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

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

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