Perhaps our best vintage yet at Keswick Vineyards.

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This is what Cabernet fruit should look like, clean and ripe and ready to be made into wonderful wine.

As we enter the first official day of Spring, we generally reflect on the harvest that was and evaluate the wines as they continue to age or, in our case, finish their secondary fermentation in barrel. It allows us as winemakers to take a critical look at the wines and to judge if harvest decisions and processing protocols were beneficial and if the wines are truly reflective of the vintage as we hoped they would be. I spent a great deal of time with the wines this past weekend, evaluating not only the different varietals, but also the barrels they were in to see how the oak was impacting the wine. I am very pleased to state that I am thrilled with how the wines are developing, and how much more developed they are at this point than they normally are. To understand the strength of the vintage, you have to understand the growing season. The key point for me was the much cooler than normal May and June. With evening temperatures in the 50’s the fruit was able to retain a lot of its natural acidity, reflected in the harvest chemistry. Acidity for me is a key component in wine, and is arguably one of the things I focus the most on. In cooler growing seasons as was 2014, I find the aromatics of the wine to be that much more pronounced and the wines tend to have a focus and juiciness as opposed to warm vintages. The other benefit is that we deal with lower pH must or juice, which is perfect for us since we ferment most of our wines without the addition of any commercial yeast. This low pH [higher acidity] environment makes it much harder for bacteria to grow and makes it much easier to ferment wines to dryness with the native yeast in the winery.  I often get asked why we tend to go this route and the answer is quite simple. As a winemaker, I am aiming to reflect in a glass the manner in which the fruit was grown as opposed to how it was manipulated or made in the winery. I am a firm believer in the notion that the best fruit makes the best wine, while also making wine that is unique and special. My job therefore is to respect the character given to me by the vineyard, and not interfere too much.

soils in our Bordeaux block

Thanks to our groundhogs, no need to dig profile pits in the vineyard. look at that white dirt, lots of shale and fragmented rocks, the secret to our powerful and extracted red wines

Starting off with the whites

2014 Chardonnay:

It is not that I do not like the occasional buttery, oak driven Chardonnay. I think there is a time and place for such wines. I truly believe though that the market place is shifting towards more fresher styled wines, wines that showcase minerality or steeliness as opposed to weight and rich textures. Our Chardonnay style is driven by our fruit and the soil on which it is grown. Our Chardonnay grows on fragmented rock, with shale and limestone littering the parcel. If you crack those rocks together, you almost get a saltiness in your nose, it is this character that I want in our wines. We have moved away from barrel fermentation, opting to ferment in tank where fermentation temperatures can be controlled and thus drawn out to about a month before they completely use up all the sugar. By extending the fermentation period upwards, we can essentially create wines that are more linear and focused, while creating aromatics that are clean and more subtle. Our oak regimen is that we exclusively use French oak, but are working more with larger format barrels. Essentially we do not want you swallowing a 2 x 4 when you taste the wine, we want the oak to lift or support the fruit, integrating with those stony fruit, apple and tangerine flavors. Our 2014 is everything we hoped  it would be; fresh and vibrant with wonderful acidity, and just a kiss of oak that elevates the fruit and keeps everything in balance. Earmarked for August bottling, this might be the best Chardonnay we have ever produced.

first day of harvest 2014

August 28th 2014, first day of harvest with our 3 acre Chardonnay looking perfect. this was a sign of things to come for the rest of the fruit and vintage.

2014 Viognier:

The state grape of Virginia, that has come under fire of recent time due to its struggles in the vineyard. Highly prone to frost and bud damage, our 16 acre took quite a hit and we ended up with a minuscule amount of fruit. The positive is that the quality was amazing, and we were able to pick clean fruit that was wonderfully ripe. Viognier is such an intoxicating wine, and you immediately get loads of tropical aromas as you press the fruit. With such little fruit, we did not have the ability to experiment and this year we opted for a tank fermented, barrel matured version. I felt that the acidity of the wine could stand up to some three-year old barrels, and we could build up some nice texture on the palate. There is a lot of discussion among winemakers as to what the exact style of Viognier should be, many choosing to use more tank fermented wines in their final blend, sometimes with just a touch of sweetness, Our version is bone dry, has the typical aromas of the grape but will also be able to see a few years in the bottle due to the influence of oak. At a recent tasting of some of Virginia’s finest Viognier wines, I favored ours that were 4-5 years old, proving to me that our wines are built to last. In the world of accessibility and the drink it now mentality, the 14 will offer immediate gratification, but will reward patience for those that can wait and prove to be a stunning wine in a few years.

