2014 Harvest Report from Keswick Vineyards

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

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

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

[1] Mother Nature:

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

we have bud break

we have bud break

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

Keswick Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon

A potentially amazing crop

[2] The Vineyard:

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

soils in our Bordeaux block

soils in our Bordeaux block

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

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

first day of harvest 2014

first day of harvest 2014

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

[3] The Winemaking:

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

Cabernet Sauvignon after many sorting hours

Cabernet Sauvignon after many sorting hours

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

pumping over the tank of fermenting Touriga

pumping over the tank of fermenting Touriga

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

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

future winemaker in training

future winemaker in training

One last note:

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

The boys

The boys

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

Kindly

Stephen Barnard and team

Winemakers and Vineyard Managers at Keswick Vineyards

Our newest wine makes its long awaited debut

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me know what you think.

Kindly

Stephen Barnard

Winemaker

Keswick Vineyards

 

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 latest addition to our wine family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me know what you think of it.

Regards

Stephen Barnard

Winemaker

Keswick Vineyards

 

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

Is Virginia Viognier “Authentic”?

Virginia Viognier

Keswick Vineyards’ Viognier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers

Stephen Barnard

Winemaker and pursuer of authenticity at Keswick Vineyards

www.keswickvineyards.com

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