Perhaps our best vintage yet at Keswick Vineyards.

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This is what Cabernet fruit should look like, clean and ripe and ready to be made into wonderful wine.

As we enter the first official day of Spring, we generally reflect on the harvest that was and evaluate the wines as they continue to age or, in our case, finish their secondary fermentation in barrel. It allows us as winemakers to take a critical look at the wines and to judge if harvest decisions and processing protocols were beneficial and if the wines are truly reflective of the vintage as we hoped they would be. I spent a great deal of time with the wines this past weekend, evaluating not only the different varietals, but also the barrels they were in to see how the oak was impacting the wine. I am very pleased to state that I am thrilled with how the wines are developing, and how much more developed they are at this point than they normally are. To understand the strength of the vintage, you have to understand the growing season. The key point for me was the much cooler than normal May and June. With evening temperatures in the 50’s the fruit was able to retain a lot of its natural acidity, reflected in the harvest chemistry. Acidity for me is a key component in wine, and is arguably one of the things I focus the most on. In cooler growing seasons as was 2014, I find the aromatics of the wine to be that much more pronounced and the wines tend to have a focus and juiciness as opposed to warm vintages. The other benefit is that we deal with lower pH must or juice, which is perfect for us since we ferment most of our wines without the addition of any commercial yeast. This low pH [higher acidity] environment makes it much harder for bacteria to grow and makes it much easier to ferment wines to dryness with the native yeast in the winery.  I often get asked why we tend to go this route and the answer is quite simple. As a winemaker, I am aiming to reflect in a glass the manner in which the fruit was grown as opposed to how it was manipulated or made in the winery. I am a firm believer in the notion that the best fruit makes the best wine, while also making wine that is unique and special. My job therefore is to respect the character given to me by the vineyard, and not interfere too much.

soils in our Bordeaux block

Thanks to our groundhogs, no need to dig profile pits in the vineyard. look at that white dirt, lots of shale and fragmented rocks, the secret to our powerful and extracted red wines

Starting off with the whites

2014 Chardonnay:

It is not that I do not like the occasional buttery, oak driven Chardonnay. I think there is a time and place for such wines. I truly believe though that the market place is shifting towards more fresher styled wines, wines that showcase minerality or steeliness as opposed to weight and rich textures. Our Chardonnay style is driven by our fruit and the soil on which it is grown. Our Chardonnay grows on fragmented rock, with shale and limestone littering the parcel. If you crack those rocks together, you almost get a saltiness in your nose, it is this character that I want in our wines. We have moved away from barrel fermentation, opting to ferment in tank where fermentation temperatures can be controlled and thus drawn out to about a month before they completely use up all the sugar. By extending the fermentation period upwards, we can essentially create wines that are more linear and focused, while creating aromatics that are clean and more subtle. Our oak regimen is that we exclusively use French oak, but are working more with larger format barrels. Essentially we do not want you swallowing a 2 x 4 when you taste the wine, we want the oak to lift or support the fruit, integrating with those stony fruit, apple and tangerine flavors. Our 2014 is everything we hoped  it would be; fresh and vibrant with wonderful acidity, and just a kiss of oak that elevates the fruit and keeps everything in balance. Earmarked for August bottling, this might be the best Chardonnay we have ever produced.

first day of harvest 2014

August 28th 2014, first day of harvest with our 3 acre Chardonnay looking perfect. this was a sign of things to come for the rest of the fruit and vintage.

2014 Viognier:

The state grape of Virginia, that has come under fire of recent time due to its struggles in the vineyard. Highly prone to frost and bud damage, our 16 acre took quite a hit and we ended up with a minuscule amount of fruit. The positive is that the quality was amazing, and we were able to pick clean fruit that was wonderfully ripe. Viognier is such an intoxicating wine, and you immediately get loads of tropical aromas as you press the fruit. With such little fruit, we did not have the ability to experiment and this year we opted for a tank fermented, barrel matured version. I felt that the acidity of the wine could stand up to some three-year old barrels, and we could build up some nice texture on the palate. There is a lot of discussion among winemakers as to what the exact style of Viognier should be, many choosing to use more tank fermented wines in their final blend, sometimes with just a touch of sweetness, Our version is bone dry, has the typical aromas of the grape but will also be able to see a few years in the bottle due to the influence of oak. At a recent tasting of some of Virginia’s finest Viognier wines, I favored ours that were 4-5 years old, proving to me that our wines are built to last. In the world of accessibility and the drink it now mentality, the 14 will offer immediate gratification, but will reward patience for those that can wait and prove to be a stunning wine in a few years.