Cab Fran

Splash racking the Cab Franc, look at that color. An important step to introduce oxygen into the wine and ensure we take care of any reductive aroma’s

The big Reds It is hard not to get excited about red wines when you get fruit that is ripe, clean and picked whenever you wanted. Other than Merlot, I was extremely happy with the quality of fruit across the board, especially for the Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Verdot.

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon:

Arguably the king of reds and one that cannot ripen in Virginia if you believe conventional wisdom. Many believe the focus should be given to Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot or Tannat. The beauty of theories is that there will always be exceptions to the rule and in our case, we more often than not can get ripe Cabernet Sauvignon into the winery. The winemaking process after that is relatively quite simple. The fruit is meticulously hand sorted, ensuring that only the best berries make it into the fermentation tank. We painstakingly discard all under ripe fruit, stems and leaves that may have passed through the de-stemmer. As with all our high-end wines, we choose to allow the fermentation to begin and finish naturally. We monitor the wines very carefully, punch the cap down judiciously and frequently to extract as much color as possible and we pay careful attention to the way in which we press the skins. It is well know that there is a qualitative difference between free run and press fraction wine. In years gone past, we would just set the press to a program and allow the press to do its thing. We now however run the press manually and press over a longer period and more gently. By tasting the press wine, we can determine at which point the various lots should be separated and how they should be aged. Our two lots of Cabernet received a fair amount of press wine this year, since the tannins were so ripe, supple and silky. The press wine gave the wines some serious backbone which for the style we make is somewhat needed. I am so excited about the 14 vintage Cabs. One lot is in 100% French oak barrels, all manufactured by Mercier and what a huge blockbuster of a wine. Dark and inky, with lots of blue and purple fruit on the nose. The oak is there but it is meshing nicely with the fruit of the wine and there is an underlying acidity to the wine that keeps the wine quite light on its feet which I find really attractive. This is not a wine that will see a bottle soon, earmarked for bottling in 2016 after 22 months in oak. I predict that it will need at least five years in the bottle before it realizes it’s potential. BY FAR, the best Cabernet we have ever made in my opinion, and we have made some good ones recently.

Cabernet Sauvignon after many sorting hours

Cabernet Sauvignon after many hours sorting the de-stemmed fruit to remove any unwanted berries and stems. A painstaking task but well worth it when you taste the final product in barrel.

Our second lot of Cabernet is maturing in slightly older barrels, since this wine is historically always the most aromatic of the two. With blending of the two lots common, the first lot is the structural backbone of the wine, while this sucks you in with gorgeous aromatics. Hard to pick a favorite of the two since they are both so good, albeit for different reasons.

2014 Petite Verdot:

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Pressing the must. By tasting the wine at various press levels, we determine where they should go. Certainly been instrumental in improving our wines and learning how to handle our fermented wine.

Traditionally a blending grape in the world of wine, but taking quite the center stage in Virginia. I sit on the fence with this one a little since I still see its value in blends versus  a stand alone varietal wine. It has great tannic structure and dark flavors but sometimes lacks the finesse I search for in wines. If however, you are one of those that does not mind laying these wines down for a few years, PV can be quite the charming wine. Our 14 will be a bit too much for some in its youth, incredibly tannic and dry at this point in time, it will require some bottle time to soften up and reveal itself. We have used some tight grain French barrels for this wine, two to three years old to respect the fruit. I was playing with the idea of American oak but decided that it did not need more sweetness which American oak sometimes imparts. But my word, this wine is rich and dense and unapologetic-ally big. Plan on having this with a cigar or steak, you are going to need it.

