Racking the Wine and Stirring the Lees

First and Foremost, a belated Happy New Year to all! I trust and hope that 2014 will turn out to be a very special year filled with happiness and all resolutions being met and exceeded.

At Keswick Vineyards, most of the work is centered on the vineyard, ensuring we get all the pruning done before bud break in early April, but the wines and the winery still need some attention. The harvest that was 2013 was challenging to say the least, with a spring frost, a cooler than normal growing season and wildlife of biblical proportions testing the growers and winemakers across the state. I started calling myself Moses since I had 2 of everything on this farm eating the grapes.

Spur pruning the Bordeaux block

Spur pruning the Bordeaux block

For us, we had to be very careful with how we managed the vineyard and as such decided to bring fruit in a little earlier than hoped, choosing to be a touch more proactive in the winery than we would generally like to be. Since the fruit was not optimally ripe, sorting was critical and many hours were spent on the sorting table, eradicating anything unsatisfactory. We also stayed true to our philosophy of natural fermentation where possible and 50% of our wines were fermented without the addition of commercial yeast, normally we are in the 80-90% range. Although the intention is to ferment wines naturally, under certain conditions of poorer fruit quality, we will add a commercial yeast in order to better control the fermentation and winemaking.

Sorting de-stemmed red fruit

Sorting de-stemmed red fruit

Fermentations all finished [thankfully] and managing the tannin extraction was critical  in ensuring the wines remained balanced, since we were dealing with elevated acid levels and slightly greener flavors. Much is made of yeast choice, fermentation temperatures and other cellar practices but we pay special attention to a rather mundane task of extreme barrel stirring. We believe that barrel stirring really has a softening affect on the astringency of our wines, as well as creating a textural component which for us is also important.

Once fermentation is completed, the yeast that converted the sugar into alcohol dies, and settles with time to the bottom of the vessel [either barrel or tank]. At this point a lot of winemakers will employ a racking, whereby most of the wine is removed from the layer of this yeast, essentially clarifying the wine to a certain extent. This process also serves the purpose of introducing oxygen into the wine, ensuring the wine does not become reductive or start smelling like rotten eggs. Others, like myself, employ a vigorous program of stirring each and every barrel of wine to ensure the yeast remains in suspension.

Dead yeast at the bottom of the tank after racking

Dead yeast at the bottom of the tank after racking

The practice of leaving the wine in contact with lees dates back to Roman times, the chemistry behind this phenomenon was not clearly understood, but the positive effects of this practice were noticed.

When wine is left in contact with lees, enzymes start to break down the cells, producing mannoproteins and polysaccharides which are released into the wine. Through a metabolic pathway, enzyme substrates [beginning molecules] are turned into some eventual product, in this case the proteins and sugars which in turn lead to fuller bodied wines with better mouthfeel.  These products also react with phenolic compounds, reducing the astringency and bitterness of tannins, which in 2013 was a concern due to slightly under ripe fruit.

same wine taken out of barrel, pre and post stirring

same wine taken out of barrel, post and pre stirring

There is no formula or yardstick by which we measure how often we should employ these stirrings, at the moment we are doing it once a week and then tasting the wine to see if there are any distinguishable changes, either positive or negative. Negative flavors could be the reducing conditions discussed above, resulting in smells reminiscent of rotten eggs, which could reduce further, leading to potentially greater problems in the wine. At this point, a racking would be the simplest form of treatment, discarding the yeast in the vessel. Thankfully, the wines are showing a positive change and are definitely showing a richer texture than when we started so for now we will continue to monitor the wines and keep stirring. The Chardonnays are displaying a creamier texture with an almost brioche like flavor, a great counter play to the acidity and minerality that has become a hallmark of our wines. The reds have fleshed out a little bit, the wines are not as disjointed as they were a few months ago and there is a better balance between the acidity, fruit and tannin structure of the wine.

Sometimes the simplest things have the most profound effect on the wine, in this case just stirring the wine constantly.

Quality control, an important part of the job

Quality control, an important part of the job

The bright spot is that after a year with one challenge after the other, the red wines are amazing and we expect to release a Heritage [our Bordeaux estate blend] for the first time since 2007 as well as a varietal Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, both of which look superb. The whites, as always, are consistent and showcase a character that we see each and every year. Still plenty of time to let these wine evolve and develop, but I am liking where they are right now and look forward to seeing where they will end up.