Cab Fran

Splash racking the Cab Franc, look at that color. An important step to introduce oxygen into the wine and ensure we take care of any reductive aroma’s

The big Reds It is hard not to get excited about red wines when you get fruit that is ripe, clean and picked whenever you wanted. Other than Merlot, I was extremely happy with the quality of fruit across the board, especially for the Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Verdot.

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon:

Arguably the king of reds and one that cannot ripen in Virginia if you believe conventional wisdom. Many believe the focus should be given to Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot or Tannat. The beauty of theories is that there will always be exceptions to the rule and in our case, we more often than not can get ripe Cabernet Sauvignon into the winery. The winemaking process after that is relatively quite simple. The fruit is meticulously hand sorted, ensuring that only the best berries make it into the fermentation tank. We painstakingly discard all under ripe fruit, stems and leaves that may have passed through the de-stemmer. As with all our high-end wines, we choose to allow the fermentation to begin and finish naturally. We monitor the wines very carefully, punch the cap down judiciously and frequently to extract as much color as possible and we pay careful attention to the way in which we press the skins. It is well know that there is a qualitative difference between free run and press fraction wine. In years gone past, we would just set the press to a program and allow the press to do its thing. We now however run the press manually and press over a longer period and more gently. By tasting the press wine, we can determine at which point the various lots should be separated and how they should be aged. Our two lots of Cabernet received a fair amount of press wine this year, since the tannins were so ripe, supple and silky. The press wine gave the wines some serious backbone which for the style we make is somewhat needed. I am so excited about the 14 vintage Cabs. One lot is in 100% French oak barrels, all manufactured by Mercier and what a huge blockbuster of a wine. Dark and inky, with lots of blue and purple fruit on the nose. The oak is there but it is meshing nicely with the fruit of the wine and there is an underlying acidity to the wine that keeps the wine quite light on its feet which I find really attractive. This is not a wine that will see a bottle soon, earmarked for bottling in 2016 after 22 months in oak. I predict that it will need at least five years in the bottle before it realizes it’s potential. BY FAR, the best Cabernet we have ever made in my opinion, and we have made some good ones recently.

Cabernet Sauvignon after many sorting hours

Cabernet Sauvignon after many hours sorting the de-stemmed fruit to remove any unwanted berries and stems. A painstaking task but well worth it when you taste the final product in barrel.

Our second lot of Cabernet is maturing in slightly older barrels, since this wine is historically always the most aromatic of the two. With blending of the two lots common, the first lot is the structural backbone of the wine, while this sucks you in with gorgeous aromatics. Hard to pick a favorite of the two since they are both so good, albeit for different reasons.

2014 Petite Verdot:

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Pressing the must. By tasting the wine at various press levels, we determine where they should go. Certainly been instrumental in improving our wines and learning how to handle our fermented wine.

Traditionally a blending grape in the world of wine, but taking quite the center stage in Virginia. I sit on the fence with this one a little since I still see its value in blends versus  a stand alone varietal wine. It has great tannic structure and dark flavors but sometimes lacks the finesse I search for in wines. If however, you are one of those that does not mind laying these wines down for a few years, PV can be quite the charming wine. Our 14 will be a bit too much for some in its youth, incredibly tannic and dry at this point in time, it will require some bottle time to soften up and reveal itself. We have used some tight grain French barrels for this wine, two to three years old to respect the fruit. I was playing with the idea of American oak but decided that it did not need more sweetness which American oak sometimes imparts. But my word, this wine is rich and dense and unapologetic-ally big. Plan on having this with a cigar or steak, you are going to need it.

Cabernet Franc:

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Some New 500L french Oak barrels ready for use in our Cab Program

