Perhaps our best vintage yet at Keswick Vineyards.

DSC_2871

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:

photo 3

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:

_MG_6882

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

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

 

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

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

Mother Nature Ruled 2011

After the 2010 vintage in Virginia [arguably the best in recent times], the 2011 growing season was going to struggle to reach the lofty standards of its predecessor. To say that 2011 failed miserably would be similar to saying that Drew Brees had an okay year [this makes sense if you know that he broke Dan Marino’s all time passing yards in a single season, 5084 set in 1984 when Marino played for the Miami Dolphins].

Mother Nature ruled this year and her awesome power was on display more times than any of us would wish for. From a devastating earthquake in New Zealand to the horrific Tsunami in Japan, 2011 was littered with catastrophic natural disasters. Closer to home, Tuscaloosa was hit hard by the April 27th Tornado and Virginia experienced a 5.8 magnitude earthquake on August 23rd, quickly followed by the August 27th appearance of hurricane Irene. 2011 was certainly unforgettable, but for all the wrong reasons.

The season started off well enough with a milder than normal winter, allowing us to get the vineyard pruned with time to spare. We started seeing some bud break around April 7th, which is fairly typical in the Chardonnay. We experienced no loss due to spring frost, which can be especially damaging to our 16 acres of Viognier, and all signs pointed to a decent growing year- at least we were off to a pretty good start.

Viognier during bud break

Flowering started 56 days after bud break and generally commences when daily average temperatures are between 58 and 68 degrees.  Fruit set occurred almost immediately after [when the fertilized flower produces a seed and a berry to protect the seed]. This stage is one of the most critical periods for the grape grower as it has ramifications for the potential yield of a vineyard since not every flower on the vine gets fertilized. Weather conditions play a significant role and stress conditions including lack of water, temperature and humidity can all play a role in significantly reducing the flowering and thus the crop.

Up until this point, we  were very optimistic about the potential harvest.  We had a full crop throughout the vineyard and everything looked pretty good.  Our vines were balanced, disease pressure was minimal and other than canopy management, weed control and trunk stripping, the season was pretty much going along as expected.

veraison

It was around veraison or the days before that we really started experiencing some rain. Veraison is the point in which green grapes turn red, due to Chlorophyll turning into Anthocyannins [red varieties] and Carotenoids [white varieties]. It is also the point in which sugars in the form of glucose and fructose are produced and the acid levels drop. The problem with rain, and as was the case in 2011 continuous rain, is the development of mildews and especially botrytis.  While botrytis [noble rot] can make some of the most sought after wines in the world, with continued wet conditions this rot can turn into a malevolent form [grey rot or vinegar rot].

This year I really got to know Ol Betsy [the faithful tractor] and Herb [the sprayer], because other than leaf pull, dropping infected fruit and praying, the only thing we could do was spray. This goes against all matter of principle in our grape growing and winemaking philosophy, whereby intervention is ideally kept to a minimum.  Unfortunately this year was one in which ideology was shelved and we did everything we could to ensure we produced decent fruit and ultimately decent wines.

So how did we fare in the winery?

Thankfully Chardonnay, Verdejo and some Viognier were picked prior to the major rains, albeit at lower than desired sugar levels. The promising aspect of these wines though is their incredible acidity, a component of winemaking I think needs more attention. Acidity ensures the wines are focused and bright and we worked really hard to reflect that in the wines we were producing. Pressing was done as gently as possible and the wines were made as anaerobically [devoid of any oxygen] as possible. Very few wines were barrel fermented, choosing instead to  ferment in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks. Having tasted these wines last week, I can honestly say that the Chardonnay is the best we have ever produced, and while the Viognier is not as bright in character as in recent years, it is still outstanding. They crackle with vibrant acidity and have a varietal character, which is fantastic.

great chardonnay

Reds were hardest hit, with later season reds such as Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot feeling the force of the rain. It was a catch 22 situation for us as the fruit was not ready to be picked, sugars were low and tannins were green and under-developed- but in hindsight, if we had known that we would experience that amount of rain, we truthfully would probably have taken it all. At the end of the day, the Merlot, Touriga and Norton wines are fantastic. We managed to pick ripe Merlot and Touriga, and well Norton, that is a tough son of a gun and I was so impressed with how it fared, I even applauded it in a previous blog. What of the other varieties? We made an incredible Rose’ this year, a dry style that we have already bottled and are looking at releasing in the next few months. When the vineyard gives you lemons, you make lemonade, but it is great lemonade.