Stay tuned


Stephen Barnard


Keswick Vineyards


Our New Cabernet Sauvignon

Make no mistake, Virginia is a pretty tough climate in which to grow grapes, at least to grow grapes that allow you to make world class wines.

True, we can produce wines of that caliber in vintages such as 2007, 2009 and 2010, but in vintages such as 2003 and 2011, forget about it. Those years are more an endeavor of making cleaner wines than wines that can stand along side the very best of California and France.

So when great vintages come along and mother nature combines with all the other variables to produce fruit of that quality, the winemaker needs to take full advantage and convert that fruit potential into a fantastic wine.

This weekend marks the official release of our 2009 Keswick Vineyards Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine that I think ranks in our top three ever produced here at the estate.

2009 for me was a fantastic growing season. It was long and temperate and we were able to pick fruit at the optimum ripeness, which meant good sugars, developed flavors in the grapes and, more importantly for Cabernet, ripe tannins.

The winemaking protocol was actually pretty simple. We cooled the fruit and sorted after de-stemming to remove any unwanted material including green grapes, jacks, stems and leaves that bypassed the destemmer. The fruit was then transferred to open top stainless steel tanks, warmed up, and allowed to undergo native fermentation without the addition of commercial yeast. BAM we had good wine.

The philosophy here at Keswick is to produce wines that reflect the season, the area, and the soil in which it was grown. The French refer to this concept and notion as Terroir. For me it means that what you taste in a glass of wine is a product of nature and not of manipulation by me the winemaker, same thing really.

And so it was, after fermentation and pressing, the wine was barreled down to French oak barrels and allowed to mature for 22 months with very little manipulation (other than the occassional taste, purely for quality control purposes of course). Surely, there are a lot more decisions that go into making wine, but if you break it down- what made the 2009 Cabernet a stunner was, truthfully, the fruit quality which ultimately forged this quality wine. I just tried to stay out of the way and not mess it up.

So it is truly a joy to be able to release this wine to the public on Saturday. I hope you will like it as much as we do here.

It is 100% Cabernet grown right here on the estate. It is definitely New World in style, displaying the typical aromas of plum and cassis backed by ripe integrated tannins (which is a fancy way of saying that although there is oak, it is not too dominant to suppress the fruit). The wine also has a fair bit of acid which really keeps the wine fresh and focused. As far as drinkability, you are good to go- but if you would like to lay it down, I truly think this wine has the stuffing to age for another 8-10 years. It is dark and inky, brooding yet seductive, a wine that we are very proud of.

Okay, I have to brag a bit here in order to get some hype.

It was one of the wines that was selected to be in the Governors Case, following the Virginia Governors Cup Wine Competition. That meant it was rated amongst the top twelve Virginia wines for that year. It also received a double gold medal at the San Francisco International Wine Competition, the largest and arguably the most influential competition in the States [as taken from their website]. To put into perspective how well this wine did, there were only 5% of the total entries awarded the double gold, and in the Cabernet category (which was the most competitve category in the competition based on the number of entries), bested some Napa Valley wines that retail for $200 a bottle.

Okay, competitions are what they are, but this is like me beating Tiger Woods at match play in golf. For an itty bitty Virginia Cabernet to wine this award says something about the quality of the wine and also the quality that Virginia has in producing world class reds.

So ladies and gentleman, come by on Saturday to taste what we think is one the best reds we have ever produced in our short wine making history. We’re smack in the middle of the 2012 harvest (which I am hoping will produce more high calibur wines!), so I will be working away in the cellar racking the whites- feel free to come back and let me know what you think of the Cabernet!




Keswick Vineyards

Two “NEW” Virginia Wineries

The joke is that you have to have a large fortune to make a small fortune in the wine industry, well if that is true than Trump Winery and Early Mountain Vineyards will be just fine.

Owned by Donald Trump and Stephen and Jean Case, respectively, both these Virginia wineries are experiencing a re-birth of sorts and the future looks bright.

No more plastic cones!