Cabernet Franc:

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Some New 500L french Oak barrels ready for use in our Cab Program

I am always highly critical of this varietal, partly because I am still learning how to make it since it is mainly used in blending. I am not a big fan of herbaceous flavors in red wines, and too often I find Cabernet Franc wines that quite frankly have been either picked too early, or have been badly managed in the fermentation stage. The tannins can be quiet astringent and chalky, leading to flavors of bell pepper and wet leaves, devoid of any fruit. It is a style I try not to make so we really try to hang our fruit as long as possible to mask those greener flavors if we can. Quite often, this grape comes in late September and this year we were able to let it hang 10 days longer than our historical average. I was really looking for a change in tannins and flavors, not really worried about sugars and acid. The point at which the flavors are more spicy, with black pepper is when we pick. Thoroughly sorted we have a different approach to fermentation versus the other Bordeaux varietals. I like to ferment a little cooler and most often we press off prior to fermentation being completed, trying to manage the tannin extraction or more specifically the type of tannins we extract. Our barrel regimen focuses more on American oak, using the natural sweetness of the barrel to mask or cover up the slightly greener tannins you can get. I do have two brand new French oak barrels in the program this year for research purposes and I really like them. They will blended back into the final lot but it would be interesting to see if those barrels would have such a positive influence in a greener or wetter year. With this wine earmarked for early bottling and release, we need to ensure the wine is ready for the market place, so we will be paying careful attention to the oak influence and how big the wine can become. I have to say it is the best version we have ever made though, if you like spicy wines showcasing more red fruit characteristics.

Overall Assessment:

WOW, from what I hear from other producers the 2014 will certainly rank as one of the finest in recent memory and consumers can look forward to these wines as they start making their way onto tasting room shelves. Since our philosophy is to allow the fruit to dictate the direction of the wines, our wines are highly extracted, rich, lush and will require some ageing for them to fully develop. I am not saying that they will not be good immediately, they will be, but they will be incredible with some time. These are the wines you should stockpile your cellar with, I know I will be. I almost forgot, I did also taste our 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon wine as it enters its 16 month in barrel. Holy moly this wine has come along beautifully. It is very similar to our 2009 version, with a core of dark fruit but built on a frame that exudes finesse and elegance as opposed to sheer power and strength. I feel like a stuck record but again, this wine will delight in its youth but will blow you away with some time in the bottle. Virginia definitely has its ups and down when it comes to wine and vintage variability. I am glad to report that 2014 is definitely an up year, just wish we had more wine. But hey, do not take my word for it, come taste the wines with me at our May 9th and 10th barrel tasting. Call our tasting room and join me for an in-depth tasting of some of the finest wines we have ever produced. Space is limited so call now to reserve your space.

I lastly want to thank my guys in the vineyard for working so hard and getting this vintage done. to Jeremy, Lewis, Luis and Steve, I owe you a debt of gratitude for all your time and effort, hopefully these wines make you proud and justify all your hard work. Also to my wonderful wife who keeps things ticking in my absence and supporting me throughout, I love you and could not do this without you, I’ll try to be home a touch more before the next harvest starts.

Quality control, an important part of the job

Quality control, an important part of the job, and I take it seriously.

Take care

Stephen Barnard

Winemaker Keswick Vineyards

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My Top 5 Keswick Wines of all time!

_DSC3164Customers always want to know what my favorite Keswick wines of all time are, interesting question! I have found out that Virginia is not the easiest place to grow grapes and make wine.

We have vintages that allow you to make world class wines, and you have vintages where you have to use every resource and ounce of experience to make something palatable that will sell in the tasting room. Sometimes creating such a wine is the most rewarding experience, since I can be proud of the wine, knowing the origin and state of the fruit that I had to deal with.

