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.


Stephen Barnard


Keswick Vineyards



Friended Franc – FINALLY

The Facebook phenomenon has been a tidal wave that has swept us away. People are constantly checking their phones for updates, news feeds and connecting with friends of years gone by. Personally I do not get why they call it social media, to me it all seems a little anti-social.

Whatever your opinion, you cannot deny that internet communication is quicker and more far-reaching than any other form of marketing these days. Current implies now, old news is just a few seconds away, such is the world we live in.

Wine making is steeped in history, newer advancements in equipment and techniques; yes,  but the fundamentals of wine making [turning juice into wine] can be traced back hundreds of years. So why not combine the two, old meets new, romance meets innovation. It was with this theory in mind that we decided to make a wine using “Facebook” in that during each step of the wine making process, I would shoot a short video explaining what stage of the process we were in, and our friends could decide on what to do next by voting. Some of the choices given were, when to pick the fruit, how to ferment it, what barrel to put in and so on and so forth.

Our friends voted for French oak, natural fermentation, letting the fruit hang to make a bolder wine and to make a true Cabernet Franc with no blending component whatsoever. It pains me to say that I think this wine actually surpasses the conventional Cabernet Franc we made in 2009, and that did incredibly well for us and was well received.

Well my dear FACEBOOK FRIENDS, the wine was bottled on Monday [Memorial Day] and is now awaiting release, when we can come up with some cool way to do that;  continuing the Facebook theme and trend of course.  Any and all ideas are welcome, if you have a killer idea and we use it, I will give you a bottle of the wine as a thank you gift; so help us out here.

The wine itself is good, not just in the way we made it, it is just good. The nose has an abundance of fruits [none of the bell pepper which I am not a fan of], the palate is soft and silky and there is just the right amount of oak which holds everything together. It is very bright with good acidity [which to me was the hallmark of 2009] and will continue to age and improve over the next 3-5 years. We produced only 48 cases, so quantities are limited and will sell out quickly upon release. This is a blatant sales pitch but you have got to be a friend on Facebook to get this wine, so hit that “like button”.

This was truly a gimmicky wine, but it helps you the consumer get involved with the wine making process. As the Consensus blending for the wine club serves to teach and educate, the Facebook concept strives to make wines that appeal to our friends and consumers, and that cannot be a bad thing. Who knows, I might be able to take it easy this year and have all our wine club members and friends make all the wines, they did a good job with the


To view the video of bottling, go to Facebook and click on the Keswick Vineyards page.



Prepping for Bottling

Most people assume that harvest is the most stressful time of year for a winemaker, except for this winemaker. I really enjoy harvest, maybe because I drink a lot of beer, the most stressful part of making wine, getting the wine ready for bottling. Since we are bottling our first wines of the year, I have been in the cellar a lot and todays blog is dealing with the stability of wine, namely protein and cold stability.

The issue is, if the wine is not stable, chemical reactions might occur that will alter the wine, haze might develop or even tartrate crystals if the wine is subjected to very low temperatures. Ever forgotten your white wine in the freezer, only to discover crystals hanging onto the cork for dear life, well one of my responsibilities is to ensure that this does not happen.

To sound very smart then; clarification and stabilization of wine involves removing insoluble and suspended materials that cause a wine to become cloudy, gassy or form unwanted sediment in the bottle. Most of this is done after primary fermentation has occurred. This is not always the case though, timing of these processes are very much dependent on the grape variety and the quality of the fruit and juice as it enters the cellar.

Protein Stabilization

Proteins are precipitated by heat so one of the easiest methods to determine stability is through a simple heat test whereby a sample of wine is heated and held for a period of time, cooled and then observed to see if there is clouding or precipitation [protein instability]. There are other tests, including the TCA  and Bentotest but since I have never used them I will not discuss them [ I already tend to write novels for blog entries ] 

So how do we go about making a wine protein stable? Well, we do that by adding a reactive or absorptive substance to remove the concentration of undesirable constituents, namely BENTONITE, also known as “Wyoming clay” due to the fact that it is principally mined in Wyoming. Bentonite is a volcanic material and when added to water forms a colloidal suspension with a large surface area. Through adsorption between positively charged proteins and negatively charged plate surfaces, proteins are removed.

Racking Pinot Gris off bentonite to tank on right

Bentonite and dead yeast

Since protein removal is proportional to the amount of bentonite added, we need to make sure that we do not add to much to the wine, as this may reduce the wines aroma and flavor compounds, I probably do not need to point out why this might be a bad thing. We normally add, depending on testing, 24g/HL. We make a slurry mixing bentonite with warm water and add it to the wine. Due to the density of the bentonite, relative to that of the wine, it settles to the bottom of the tank and the wine is subsequently racked off the bentonite into another tank.

Cold Stabilization

Tartaric acid is the main acid present in wine, and in solution are available in three forms [1] undissociated tartaric acid [2] bitartrate ions and [3] tartrate ions. We as wine makers have to be aware of tartrate precipitation in the bottle, although harmless, the wine admittedly looks quite undesirable to the consumer. To prevent this from happening, we expose the wine to cold temperatures [28 degrees for a period of 2 weeks]. Precipitation occurs in 2 stages, concentration of potassium bitartrate nuclei increase due to chilling, which is followed by a crystallization stage, where crystal growth and development occur.

Wine with tartrates clearly visible on tank wall

By ensuring the wine is now cold stable, you should be able to pop it into the fridge and it should come out as clean as clear as it went in. All this in the name of appearances. And just to put your mind at ease, here is a view of the now clean wine as seen through the site glass on the rack valve. i promise you, it tastes quite good.

Clean wine being racked off, YUMMY

Almost ready for bottling, all that is left to do now is filter the wines, but I think I will wait to bore you with those details in another post.