Trump Winery, formerly known as Kluge Estate, was purchased by the Trump family and garnered some serious press, with everyone in the industry wondering what was going to happen with this estate. To find out, my wife and I visited their tasting room twice in the past couple of weeks to check it out. Truthfully, I was a bit let down in the past, not so much in the quality of the wines but more in the lack of personal service and the fact that plastic snow cones were just dropped off at your table with your wines.

As a winemaker, I believe that stemware really does play a role in your tasting experience and could not wrap my head around the notion of an expensive wine served in plastic.

On a gorgeous Sunday, we arrived at the tasting room and were greeted by none other than Billy Koenig, their new tasting room manager. I have had the pleasure of meeting Billy through his wife Tara, who was involved in distributing our wines while working at J.W.Sieg. Billy is a charming man, very enthusiastic and clearly very passionate about what he does, great way to be greeted at the door I must say.

After being shown to our seats, Kath decided to taste the sparkling wines and, true to form, I tried them all. I was pleasantly surprised right off the bat with their new Sauvignon Blanc, hands down my favorite white varietal in the world. I thought the wine to be well made displaying grapefruit and green apple flavors, a perfect wine for the summer months.  My favorite red wine was the New World Red, with it’s dark flavors offset by smoky oak and dusty tannins. I think this wine may not appeal to everyone, but I really loved it.

Delicious food at Trump Winery

While the still wines are good, I have always been a fan of their sparkling wines. Kath agreed, favoring the Blanc de Blanc [a gold medal recipient at the Virginia Governors Cup]. They also pour a Rose’ and Blanc de Noir, both are good and might be your favorite depending on your personal preference. Billy explained the wines as they were poured and answered all my annoying questions with aplomb.

We decided to stay for a while longer and we ordered some of the light fare they offered, Kath got the mushroom quiche and I the caprese salad. The food was fantastic and only served to enhance our experience.

The Trump brand is a juggernaut and they know how to do it, but the changes, although significant, were done in a very low-key elegant way, creating a tasting environment that is both relaxing and inviting. As for the plastic snow cones: GONE. Glasses ladies and gentleman, I mean real glasses! I cannot tell you how excited I am to have tasted Trump wines out of a glass, it adds so much more to the tasting experience.

We also bumped into Don Rhodes, who possesses a larger than life personality and is responsible for marketing. He let us in on some future developments and with this kind of passion and enthusiasm, I see nothing but a bright future for Trump Winery. There is definitely a new buzz in the air, something that was missing on previous visits and I can honestly say that we had a great time. Folks you need to get out there, I know you will not be disappointed.

A big thank you to Billy and Don, keep up the great work and best of luck for the future!

The other winery high up on the list was Early Mountain Vineyards, formerly known as Sweely Estate.

Set on Wolftown-Hood Road off highway 29, this is a gorgeous looking estate with the tasting room on the right and winery set off in the distance.

Comfortable & cozy seating at Early Mountain

As we entered the tasting room, the changes were immediately evident. A new tasting bar on the left leads to ample seating areas, with a little wine market on the right. Since our 7 month old daughter Aria was with us, we decided to find a secluded corner in the back.

Early Mountain Vineyards offers three tasting flights, a white, a red and then a combination of the two. What is interesting of note, is that they are offering wines from other well known producers such as Barboursville Vineyards, King Family Vineyards, Linden Vineyards and Thibaut-Janisson Winery. Kath once again opted for the white flight and I decided to stick with red wines.

Kath loved the Thibaut-Janisson sparkling wine with its biscuit and yeast notes, while my favorite was the King Family Meritage. This Meritage is dominated by Merlot and is made by Matthieu Finot, a talented young winemaker who hails from France. The wine was dominated by berry notes with strong mocha and oak driven flavors. This is definitely a wine for the cellar and I believe it will be fantastic in 3-5 years, but definitely has the stuffing to age beyond.

Yes, that is a hammock you see- you’ll know where to find me!

Taking a walk around the back, I think the philosophy of this winery is easy to figure out. With ample deck chairs, hammocks and fire pits, I believe the emphasis is on the enjoyment of wine with loved ones. No need to rush, take your time and soak up the moment. With gorgeous views of the vineyards and comfortable chairs, you will need little persuasion to let the hours pass you by as you savor the fruit from the vine.

I also had the distinct pleasure of meeting Michelle Gueydan, a sommelier who hails from New Orleans. Clearly this lady knows her wines and is on hand to help customers with selections and general wine related questions.  Very passionate about wine, I have no doubt she is a wonderful asset to the Early Mountain team.

