Keswick Vineyards, and the year thus far.

I have been reminded by my wife that my blogging career has taken a serious turn for the worse of late, and that I have shirked my duties. My apologies.

It is hard to believe that 2012 is almost half over and that we are around 60 days from starting the new harvest. Where has the time gone?

After the challenging 2011 harvest, we set about pruning the vineyard after Christmas with the intention of building the vineyard back slowly. This was done by reducing the number of buds on the vine and by using a new pruning method called cane pruning. In the past we have spur pruned, whereby 3-4 spurs [each having 2-3 buds] are left on each of the cordons. Cane pruning involves laying down a one year old shoot, leaving 6-8 nodes, thereby establishing a new cordon each and every year. The primary reason for cane pruning was to allow us to remove cordons and shoots that showed incidences of phomopsis.

Phomopsis Viticola overwinters as Pycnidia on infected wood between one and three years old. When the Pycnidia are wet, they exude spores that are splashed onto developing shoots. These spores then germinate in warm temperatures and, under conditions of high humidity, infection can take place within a few hours. This is one of the challenges facing growers as fruit and the rachis [main axis of the inflorescence of Vitis vinifera] can become infected during the course of the growing season. When fruit starts to ripen in the latter stages of the growing season the pathogen becomes active, leading to fruit rot. Symptoms include browning and shriveling, almost resembling black rot.

Pruning is done during the winter while the vineyard is in a dormancy phase. This year, however, mother nature thought that 70 degree days were called for; great for pruning in shorts but not so great when it leads to an early bud break. We started noticing some cuts starting to bleed [due to osmotic forces pushing liquid from the roots], which is one of the early signs that vines are starting to break dormancy. Our vineyard duly had bud break March 22nd, while we were still frantically trying to complete the pruning of the vineyard.

One of the issues of an early bud break is the susceptibility of the vines to spring frosts and, true to form, Mother Nature obliged and threw seven days at us where temperatures were below freezing.

Chardonnay shoot

We experienced a radiation freeze, marked by beautifully clear skies and no wind. Under these conditions, air stratifies near the ground and radiant heat loss occurs from the ground and vine tissues. One of the most unappreciated times of the morning has to be 4am, or so we tell ourselves when we are forced to get up. Wind machines were run, frost dragons were making their way through the vineyards and raging fires were tended to, all trying to raise the ambient temperature to protect our vineyard. We did lose some fruit, estimated at about 5% in the Chardonnay, but for us that is a minor miracle. Thankfully we had anticipated such an issue and had purposely left more buds, the frost basically just thinned the crop.

Flowering and fruit set occurred with no major issues, and I am happy to report that we have a full crop thus far.

Uniform growth throughout the block, a very good sign

I touched on the fact that we have been experimenting with slightly different training techniques and since last year gave us no good indication of how effective our new systems are, we are once again trying to grow in the fruit in a slightly different way.

Conventionally, vines are trained vertically in a series of catch wires, aptly named the Vertical Shoot Position [V.S.P]. We, however, are experimenting with a split system or divided canopy, whereby only 50% of the shoots are trained vertically while the rest of the canopy is allowed to hang down. There are a couple of thought processes with regards to this system. Our primary soil is clay which leads to pretty serious vegetative growth. In our climate marked by warm temperatures and high humidity, we have to be mindful of diseases. By splitting the canopy we feel we can create and an environment that allows greater air movement through the canopy and better sunlight exposure, which ultimately suppresses the disease pressure and, more importantly, better ripens the fruit to produce grapes with more intense flavors.

The traditional Vertical Shoot Position

Our best fruit, which grows on some of our poorest soils, are still trained vertically because vigor and retention of water does not pose any serious threat to the quality of the vines and thus the fruit in these areas.

At this point in the vineyard we are trying to ensure the vines and vineyard are in balance, ensuring that we leave the optimum amount of fruit that will be harvested at ideal picking parameters. We are currently pulling some leaves on the East side of the vines, exposing the fruit on the cooler side as sunburn is a serious threat with temperatures forecasted to reach the 100 degree mark in the next few days.

A lot of people ask us about the attitude towards diseases and what we do to combat it. The honest answer is that we have a detailed spray schedule worked out, whereby we spray what is needed, when is needed and most importantly how little is needed. It would be fantastic to talk about organic grape growing, probably even more marketable would be the term “biodynamically farmed”. The truth of the matter s that Virginia’s climate [in my opinion] does not allow the wine grower to farm organically. We would lose our crop to everything ranging from Downy and Powdery Mildew, to Black Rot, Japanese Beetles and Aphids. We rotate sprays so that the vineyard does not build up any resistance and we ensure that our sprays are stopped well in advance of harvest, so that no residual spray materials come in on the fruit.

The vineyard looks to be in great shape right now, we have plenty of fruit, no diseases and, more importantly, I think we have the balance right. Unfortunately a lot can change between now and harvest, as the weather has the final say and pretty much determines if we can one day look back on 2012 and say that it was one heck of a vintage. All we can do is chug along and look after what we can.

I am cautiously optimistic about this years harvest, what will be the 11th harvest at Keswick Vineyards.

