine does not become reductive or start smelling like rotten eggs. Others, like myself, employ a vigorous program of stirring each and every barrel of wine to ensure the yeast remains in suspension.

Dead yeast at the bottom of the tank after racking

Dead yeast at the bottom of the tank after racking

The practice of leaving the wine in contact with lees dates back to Roman times, the chemistry behind this phenomenon was not clearly understood, but the positive effects of this practice were noticed.

When wine is left in contact with lees, enzymes start to break down the cells, producing mannoproteins and polysaccharides which are released into the wine. Through a metabolic pathway, enzyme substrates [beginning molecules] are turned into some eventual product, in this case the proteins and sugars which in turn lead to fuller bodied wines with better mouthfeel.  These products also react with phenolic compounds, reducing the astringency and bitterness of tannins, which in 2013 was a concern due to slightly under ripe fruit.

same wine taken out of barrel, pre and post stirring

same wine taken out of barrel, post and pre stirring

There is no formula or yardstick by which we measure how often we should employ these stirrings, at the moment we are doing it once a week and then tasting the wine to see if there are any distinguishable changes, either positive or negative. Negative flavors could be the reducing conditions discussed above, resulting in smells reminiscent of rotten eggs, which could reduce further, leading to potentially greater problems in the wine. At this point, a racking would be the simplest form of treatment, discarding the yeast in the vessel. Thankfully, the wines are showing a positive change and are definitely showing a richer texture than when we started so for now we will continue to monitor the wines and keep stirring. The Chardonnays are displaying a creamier texture with an almost brioche like flavor, a great counter play to the acidity and minerality that has become a hallmark of our wines. The reds have fleshed out a little bit, the wines are not as disjointed as they were a few months ago and there is a better balance between the acidity, fruit and tannin structure of the wine.

Sometimes the simplest things have the most profound effect on the wine, in this case just stirring the wine constantly.

Quality control, an important part of the job

Quality control, an important part of the job

The bright spot is that after a year with one challenge after the other, the red wines are amazing and we expect to release a Heritage [our Bordeaux estate blend] for the first time since 2007 as well as a varietal Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, both of which look superb. The whites, as always, are consistent and showcase a character that we see each and every year. Still plenty of time to let these wine evolve and develop, but I am liking where they are right now and look forward to seeing where they will end up.

Stay tuned

Cheers

Stephen Barnard

Winemaker

Keswick Vineyards

www.keswickvineyards.com

Appealing to the common wine drinker – Like Me

I have got to be honest, I am getting a bit disillusioned by the overuse of wine terms such as natural, authentic, minimalistic, pure expression and so on and so forth, as well as mystified by some of the wine prices commanded out there by top wineries. What exactly is natural wine-making, pure expression and authentic, to me these are just well thought out P.R slogans that justify the rarity and sometimes price tag that goes along with it.

What I would not give to read the back of a wine label and see something like this.

“Mother Nature just did not cooperate this year, she did everything she could to ruin my grapes, which meant I had to spray for mildew, use insecticides to control the Japanese beetle and picked early to avoid losing all my fruit to the wildlife. Sorry folks, no organic viticulture here, even though I would love to market that to you. In the winery I added sugar to increase the brix, but then the alcohol was out of whack and had to use spinning cone technology to ensure the wine was balanced. I used reverse osmosis to remove some unwanted VA and used some oak chips instead of expensive barrels to impart some oak and tannin. The wine was sterile filtered and fined; and our cork is not natural because we have issues with T.C.A. This manner of wine making will beat natural wine making this year but I promise to be less intrusive next year, unless Mother Nature throws a wrench in the works.”

Now that is a bottle of wine I will buy, maybe because I can relate to all the issues a winemaker and vineyard manager faces during the course of the growing season.

But we have two very different sides of the coin here, because there is truth in that some of the best wines in the world are pure expressions of the best vintages, the best vineyards; that truly convey a sense of place. I think this is true specifically in Burgundy, home to some of the most ethereal Pinot Noirs in the world.  Take Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, truly one of the most iconic wine names in the world, producing some of the rarest, effusive and priciest.  How can we begin to explain why the La Tache’, Echezeaux and Richebourg wines are so distinctively different. We can speak of Terroir, the soul of the vineyard, the limestone, gravel and clay soils or the deft hand of the winemaker, but to truly understand the wine, you need to taste it and at a few thousand bucks a bottle, I probably never will. Oh and by the way, my friends do not roll that way.

To say it is just booze in a bottle is sacrilegious for us oenophiles, but to someone who just enjoys a bottle of wine every now and again, it is just that; and wine booze can be bought for $2 at Trader Joe’s. Might I add as well, for that price point the wine is not half bad. For all the smoke and mirrors of marketing gurus and label experts, it is really sad that the world of fine wine is reserved only for millionaires and billionaires, excluding most of us wine lovers who really cannot afford to drop that kind of dough, and then explain it to the wife or husband. “But honey this is worth $3000 a bottle and in ten-years will probably be more like $8000, so I really got it at a 65% discount”.

A few years ago at a seafood restaurant in South Africa, the sommelier told me my wine and food did not match and that I would be better served to order something else, and may he give me a recommendation. UH, no you may not and for your information I like fish and feel like a Shiraz today thank you very much.