I guess the only negative comment [and it is far from negative] is that you will have to wait and come back to taste the full range of Early Mountain vineyards wine, as they only poured two while we were there. We were told that new vineyards were being planted and that well known consultant Jeanette Smith was advising. Early Mountain Vineyards also possesses one of the most state of the art wine cellars in the state of Virginia, and under the guidance of winemaker Franz Ventre, I am eager to see their new wines come on board in the coming months.

So lovers of Virginia Wine, I can highly recommend visiting both Trump Wineryand Early Mountain Vineyards.

Both wineries have a renewed energy and optimism for the future and, based on our experience, their futures are nothing but bright.

Welcome back




Keswick Vineyards

The New Addition to the Family

It is sometimes said that for a winemaker, wines are his or her kids. If that is true, I have accumulated quite a few over the 10 vintages that I have worked in the U.S. It is also true that I do not like all of them [the horror]. Some have matured beautifully and I am proud of those and some, well lets just say that I would deny knowing them if asked the question.

If the wines are the kids, then the vintages must be the wives. 2011 is my divorced ex-wife, one I never hope to see again. She left me, took everything I had and expected me to turn out some wonderful wines [for the sake of the analogy, lets just say kids]. I did the best I could and fingers crossed that they turn out half decently.

The first of the new additions is a wine that is well-known to lovers of Virginia wine and is one of the workhorses of the Keswick Vineyards portfolio, Viognier. With 16 acres of Viognier out of the 43 total acres planted, Keswick Vineyards makes up to six different styles of this varietal on any given year. For the 2011 vintage, we scaled that down to only three: Signature Series, Les Vent D Anges and regular Keswick bottling. We de-classified the Reserve this year as we felt that while the wine is good, it just did not quite meet and exceed the quality of the 2010 vintage.

What made the 2011 vintage so challenging was the amount of rain we received just prior to harvest. Since quality wines almost always start with the quality of the fruit, we were always behind the eight ball with this harvest.

To give you a sobering idea of the vintage variation, in 2010 we harvested our Viognier at 26.5 brix, in 2011 the most we got was 20.5. Brix is a sugar measurement of the two main sugars glucose and fructose, the fermentable sugars. The first issue was that at 20.5, the fruit is really under ripe, and with Viognier that means not making wine that has all those pretty floral aromas that consumers have come to love. Odorous compounds, found mainly in the skin and layers of cells underneath it, intensify as the fruit ripens, so under ripe fruit also reflects a lack of intensity for the resulting wine.

All is not lost however for there is still one major factor that can save the day, the winemaker. The winemaker get’s no respect [Dangerfield accent here for effect], a fantastic wine is definitely made in the vineyard and a bad wine, well that is all winemaking or the lack thereof. While 2010 was a dream vintage, 2011 was challenging and the winemaker’s craft played a major role. Time will tell if I did a good job or not.

On the 25th of June we bottled our Keswick Vineyards Viognier, a 100% varietal that admittedly is slightly different from the previous vintages. While the 2010 Viognier is aromatic and bold, the 11 is more understated and elegant. The major positive this year was the acidity of the juice, something that judges of Viogniers tend to complain about. Acidity keeps the wine fresh and focused, without which the wine can seem a bit heavy and oily, in the wine world FLABBY. Imagine calling one of your kids flabby, the nerve of it.

We tried to retain the acidity and build the wine around this core. This is 100% barrel fermented in neutral French oak. Neutral means that the barrel has been used many times previously and as such, does not impart many of the flavors derived from oak. We inoculated most of the wines this year, a practice that is not too common here anymore as we prefer to ferment the wines naturally without the addition of cultured yeast. We had no problems getting the wine dry [all the fermentable sugars have been converted to ethyl alcohol], and chose to prevent the onset of secondary fermentation.

We aged the wine sur lie [on the dead yeast] and stirred the barrels vigorously over the course of 8 months. Batonage [the actual stirring of the barrels] is a stylistic tool we employ that enables us to build palate weight and texture to the wine. What we tried to do is create a balance between the acidity or freshness of the wine and the weight and overall complexity. To that end I feel we were pretty successful.