I will chat with you soon about some of the exciting wines to be released in the upcoming months.

Cheers

Stephen

Winemaker

Keswick Vineyards

A early morning start, and exciting new service

There is something quite beautiful when you look up at 3:30 in the morning and all you see are the stars in the clear sky, with not a breath of wind to be felt. It also means that I am standing in our vineyard looking at the stars, cursing the fact that I am here protecting the vines against the spring frost that could potentially cause our vines serious harm.

With evening temperatures having dipped into the low 30’s sporadically over the last few weeks, the vineyard guys and myself have been here trying to raise the temperature of the vineyard using means such as wind machines, frost dragons and plenty of fires. Thankfully, other than a loss of roughly 5% of our Chardonnay during the first evening, we have gotten through this nerve-racking patch relatively unscathed and can now look forward to much warmer temperatures over the next few weeks.

The vineyard is a hive of activity at the moment, sprayers are visiting every other row, Merlot vines are being planted and growing shoots are being tucked into wires. One can almost say that the 2012 harvest has begun, in that everything we do from here on out will have a direct influence on the quality of the crop, which ultimately will determine whether the wines from 2012 will be special or forgettable. Personally, following a tough growing season in 2011, I have high hopes for 2012; time will of course tell.

The winery is fairly quiet at the moment, although we have just finished our second bottling. Fans of our Verdejo and Consensus wines will be relieved to know that the quality is high and that those wines will be coming to the shelves in the very near future, be sure to check our website for information on release dates. We have also made the follow-up wine to the hugely popular Signature Series Viognier, a style of wine that more reflects the palate of our owner Mr. Al Schornberg, and from what I hear, he finds this new one to be better than the last.

The biggest announcement, however, comes in the form of a service that we are offering starting this year. As you may know, we involve our customers and wine club members in a variety of ways when creating our wines. From the ever popular Consensus blending party to the Friended Franc (made using Facebook), we at Keswick Vineyards really try to get as many people as possible into the cellar as we believe our customer should have a say in what wines we are creating. Having been approached in the past, we have now decided to offer a custom crush service whereby we create a wine for the customer based on their specific needs and palates.

The customer can work directly with me to create a wine of your choosing. The level of involvement is completely up to you. If you trust my winemaking abilities, give me free reign or be as involved as you want and come learn the steps involved in making wine. We will offer a variety of choices, from grape variety, picking parameters, choice of oak and many others, all of which will have a definitive stylistic impact on your wine.

We will take care of all the details and ensure that you receive a quality product at the end of the day. We also have an amazingly talented artist in the form of our very own wine club manager Kris Schornberg. Pick her brains to help you design your label or simply do it yourself. Want to be a winemaker without the risk involved? HERE IS YOUR CHANCE!

Call the winery at 434-244-3341 or e-mail me directly at sbarnard@keswickvineyards.com for further details.

This year promises to be a special year, I have a good feeling.

Cheers

Stephen

Winemaker

Keswick Vineyards

The Vineyard is Alive

It is so good to be back. After travels to England, Germany and South Africa [which was amazing], it is great to be back on the farm during what is the most exciting time [other than harvest]

Bud Break

Winter has been fairly moderate to say the least with some days reaching mid 70’s sometimes even the low 80’s. I have to admit I was fairly nervous being so far away as I would have put all my money on bud break commencing a lot earlier than normal, which for us is around April 10th. But snow and cooler temperatures set in and we are back on track and right on schedule.

But what exactly is bud break?

Well it is the first step of the annual growth cycle of a vine. The start of the cycle is signaled by the bleeding of the vine. This occurs when osmotic forces push water from the root system through the cuts from the pruning. Vines can bleed up to 1.5 Gallons.

Tiny buds [which have remained dormant during winter] use the carbohydrate reserves stored in the wood and start producing shoots. Within the bud there are normally three primordial shoots.  The shoots produce leaves and through the process of photosynthesis, produce energy to facilitate growth. With warm temperatures these shoots can grow almost one inch in a single day.

But these young shoots are extremely fragile and in this part of the world, very susceptible to frost damage which can occur up to Mid May. We have experienced our fair share of crop loss due to Frost, with our Viognier especially hard hit in recent years. We have taken every possible precaution for this eventuality. Our wind machines are ready to go, bales of straw are ready to be lit, and if there is anything we can do to prevent it, we will. Unfortunately [as was the case in 2007] with temperatures reaching 17 degrees, there is not much one is able to do.

Frost is only one potential hazard at this time of the year. Bud break also brings the threat of bud damage by the climbing cutworm. The name “cutworm” is applied to a large number of larvae of lepidopterous species. The moths are night flyers while the larvae are night feeders, with both stages hiding through the day. These cutworm feed on the young buds resulting in the loss of primary and sometimes secondary buds so early season control is important.

So far so good, no sings of cutworm damage; and with warmer temperatures being forecasted over the next 2 weeks we are in pretty good shape starting the 2011 growing season.  AS I write this, the rain starts belting down and the thunder is deafening, nicely done Stephen

Next Post – A video talking about our new 2010 Verdejo, set to makes its tasting room debut on Saturday.

Cheers

Stephen

Keswick Vineyards