Is wine not supposed to be about fun, creating memories and sharing it with you people you love being around, telling stories as you polish off your third bottle without even noticing it. One of the best bottles of wine I everhttps://www.ttbonline.gov/colasonline/viewColaDetails.do?action= had was the Watcher Shiraz 2008, around $20 and who cares what the wine rating was. What made it special was that I was with my wife in our new house, sitting in camping chairs, eating pizza and chatting; more like getting tipsy and laughing hysterically, but you get the point.  Yes, I have had a 100 point wine spectator rated wine, had a wine costing over a $1000 [thanks Al] and even had a wine that was 200 years old, all wonderful but cannot compare with the emotional attachment I have to “The Watcher” made by Fetish wines. Hopefully I will get a few bottles in the mail after that endorsement.

So want a wine to be more authentic, how about this.

“This wine tastes good so have it whenever, wherever and with whatever you like, just enjoy it with someone you enjoy being around. Do not worry that it is a Monday night, for there will be another bottle on the shelf waiting for you and it will not cost you an arm and a leg..Try this Chardonnay with a medium rare steak or this Cabernet with some seafood, but whatever yo do, please just enjoy it”.

I applaud the efforts of wine makers and growers out there, I know first hand how incredibly difficult this job is, I just wish I could afford some of your wines In the market place.

Best Regards

Stephen Barnard

Winemaker

Keswick Vineyards

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.

Kindly

Stephen Barnard

Winemaker

Keswick Vineyards

Is Virginia Viognier “Authentic”?

Virginia Viognier

Keswick Vineyards’ Viognier

By technical definition, authentic, or authenticity refers to something being “real” or “genuine”, the origin of which is supported by un-questionable evidence. One can easily apply this definition to a document, which has been authenticated or to as something as simple as a restaurant, where the food served could be deemed authentic. How does this apply to wine though, and more specifically to Virginia, and Viognier?

The reason for this conundrum, is that of late there has been much discussion of what Viognier’s produced in Virginia should taste and smell like, to be truly thought of as being authentic. This in truth is a notion that I have long struggled with, having made wine in this fine State for over 10 years now. Is it merely enough to say that wine made from that particular varietal in this State, satisfies the notion of authenticity, or do we delve deeper and develop a style of wine that speaks of authenticity. How do we define that style? How do we create this style year in and year out taking into account the vintage variation that we experience? More importantly what is the style of Virginia Viognier that may satisfy the customers notion of authenticity? But what of the climate, soils and age of vines that inherently affect the taste and smell of the wine, the much maligned concept of TERROIR.  The set of special characteristics that the geography, geology  and climate  of a certain place, interacting with the plant’s genetics to produce a product [in this case wine] of unique and UN-replicable characteristics. So what the heck do we compare our wines against?

To even begin to answer that question, one should probably have a benchmark of what Viognier should smell and taste like, a control if you like to compare our wines to.

Historically speaking, Viognier is an ancient grape possibly originating from Dalmatia [present day Croatia], brought to the Rhone by the Romans. Viognier is the single permitted grape variety in the appellations of Condrieu and Chateau Grillett, which are located on the west bank of the Rhone River, about 40 km south of Lyon. This could be an ideal benchmark for Virginia right?

Is there something specific about the grape that is consistent with other wine-producing regions? Could there be similarities in aromatics, texture, longevity that discount that above mentioned intangibles?

So let’s take a look at the chemistry of Viognier to further try to answer this question. The grape is generally very floral due to terpenes, similarly found in Muscat and Riesling. Terpenes and terpenoids are the primary constituents of the essential oils of many types of plants and flowers. An essential oil is a concentrated hydrophobic  liquid containing volatile aroma compounds from plants. So essentially speaking, there should be some aromatic characteristic that may link French, Californian and Virginian Viogniers.

Having tasted my fair share of wines from all the above mentioned regions, I did find some common threads. Many times my notes included descriptors of peach or apricot, honey suckle and stone fruit which speaks more of varietal correctness than of authenticity.  A wine made in California that is barrel fermented versus a wine that is tank fermented will inherently taste and feel different in the mouth, none less authentic than the other despite the variations in style.

So to come back to the notion of “Authenticity” and whether us Vigneron’s in Virginia can claim to be authentic. I say with the utmost confidence that we can, although we make stylistically different wines than many other wine-producing areas.

Our Viognier’s can be razor like with their acidity, with underlying mineral and stone fruit characteristics. A wine that may be a touch lighter, but arguably more food friendly and often times more drinkable in its youth. Our Viognier’s can also be rich and flamboyant, coating the mouth with their oily textures and subtle hints of oak. These are fatter wines that change with time in the bottle. We also make wonderfully sweet “stickies”; dessert wines with gorgeous aromas that satisfy the sweetest tooth when the occasion beckons.  Each style of wine has commonalities that make it distinctively grape specific, each authentic in their own right based on “terroir” or winemaking preference.

For those that are still not satisfied with this concept, or the inability to define it,  be at least assured that we as winemakers are also trying to answer that question, but that it will take some time and work to truly grasp this concept, if we ever will. For we have only been at it for 30 odd years, and we have many years to go before we can begin to understand and communicate this concept.  Enjoy, as I do, the characteristics of the vintage, the deft touch of the winemaker or the personal  preference of the consumer, all of which reflect the notion of “Authenticity”.

Perhaps we could change the definition to that of “If the wine reflects and portrays everything we hoped it would, and brings joy to those that consume it”, it could lay claim to the notion of Authenticity.

I would be happy to say that our wines have successfully fulfilled those criteria.

Cheers

Stephen Barnard

Winemaker and pursuer of authenticity at Keswick Vineyards

www.keswickvineyards.com