I tasted the wine last night and my overall impression was that it is still in bottle shock and pretty tight. It started opening up after an hour or two and I got some really pretty floral tones, with melon and pear aromas. Although the wine did not show too much, the acidity is definitely the hallmark of this wine with bright granny smith apple flavors on the front, but it definitely has some palate weight and complexity. I am hoping that with some time in the bottle, the new Viognier will flesh out a touch more and show some more of the tropical and stone fruit characters that are a hallmark of our Viognier vineyard.

Considering how challenging the 2011 vintage was, this new Viognier I would say shows some promise, but it is still too early to really judge it. We hope to age it a few months in the bottle before releasing it to you, the public. I look forward to hearing what you have to say about it.

Remember though, you are talking about my kids, and I am very protective of them.


Stephen Barnard


Keswick Vineyards


The little grape that could

Since it’s debut vintage in 2006, our Verdejo has turned out to be one of our most popular wines.  Initially planted as a blender, little did we know this Spanish varietal would flourish here in Virginia as a stand-alone varietal.  In 2006 we had a severe Easter weekend frost that decimated the majority of our Viognier and all of our Chardonnay buds, leaving Verdejo to pull the weight of the 2006 white wine program at Keswick Vineyards.  And boy did it!

Our Verdejo quickly became a favorite of our staff, our guests, our wine club members, and our family (in fact, Stephen even served it at his own wedding in 2009, going through over 11 cases of it!).  It’s vibrant acidity and fresh clean flavors of green apples and gooseberries make it the perfect choice for summertime sipping out on the patio.

Megan J. Headley of C-Ville: The Working Pour recently wrote a great article on the history and styles of Verdejo, with a mention of ours at the end.  Read the full article here A Spanish white, Verdejo captures the summer sun, I’m sure you will enjoy it!

If that article gets you thirsting for a relaxing day sitting outside with a bottle of Verdejo- you’re in luck!  We are currently pouring the 2011 Verdejo in our tasting room and we have added a number of new shaded tables outside, as well as outdoor pouring stations, to make your visit as pleasurable as possible.

So grab your friends, a picnic basket and some lawn games and enjoy the summer with us!  Don’t forget to bring your dog too, or if you’re looking for a dog we have Yappy Hours every Sunday where local animal rescue groups bring dogs available for adoption.  If you need more reasons to sip some wine outside while enjoying views of the vineyards and mountains, a portion of the purchase price of every open bottle of wine sold during Yappy Hours will be donated to the visiting rescue group!

See you soon!

The Vineyard is ALIVE!

After what has been an interesting last 12 months [probably the understatement of the year], was it really that unexpected that bud break would occur 3 weeks earlier than it normally does? Do not get me wrong, I love 80 degree days in March, but from a vineyard managers point of view, that was just putting the foot on the accelerator.

Bud break at Keswick Vineyards normally occurs around the 10th of April, but this year we had Chardonnay break on March 23rd. WOW!
The growth cycle of a vine and vineyard begins with bud break in the spring and finishes with harvest in Autumn, leaf fall and then winter dormancy. It is during these winter months that we prune and regulate the buds, and therefore the crop levels, for the following growing season. The time the vine spends in these phases depends on a number of factors, but most importantly on the climate and the prevailing temperature.

The start of the cycle begins when the vine starts to bleed, when we see water being expelled from pruning cuts we make on the vine. An interesting fact is that a vine can bleed over 5 Liters of water!
Buds that have been protected during the winter start swelling and eventually open up, giving birth to new growth and shoots that will bear the fruit of the coming vintage.
The energy for the plant to do this is taken from carbohydrates that are stored in the roots and wood of the vine from the previous year.

Once shoots start to develop and the temperatures really start warming up, these shoots can grow 3cm in length per day!

Not all varieties bud at the same time though, so while our Chardonnay and Viognier are way advanced, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Verdot are taking their sweet time and are in no rush.

Admittedly, there is renewed optimism for the growing season following the challenging 2011, but with premature bud break comes the increased risk for spring time frost damage. This past Monday morning saw us touch temperatures of 31 degrees, which meant a very early start to the day turning on wind machines, running frost dragons and monitoring temperatures throughout our 43 acres. In Virginia, we can get a spring frost right up the second week of May, so we need to be on our toes and use all means necessary to prevent that from happening should it occur.