sorting Merlot

All in all though, I think we manged to dodge a bullet, in that it could have been far worse than what it was. I am thankful for having some experience in Virginia and after working the 2003 harvest, I was way more prepared this time round. I can only shudder and imagine what would have happened had this been my first vintage in Virginia. Overall I give the vintage a B+, the wines are developing character and should be fantastic. Although lighter in style than 2010, these are vibrant wines and will no doubt bring pleasure to many a wine drinker.

So while 2011 wraps up, we are already in the vineyard pruning for the upcoming growing season. After a challenging season, I am more focused and motivated than ever to ensure that 2012 goes down as one of our best season yet.

So what was the best thing I made all year?

That easily is my daughter Aria. A blend of 50% Kathy and 50% me, matured in amniotic fluid for 9 months. Released to the world on December 5th, she is showing signs of shock and will need some time to mature. She is already gorgeous but will continue to improve over the next 80 years and will provide joy to many.

Our 2011 creation

So I guess 2011 was really the best year ever if I really think about it.

From my family to yours, and on behalf of everyone here at Keswick Vineyards, I would  like to thank you for your continued support, and to wish you a joyous, blessed and prosperous New Year

Stephen

Wine served on a plane

Greetings from Hamburg Germany, where the weather is cold but the city beautiful.

My wife and I flew over to the UK on Monday to attend the wedding of my brother in Manchester and as is standard procedure with an evening flight, dinner is served along with a small selection of wine. Okay, firstly we paid almost $2000 a ticket [yes we are flying to multiple countries] so you kind of expect a few things, namely enough room at your seat to stretch your legs and enough space between you and the neighbor [by the way if a 300 pound person sits next to you, my feeling is charge him for 2 seats, he should not be able to spill over into mine. Dinner should be half decent and the wine too [ we are not flying first class despite what everyone thinks us wine makers earn].

Spacious seats, sitting next to Kath [so definitely no spill over], dinner was okay so onto the wine. I am not sure what the protocol is for ordering wine but since I was doing this for research purposes, I asked that they give me one bottle of everthing. Everything consisted of an Argentinian Malbec and a Spanish blend of Garnacha and Tempranillo, perfect, Old World vs New World.

Not to be overly critical but high-octane stuff this. The label said 13.2% abv [alcohol by volume] but I think this is one area in which both of these wines over-delivered, at least I thought I would get a good night’s sleep but all that ended up happening was me visiting the rest room 5 times on the way over. The wine was also heavily chilled which made tasting it hard [never mind, i thought quickly on my feet and promptly ordered a few more bottles of each]. First thought is that the temperature certainly suppresses any fruit that may have been in the wine for the warmer wines showed a lot better than their cold counterparts. Saying that though, the wines fell way short of being stellar and I would maybe pay $10 a bottle for them, so not too bad considering these are probably mass-produced wines, purchased for a low price, thus the vineyards crops the vineyard heavily and makes wine as cheaply as possible.

My personal favorite was the Spanish wine, it was much better than the Argentinian Malbec. It had some nice red fruit, a pleasant finish and left some of the enamel coating on my teeth. There was some complexity [maybe due to the blending] and went well with the food served [tomato and basil pasta]. Not bad to be fairly honest. I had a nice chat with the flight attendant who had been to Bordeaux and new his wines [pleasant surprised] and he came back later to chat about Virginia Wine and the future thereof. Alas, he did not know Virginia made wine but I told him to head over to the Whole Foods in London and to go and sample ours; and the others represented there, I have no doubt he will be pleasantly surprised.

Neil’s wedding went off well, he looked great, she looked beautiful and the bonus, Keswick wines were served. how cool that wines I made were poured at my brothers wedding in Manchester?

The overall impression?

 “Virginia Makes Wine ?”

Yes indeed good people and judging by the comments and how well the wine was received, you might want to start paying attention to Virginia and tasting some of the wines.

It certainly beat the wines served on the plane over

Cheers

Stephen

Next Post: Engligh ciders and German beer