Appealing to the common wine drinker – Like Me

I have got to be honest, I am getting a bit disillusioned by the overuse of wine terms such as natural, authentic, minimalistic, pure expression and so on and so forth, as well as mystified by some of the wine prices commanded out there by top wineries. What exactly is natural wine-making, pure expression and authentic, to me these are just well thought out P.R slogans that justify the rarity and sometimes price tag that goes along with it.

What I would not give to read the back of a wine label and see something like this.

“Mother Nature just did not cooperate this year, she did everything she could to ruin my grapes, which meant I had to spray for mildew, use insecticides to control the Japanese beetle and picked early to avoid losing all my fruit to the wildlife. Sorry folks, no organic viticulture here, even though I would love to market that to you. In the winery I added sugar to increase the brix, but then the alcohol was out of whack and had to use spinning cone technology to ensure the wine was balanced. I used reverse osmosis to remove some unwanted VA and used some oak chips instead of expensive barrels to impart some oak and tannin. The wine was sterile filtered and fined; and our cork is not natural because we have issues with T.C.A. This manner of wine making will beat natural wine making this year but I promise to be less intrusive next year, unless Mother Nature throws a wrench in the works.”

Now that is a bottle of wine I will buy, maybe because I can relate to all the issues a winemaker and vineyard manager faces during the course of the growing season.

But we have two very different sides of the coin here, because there is truth in that some of the best wines in the world are pure expressions of the best vintages, the best vineyards; that truly convey a sense of place. I think this is true specifically in Burgundy, home to some of the most ethereal Pinot Noirs in the world.  Take Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, truly one of the most iconic wine names in the world, producing some of the rarest, effusive and priciest.  How can we begin to explain why the La Tache’, Echezeaux and Richebourg wines are so distinctively different. We can speak of Terroir, the soul of the vineyard, the limestone, gravel and clay soils or the deft hand of the winemaker, but to truly understand the wine, you need to taste it and at a few thousand bucks a bottle, I probably never will. Oh and by the way, my friends do not roll that way.

To say it is just booze in a bottle is sacrilegious for us oenophiles, but to someone who just enjoys a bottle of wine every now and again, it is just that; and wine booze can be bought for $2 at Trader Joe’s. Might I add as well, for that price point the wine is not half bad. For all the smoke and mirrors of marketing gurus and label experts, it is really sad that the world of fine wine is reserved only for millionaires and billionaires, excluding most of us wine lovers who really cannot afford to drop that kind of dough, and then explain it to the wife or husband. “But honey this is worth $3000 a bottle and in ten-years will probably be more like $8000, so I really got it at a 65% discount”.

A few years ago at a seafood restaurant in South Africa, the sommelier told me my wine and food did not match and that I would be better served to order something else, and may he give me a recommendation. UH, no you may not and for your information I like fish and feel like a Shiraz today thank you very much.

Is wine not supposed to be about fun, creating memories and sharing it with you people you love being around, telling stories as you polish off your third bottle without even noticing it. One of the best bottles of wine I ever had was the Watcher Shiraz 2008, around $20 and who cares what the wine rating was. What made it special was that I was with my wife in our new house, sitting in camping chairs, eating pizza and chatting; more like getting tipsy and laughing hysterically, but you get the point.  Yes, I have had a 100 point wine spectator rated wine, had a wine costing over a $1000 [thanks Al] and even had a wine that was 200 years old, all wonderful but cannot compare with the emotional attachment I have to “The Watcher” made by Fetish wines. Hopefully I will get a few bottles in the mail after that endorsement.

So want a wine to be more authentic, how about this.

“This wine tastes good so have it whenever, wherever and with whatever you like, just enjoy it with someone you enjoy being around. Do not worry that it is a Monday night, for there will be another bottle on the shelf waiting for you and it will not cost you an arm and a leg..Try this Chardonnay with a medium rare steak or this Cabernet with some seafood, but whatever yo do, please just enjoy it”.

I applaud the efforts of wine makers and growers out there, I know first hand how incredibly difficult this job is, I just wish I could afford some of your wines In the market place.

Best Regards

Stephen Barnard


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.