So allow me to give an honorable mention to the 2003 Chardonnay, the only white wine to win a Governors Cup Gold medal in the 2004 competition. The 2003 growing season could only be described in one way: WET! Summer brought sunny, warm weather with only occasional rain., but that all changed when Hurricane Irene passed over the region in late August and the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee came just two weeks later.

It helped that our Chardonnays are made in more of a French style, focusing on lower sugar levels and healthy acidity, so maybe the chemistry of the fruit helped to some extent. At any rate, this was a manufactured wine that I could be proud of, having known the growing difficulties and the state of the fruit when it came to the winery.

Wine quality is judged by recognition by competitions and wine writers, and, more importantly, by your customers. So here follows in my opinion the best 5 wines I have made at Keswick Vineyards.

[5] 2007 Chardonnay

Chardonnay has been the one wine that we have tinkered with over the years, trying to hone in on a style that we think best represents our site. We now focus on tank fermented Chardonnays that are matured in oak for 8-10 months prior to bottling. I was delighted when I looked back at my notes and realized the 2007 was fermented in tank and matured in oak, 50% French and 50% American. I remember loving this wine off the get go, but had the chance to re-taste the wine in February at our Open That Bottle event. The 2007 showed the best of all the Chardonnay wines in the flight and was just gorgeous. The oak was so well integrated with the fruit and the wine had developed some gorgeous baking spice aromas such as cinnamon and clove. The hallmark of this wine though was the texture. The wine was layered and complex, but bright enough due to the acidity. After 7 years in the bottle, this wine has developed and and is reaching optimal drinking age. If you have the wine you could probably hold onto it for another year or two, but drinking it now will not be a disappointment. One of my top favorite white wines of all time here.

Honorable Mention: 2008 Chardonnay Reserve and 2012 Signature Series [needs more time]

vio1[4] 2009 Viognier

It is no secret that I think 2009 was one of the great vintages of the past 10 years, producing as equally impressive wines as the 2007 and 2010 vintage. 2009 was a growers dream- a long growing season with fruit coming in perfectly ripe and clean, recipes for great wine. When you have fruit of this quality, the job of the winemaker is to represent in a glass all the good things the fruit has to offer. We made this wine as naturally as possible, the fruit was gently pressed and the juice was settled in tank for 2 days prior to being transferred to neutral French oak barrels. Fermentation took place naturally [without the addition of yeast] and was completed in 10 weeks, after which the wine got it’s first sulfur addition to block the secondary fermentation. Other than filtration and protein stabilization, nothing else was done to this wine. Viognier is a gorgeous aromatic wine, and this example just exemplified all those characteristics. The oak came across in a brioche or almond manner, the acidity kept the wine bright and light on it’s feet. The flavors were tropical with anise and apple undertones and it remains just as beautiful today as it did back then. Viognier wines are typically not knows as wines that you can age, but we have quite a few examples that defy that logic. This remains one of my favorite Viognier wines ever made at Keswick.

http://www.winespectator.com/webfeature/show/id/43147

Honorable Mentions: 2002 and 2010 Viognier Reserve

[3] 2007 Cabernet Franc Reservephoto

I have never been the biggest fan of Cabernet Franc, I find many of them to be under ripe and and packed with green bell pepper flavors. Some like that style and that is quite okay, but for me it’s not an attractive quality in wine. I do not get the opportunity to work with 25 brix grapes all the time and when the opportunity presented itself to me in 2007, we were not going to let it go to waste. We aged this wine for 22 months in brand new American oak barrels and bottled the wine unfined and unfiltered in August 2009.  Re-visiting the tasting notes, I found notes where I just said “WOW”- enough said. Time in the bottle has only improved this wine. I recently opened the wine for my brother in law at my house, a huge fan of Cabernet Franc. When someone gets that giddy about a wine, you know you have something special. The wine is still massively huge, with sweeter oak kept in check by ripe tannins with the underlying spicy character of the grape in the background. The wine has a dominant coffee note on the palate but cracked black pepper and dark fruits are all there too. This wine is incredibly complex and can probably see another 3-5 years in the bottle, but it is hard to not open it now.