40-80 days post bud break, we will start seeing flowering, whereby pollination and fertilization of the grapevine takes place, followed immediately by fruit set. At that point we will be able to determine the crop size we can expect for 2012.
This is one of the most beautiful times of the year in the vineyard bus sometimes also the most stressful, protecting your vineyard against everything that mother nature can throw your way. To be honest, she kicked my backside last year – but I am determined not to let that happen again!

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this wonderful weather and I look forward to seeing you at the winery. Back to the vineyard to finish my favorite varietal NORTON! BLAH

Keswick Vineyards

If you would like to learn more about viticulture, and our vineyard in particular, join me for our Earth Day Vineyard Tour April 22nd!
I will take you on a 1 1/2 mile educational walk through the vineyard to explain how soil types and elevations affect the flavor development of the vines, the different types of trellis systems and why we chose ours, frost dangers and how we handle that, pruning, diseases, discussion on varietals like Viognier and Norton and much more, all while you enjoy a taste of the wines made from blocks on the vineyard that you are standing in!
Lunch will be provided under our beautiful event tent where you will have a chance to meet the owners, Al & Cindy Schornberg, and learn about the history of Edgewood Estate.
Space is limited so reservations are required. From 11am – 1pm. The cost is $40 for Wine Club members, $50 for non-members. Rain date is scheduled for May 12th.

Romantic winemaking; is an Oxymoron, or is it?

I love wine making, I really do; to me being amongst the vines beats sitting in front of a computer compiling spread sheets any day. I have also met many people in the tasting room who dream of one day owning their own vineyard and making their own wine. I can only imagine the thrill of pouring a wine that carries your name, knowing the love and passion that went into crafting and creating that bottle of wine.

But let’s be real for 2 seconds here, wine farming, like any other farming is hard work. Mother nature has really reared its ugly head these past few months and thrown all sorts of curve balls at us. Dry hot days are interrupted by intermittent down pours and periods of high humidity, creating a haven for all sort of molds and fungus in the vineyard.  The vineyard is loving the excess rain, producing canopies that are overly vigorous and difficult to stay on top of. Grass is growing faster than we can mow it, why anyone would want to be growing grapes this year, beats the heck out of me.

Well let me tell you why.

I love a challenge. We have been blessed with 4 good vintages in a row and we were bound to experience a wetter growing season sometime or other. This year just happens to be that season.

I firmly believe that the wines are made in the vineyard, it was how I was taught and I truly buy into it. For us to make quality wines this year, means spending more time in the vineyard ensuring that  only the best possible fruit arrives at the cellar door.

I have already put out over 8o tanks of fungicides and insecticides, crawling between the vines at a blistering rate of 2.5 miles an hour, sometimes waking my bosses up at 5:30 in the morning to beat the rain. I think I could drive through the vineyard blind at this point.  I am happy to report, so far the vineyard is devoid of any major disease, bar a little botrytis in the Chardonnay that has subsequently been cut out.  The guys are working hard in the vineyard,  I feel quite bad that they are out there and I am in the air-conditioned office writing this post [fear not I will join them soon].

They have done a great job in staying on top of the growth and we are about 2 weeks away from finishing up the canopy work. All that is left to do is pray for a warm August with little rain, and to fine tune the crop levels on the vine, ensuring that what we leave is fully ripe by the time we harvest the fruit. If we get that right, then the wine-making will take care of itself.

All things being equal, this year will truly showcase the best vineyard managers and wine makers. No-one knows how the 2011 wines will stack up to previous vintages, but should they be good, it will make all the hard work of this year worth it, and that ladies and gentleman  is why we do what we do, and why we love it so much.

Plus we have these killer farmers tans to boot too.

By the way, I have really come to appreciate all the members of the Keswick team and I wanted to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of them, from the tasting room staff to the back office staff who work hard day in and day out.  The guys in the vineyard to the grounds staff who make Keswick Vineyards a truly special place to work at, thank you. Lastly a special mention to my wife who puts up with me being here all the time and supports me 100%.

You know what, that is why we do what we do, because we enjoy working with a great bunch of people, pouring wines for our fantastic customers, and doing it in one of the most beautiful places on earth

Loving Life


Winemaker for Keswick Vineyards.