I am always highly critical of this varietal, partly because I am still learning how to make it since it is mainly used in blending. I am not a big fan of herbaceous flavors in red wines, and too often I find Cabernet Franc wines that quite frankly have been either picked too early, or have been badly managed in the fermentation stage. The tannins can be quiet astringent and chalky, leading to flavors of bell pepper and wet leaves, devoid of any fruit. It is a style I try not to make so we really try to hang our fruit as long as possible to mask those greener flavors if we can. Quite often, this grape comes in late September and this year we were able to let it hang 10 days longer than our historical average. I was really looking for a change in tannins and flavors, not really worried about sugars and acid. The point at which the flavors are more spicy, with black pepper is when we pick. Thoroughly sorted we have a different approach to fermentation versus the other Bordeaux varietals. I like to ferment a little cooler and most often we press off prior to fermentation being completed, trying to manage the tannin extraction or more specifically the type of tannins we extract. Our barrel regimen focuses more on American oak, using the natural sweetness of the barrel to mask or cover up the slightly greener tannins you can get. I do have two brand new French oak barrels in the program this year for research purposes and I really like them. They will blended back into the final lot but it would be interesting to see if those barrels would have such a positive influence in a greener or wetter year. With this wine earmarked for early bottling and release, we need to ensure the wine is ready for the market place, so we will be paying careful attention to the oak influence and how big the wine can become. I have to say it is the best version we have ever made though, if you like spicy wines showcasing more red fruit characteristics.

Overall Assessment:

WOW, from what I hear from other producers the 2014 will certainly rank as one of the finest in recent memory and consumers can look forward to these wines as they start making their way onto tasting room shelves. Since our philosophy is to allow the fruit to dictate the direction of the wines, our wines are highly extracted, rich, lush and will require some ageing for them to fully develop. I am not saying that they will not be good immediately, they will be, but they will be incredible with some time. These are the wines you should stockpile your cellar with, I know I will be. I almost forgot, I did also taste our 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon wine as it enters its 16 month in barrel. Holy moly this wine has come along beautifully. It is very similar to our 2009 version, with a core of dark fruit but built on a frame that exudes finesse and elegance as opposed to sheer power and strength. I feel like a stuck record but again, this wine will delight in its youth but will blow you away with some time in the bottle. Virginia definitely has its ups and down when it comes to wine and vintage variability. I am glad to report that 2014 is definitely an up year, just wish we had more wine. But hey, do not take my word for it, come taste the wines with me at our May 9th and 10th barrel tasting. Call our tasting room and join me for an in-depth tasting of some of the finest wines we have ever produced. Space is limited so call now to reserve your space.

I lastly want to thank my guys in the vineyard for working so hard and getting this vintage done. to Jeremy, Lewis, Luis and Steve, I owe you a debt of gratitude for all your time and effort, hopefully these wines make you proud and justify all your hard work. Also to my wonderful wife who keeps things ticking in my absence and supporting me throughout, I love you and could not do this without you, I’ll try to be home a touch more before the next harvest starts.

Quality control, an important part of the job

Quality control, an important part of the job, and I take it seriously.

Take care

Stephen Barnard

Winemaker Keswick Vineyards

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2014 Harvest Report from Keswick Vineyards

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

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

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

[1] Mother Nature:

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

we have bud break

we have bud break

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

Keswick Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon

A potentially amazing crop

[2] The Vineyard:

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

soils in our Bordeaux block

soils in our Bordeaux block

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

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

first day of harvest 2014

first day of harvest 2014

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

[3] The Winemaking:

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

Cabernet Sauvignon after many sorting hours

Cabernet Sauvignon after many sorting hours

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

pumping over the tank of fermenting Touriga

pumping over the tank of fermenting Touriga

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

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

future winemaker in training

future winemaker in training

One last note:

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

The boys

The boys

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

Kindly

Stephen Barnard and team

Winemakers and Vineyard Managers at Keswick Vineyards

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

 

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

Cheers

Stephen Barnard

Winemaker

Keswick Vineyards

www.keswickvineyards.com

Getting to the Summit – and in style.

Virginia Wine SummitYou know it is going to be a half decent day when your father in law tosses you the keys to his Maserati and says “drive”. Creeping out of the driveway at barely a crawl, Al’s instructions were clear, “drive like this and we will never get there”. Bye bye Miss Daisy, lets see what this bad boy can do! The destination? The second annual Virginia Wine Summit at the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond Virginia.

After successfully navigating rush hour traffic, and avoiding any object that could scratch the car and cause me to Virginia Wine Summitlose my house, we pulled into the parking area, having arrived on time for once. Heads were turned, sure one or two people were contemplating calling the cops seeing me get out of the car. I thought I was rather dressed up for once, having attended the meeting last year in jeans, wine stained t shirt and baseball cap. In my defense, the dress code said business attire and I would challenge anyone that thinks a winemaker dresses in a suit during harvest. Besides, chinos and flannel shirts go together like pork and beans or hotdogs and baseball, it is an ageless classic look, yet I was still very much the under dressed one of the bunch as per usual.