Honorable Mention: 2013 Cabernet Franc from barrel [this wine will be incredible when bottled]

IMG_5793[2] 2007 Heritage: 80% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Merlot

Many consider 2007 to be the best vintage in Virginia, and it would be hard to argue with that considering the quality of the wines made here at Keswick Vineyards. We made a Heritage in 02, 04 and 06, so when presented with the chance to make another in 07 we jumped at the chance. Our Cabernet from that year went on to win the Virginia Governors Cup, but I always loved the Heritage.

The blend was classically left bank Bordeaux, with a large portion of Cabernet dominating the blend, complimented by Merlot. We looked at Petite Verdot as a possible blender but thought less was more. Aged for 22 months in French oak barrels and then bottle aged for 15 months prior to release, this was a blockbuster of a wine. I implored customers to hang onto this wine, even though it was tasting wonderfully back then. So how about today?

I have tasted this wine on a few occasions and I love it. It has developed a lot of that typical cigar box, leathery characteristics you get from aged Cabernet. The fruit of the Merlot is still lingering, although a touch more red than black. The wine is incredibly supple and dare I say it sexy, yes wines can be sexy. It was hard not to list this as my number one favorite wine of all time but it sure came close.

Honorbale Mention: 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon [2009 Governors Cup Winning Wine]

[1] 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon_DSC4634_2

This is going to cause a bit of a ruckus for sure, but it wins as my favorite wine of all time for a few reasons. Firstly it is 100% Cabernet, made up entirely of Estate grown fruit. Virginia is not really known as Cabernet country, and it is used mainly as a blender or has other varietals blended into it. Matured for 22 months in New French oak barrels, this wine was always a beauty. Some wines evolve into something special, this wine always showcased it’s purity of fruit and hinted at how good it would be. Coupled with the fact that this wine is a pure expression of our vineyard, it has to be my favorite of all time. It is everything Cabernet should be. It is muscular with great big tannins surrounded by a wall of drippy black fruit, with acidity keeping everything in check and ensuring the wine remains vibrant. It was one of only 22 double gold medal winning Cabernet wines at the San Francisco International Wine Competition, competing in a field of over 500, mostly produced in California. It hints at what Keswick can do in certain years and now it is up to me to ensure we do it on a more consistent basis. If you have this wine, thank your lucky stars that you do. If you have more than one bottle, lets talk because I am always int he market for more. This is not just good Virginian Cabernet, this is just good Cabernet period!

Honorable Mention: 2010 Cabernet and 2013 Cabernet from barrel [might be better than the 09]

 

Whatever your top 5, we have been fortunate to make a few that could quite easily and proudly be added, think 10 Merlot, Malbec and Syrah for example. I think we can be incredibly proud about the wines we have produced, and proud that they were produced in Virginia. The trick is now to do them consistently and showcase what Keswick and Virginia is capable of. With the 2013 wines developing in the bottle, my top 5 favorite wines of all time list is sure to change soon.

I would be interested to hear what your favorite Keswick wines are!

Kindly

Stephen Barnard

Winemaker

 

The State of Virginia Wine 2002 – present

Have I really just finished my 13th harvest in Virginia? Indeed I have, and maybe now would be a good time to reflect on the decision to come to the Old Dominion and where the future lies for the 5th largest wine-producing state in America. DSC_1201small

As a young winemaker in South Africa, having just finished harvesting with Flagstone Winery I was afforded the incredible opportunity to come to the States to make wine. I was offered a job at one of the largest wine-producing estates in Napa Valley, arguably one of the most recognized wine-producing areas in the world. Producing incredible Cabernet & Chardonnay and many other fine wines’ this would have been a wonderful learning experience. yet I turned it down to come to a lesser known area on the other side of the country, the Monticello A.V.A in Virginia. It all came down to opportunities and being exposed to new things. Who would turn down the opportunity to work for a brand new winery, one that had not yet made a drop of wine. To be exposed to varietals that I had never had the opportunity to work with such as Viognier, Chambourcin, Touriga Nacionale and Norton [my love/hate grape] was far more intriguing.  At that point the intention was to only be here for a year or so and head elsewhere, ultimately ending up back in South Africa making wine. lugs

“Virginia, huh?” said my father. Yup VIRGINIA. “Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah Valley, Monticello, UVA, the canoe capitol of the world, but the wine is kind of crappy” said someone familiar with the area. Okay he did not say crappy, he used a much more colorful word to describe the wines, one that does not leave much to the imagination. “The wine is that good?” I replied sarcastically, sounds like a challenge and the perfect opportunity.