Stephen Barnard

Winemaker and pursuer of authenticity at Keswick Vineyards

Last night I took a trip to South Africa and France

I love wine, I drink my weight in wine and if you have seen me lately you will know that I am saying I drink a fair bit. One of the most fascinating things about this elixir is that it transports you to another world, in that the wine you drink reflects the area or place in which it was grown. Why is a Chardonnay from California so remarkably different to one from Burgundy?

The concept of Terroir speaks to this notion, that due to a variety of influences [soil, elevation, row direction, planting density, cropping levels etc] a wine from distinctly different areas will always taste unique. No matter the influence of the winemaker, a Chardonnay grown in the Cote d’Or of Burgundy will taste remarkably different to one grown in the Russian River AVA of California. You could argue that there are stylistic similarities [full malo-lactic fermentation or the use of French oak], but the inherent differences in the wine will always take you back to the place where it all starts, the vineyard.

Thai food was on the menu last night, and I thought it the perfect opportunity to break open a few bottles of wine. I am beginning to see a trend between Asian inspired dishes and my need to open up really good wine.

Springfield Estate "Wild Yeast" Chardonnay 2008

Last nights trip of choice was to South Africa, with a gorgeous Springfield Estate 2008 Wild Yeast Chardonnay and France, with a 2005 Chateau Haut Bergeron from Sauternes.

The Chardonnay is made by winemaker Abrie Bruwer, and the estate is located in Robertson, South Africa. I have always been an admirer of this producer and if you get the chance, look for the “Life from Stone” Sauvignon Blanc and the “Methode Ancienne” Cabernet Sauvignon, you will not be disappointed. With many tools at a winemakers disposal nowadays, this winemaker tends to go back to basics and focus on the vineyard, producing world-class wines that reflect the sense of place. His wine making philosophy is one of minimal interference, fermenting wines with natural yeast, avoiding filtration unless absolutely needed and as the website quotes “let the wine make itself”.

The 2008 harvest was by all means a fairly tricky one, with cooler than average temperatures and higher than average rainfall. Many producers talk about the fight against fungal disease and the importance of picking at the right time. The biggest positive is that cooler temperatures lead to  retention of acid in the fruit and better phenolic ripeness. [Information taken from Angela Lloyds 2008 harvest report].

The Springfield Chardonnay is fermented entirely in stainless steel tank but is allowed to undergo 100% malo-lactic fermentation, and is furthermore aged on the lees for over a year prior to bottling.  The wine displayed gorgeous tropical aromas that followed through onto the palate, marked by vibrant acidity which ensured this Chardonnay was lively and focused. I have been pretty down on Chardonnay wines recently, but this wine will certainly change a few opinions and is a champion that Chardonnay still has plenty to offer the consumer. You owe it to yourself to seek this bottle out and give it a try; not withstanding it is from my home country, I really loved this wine!

From New World to Old World, a dessert wine from Sauternes finished the evening off.

Chateau Haut Bergeron 2005

This particular Sauternes is made up of 60% Semillion and 40% Sauvignon Blanc.

Many experts believe the Haut-Bergeron to be the best of the Non-Classified Sauternes. Part of their vineyards are in Barsac, with the remaining vineyards in Preignac [right next to the world-famous Chateau D Yquem].

The first thing you notice is the gorgeous color which is brilliantly gold, with amber tinges. The aromas are rich and luscious with apricots, honey and caramel tones. This wine is wonderfully textured, rich and lengthy and I suspect there is a fair amount of new oak in this wine [although I cannot confirm]. For all my praises;  my wife Kathy did not enjoy this wine at all, alluding to a smell that just did not agree with her. The beauty of wine is that we each have our own opinions. I thought this wine to be showing beautifully though and may still have a few years left in the bottle, although I would probably drink it in the next 2-3 years.

What a way to spend an evening, eating Thai food, drinking South African and French wine will sitting in Charlottesville US.  Life is good especially when you can share it with people you love.

This was one trip worth taking, and that for me is the ultimate beauty of wine. Tonight I think I might visit Australia.

Here’s to wonderful wines



Keswick Vineyards