Thomas Jefferson never produced a single bottle of wine from his Monticello vineyards and neither did George Washington at Mount Vernon, yet that pioneering spirit endures today in our wine making community, for walls are to be broken down and challenges met.  Virginia might in many ways be one of the most challenging grape and wine-producing areas, but that did not stop Mr Zonin from establishing Barboursville Vineyards in 1976, hiring one of the most iconic figures in our wine industry, Gabrielle Rausse, to plant vineyards. If memory serves me correctly, Virginia had 6 already established wineries by 1970, 46 by 1995, 105 by 2007 and today a little over 200. People are starting to recognize the potential for producing fine wines in this area and are not deterred by the challenges that face them, for, as the saying goes, nothing worthwhile comes easily. I think Mr.Jefferson would be quite proud of  how far the Virginia Wine industry has come, measured by growth alone. edgewood aerial

But hang on a moment, we are in the business of producing wines, and success is measured by quality not quantity. How we are perceived by consumers and critics, measured against the benchmarks of the American wine industry? Surely this is a better indicator of our success? Leading the way in the American wine industry, in my opinion, is California. Napa has been joined by Sanoma, Paso Robles and other areas in producing distinctive wines reflecting regional character. wines that receive critical acclaim by consumers and wine writers alike.  And let’s not forget the states to the North, Oregon and Washington, who are also producing many world-class wines. Try Cabernet from Washington State and Pinot Noir from Oregon to see what I am talking about.

So the big question.

” Are we making wines that are world-class and can compete with anything the West Coast can throw at us?”

If we are comparing apples to apples, Cabernet to Cabernet, then the simple answer is No, not every year. However, every now and again we get vintages like 2009 and 2010 where we produce something special, our 2009 Estate Grown Cabernet was one of only 22 wines that received a double gold medal at the San Francisco International Wine Competition. So there is certainly potential there, even if mother nature only allows us the opportunity once every 4-5 years. If we talk about Viognier, Cabernet Franc and blended reds, then the answer, in my humble, biased opinion, is that you bloody well betcha. I have tried some Meritage blends, Cabernet Franc and Viognier wines that I think can more than hold their own with our West Coast counterparts. I would even go as far as to say that they can hold their own with other wine regions in the world. Not consistently year in and year out, but us winemakers are working on achieving that. _DSC4634_2

I think the biggest issue facing Virginia and the future is one of identity.  in that I think we currently lack one. Using Viognier as an example, purely because it is the  State grape of Virginia, does a distinctive style come to mind? Not really. Viogniers can be sweet and syrupy, austere and centered on acidity, over oaked and dry, light and thin or rich and unctuous.  Viognier wines run the gamut and in a lot of ways lacks a regional identity, i.e. the customer can not readily recognize it as Virginia. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, on the other hand, is distinctive and unique, as is Cabernet to Napa, Blends from the right bank of Bordeaux, Pinot Noir from Burgundy and Shiraz made in Australia. Wines that scream of place, un-ashamed and loud. Virginia needs this, needs a wine [or wine style] that proudly claims to be ours. Unfortunately, I think it will take a few more years to get there, but the results and the improvements over the last 10 years are nothing short of miraculous.

So what are consumers saying about us ?

If growth and sales of Virginia wine are anything to go by, then we are doing really well.  Domestic sales of Virginia wine went up by 6% and exported wine sales went up by 70 odd %. We have seen increases in sales out of state, out of country and within the state itself, which points to recognition from consumers that Virginia is producing world-class wines. I have always said that the best of Virginia can stand alongside the best from anywhere else, seems like I am not the only who now thinks that. FANTASTIC.

The Future

I would like to recognize a few people who I think have been instrumental in promoting our wines and our State. I think Governor McDonnell and the First Lady deserve a lot of credit for promoting our wine industry. Emerging markets have been opened through trade missions to Asia and to Europe, our wines are now being exported to China and London. By serving only Virginia wines at the mansion and by creating the Virginia Wine Summit, the Governor has really put a focus on our wines. Wine Enthusiast named Virginia as one of its top ten wine destinations in the world. Along with Secretary Haymore and the Virginia Wine Marketing Office, we producers have the backing of people who can make things happen and get the word out there, a big thank you to you. Governor McDonnell

In Tony Wolf and Dr. Bruce Zoecklein we have two gentleman whom I admire tremendously. Their work and willingness to be available to us has certainly increased the quality of our wines and vineyard practices. One need only attend any of the number of technical meetings to see the amount of work and effort being put into our industry, benefits that a
re reaping big rewards today. And of course all the winemakers and vineyard managers in the State. I am amazed at the talent and the enthusiasm shown for this profession, combined with the willingness to work together. Lead by stalwarts such as Luca Paschina, Dennis Horton and Jim Law, the future of Virginia wine is in good hands and I for one am excited to write another blog in 10 years, raving about how our wines have progressed.

There is still a lot of work to be done, we cannot rest on our laurels and we need to recognize that we are not there yet. We are moving in the right direction and at a frenetic pace, and people are noticing.

So do I have any regrets about coming to Virginia and making wine? With the state of this industry, a beautiful wife and daughter to show for it and some decent wines in the library and nothing but a bright future ahead, WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Our 2011 creation

Our 2011 creation

Kindly

Stephen Barnard

Proud winemaker in Virginia @ Keswick Vineyards

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!

Cheers

Stephen

Winemaker

Keswick Vineyards

Monday is definitely a special occasion!

I was doing some serious research last night, and by that I mean I was drinking wine and enjoying it. Thanks to Andy Regan [winemaker of Jefferson Vineyards], I was enjoying his latest Meritage from the  2009 vintage. Based mainly on the Cabernet Franc grape, this is sure to be crowd pleaser with dark fruit on the nose complimented by well-integrated oak and good acidity. It is a stellar effort from one of Virginia’s best wine makers. Andy, you owe me a beer for that endorsement!

Monday’s are mostly low-key affairs and with my brother and sister-in-law coming round for dinner along with her significant other and a good friend of ours, Aaron Watson [who just happens to be an amazing local photographer],  I decided to pull out all the stops for dinner. This involved a quick call to the local Chinese restaurant, ensuring that dinner was indeed half decent. With the Jefferson Meritage freshly out, a new bottle was called for and the Keswick Vineyards 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon was thought to be the ideal candidate. This was a special vintage and this was indeed a special wine as it was the lucky winner of the Virginia Governors Cup in 2009.

Who says Cab and Chinese food cannot work

There really is no better time to crack open a special bottle of wine than with people you enjoy being around, on some random for no good reason day. I would be lying if I said it went well the Chinese food but that really is not the point. With a quick decant to remove the heavy sediment, glasses were duly filled, accompanied by gasps of “You opened what” I have not tried this wine for a while now; and I was not disappointed. It clearly has some life in it with big firm tannins, accented by smoky undertones. Blended with 25% Merlot, this wine is distinctly fruit forward with dark berries, plums and just a hint of cigar box. What I enjoyed most about the wine though was the long finish and the supple overall texture of the wine. Let me be totally honest and say there is a definite hint of biasm here due to me making it, but if you have a few bottles of this wine lying around  why not crack one open now, I am sure you will not be disappointed.

With my mantra of drinking special bottles of wine on random days with funny foods, crack that bottle you have been saving open, while sitting in your pajamas with a big bowl of ice cream. If the wine is as good as you think it is, it will make any day a special day, even a Monday!

Cheers

Stephen

Keswick Vineyards