Virginia Wine SummitAll joking aside, the Summit is a yearly meeting of industry professionals and wine writers who talk and taste their way through a variety of topics pertaining to the Virginia Wine industry. A collection and collaboration of ideas and strategies to best promote and further our burgeoning industry. It is a day filled with informative wine tasting sessions moderated by some of the best sommeliers, wine writers and masters of wine in America. This meeting has been spearheaded by Governor McDonnell, who along with his lovely wife Maureen, have been tireless champions and promoters of this wine industry during his tenure in office. Many thanks need to be bestowed on their efforts and I am sure I speak for many industry professionals when I say that they will sorely be missed.

The day started off with a session about Cabernet Francs, aptly titled Franc-ly-Speaking. In this tasting, three Virginia wines were Virginia Wine Summittasted alongside two representations from France and one wine from the North Coast in California. In order we tasted the [1] Les Galuches: Jean Maurice Raffault 2011 [2] Fabbioli Cellars 2011 [3] Lang and Reed North Coast Cab Franc 2010 [4] Cedar Creek 2009 [5] Charles Joguet Varennes du Grand Clos 2010 and [6] Barboursville Reserve 2010. What follows is a personal opinion on the wines tasted and does not reflect the tasting of those in attendance, for, as you will later find out, opinions varied widely.

My favorite Virginia wine was the Fabbioli, a 2011 vintage that is well know among industry folk as a “crappy” year. This wine topped out at 12.5% alcohol and was matured in 25% new Hungarian oak. The nose was rather perfumy with touches of earth and spice. What made this wine impressive was the absence of the typical “vegetal” aromas that Cab Franc sometimes shows, something that you would definitely expect in a wet year like 2011. Hats off to Doug for a well crafted wine; complex, layered and could still age for 3-5 years in my opinion.

Damn that is a good one under those conditions. As far as the visiting competitors, in terms of drinking there and then, I would have favored wine number [1] but in terms of pure curiosity for the future, I gave the slight edge to the Joguet Varennes du Grand Clos. This style is not for everyone, the wine was dusty, austere, chalky and unapologetically big, needing at least 15-20 years in the bottle to truly open up, but even then it may be a surly wine. It was the most interesting though and I kept coming back to it, trying to figure it out but maybe that’s the charm of it, you cannot really put in a box, it almost stands alone.

Overall though, I favored the Virginia wines over their counterparts, proving once again that Virginia can indeed make world class Cabernet Franc. This is a well known fact amongst winemakers and writers alike, proven in a very fair tasting that we take no step back to any Cabernet Franc produced anywhere.

Virginia Wine SummitAfter a thoroughly enjoyable start to the morning, “drinking wines at 9:30 in the morning is a great way to start the day”, attendees had three break out sessions from which to choose. I chose the “Age is just a Number” session, focusing on wines with some bottle age on them.

In order, we tasted [1] Linden Avenius Chardonnay 2002 [2] Barboursville Viognier 2002 [3] Chrysalis Locksley Reserve Norton 2004  [5] Ingleside Pettie Verdot 2005 and [6] Williamsburg Winery Gabriel Archer 2003.

Both whites showed extremely well although there was some bottle variation in the Viognier from table to table. The Chardonnay was still vibrant and displayed some gorgeous palate weight and tertiary flavors from ageing. The wine is un-mistakingly made in a Burgundian style and still showed some minerality and flintiness I associate with those type of wines. Viognier on the other hand should not age, or so the opinion is, however my glass was very expressive with tropical fruit characters supported by brioche and toasty notes. I felt the moderate alcohol was starting to show a little, but Bravo to Luca for a wonderful Viognier that has truly aged beautifully.

I cannot believe I am going to say this but I favored the Norton over the other two red wines. Seeing how my opinion on Norton is well known within the industry, I almost had to choke back tears as I publicly announced that this wine was incredibly interesting and even though I wanted to hate it, I couldn’t. The wine showed showed a touch of Volatile Acid, but imparted a sweeter note to the wine and the normally tart malic acid had softened to allow some nice darker berry fruit to come through. Norton seems to showcase a certain charm 5-7 years after bottling, maybe to really give the wine it’s due, we need to allow these wines some time in the bottle. I am still not convinced that Norton is the grape to hang our Virginia hat on though. Although a true Virginian grape, customers are in the habit [for the most part] to drink wines young and while that is still the norm, Norton in my opinion will still be a polarizing grape in terms of love it or hate it. Props to Jenny though, me saying it was the most interesting of the reds is an endorsement in itself and the biggest compliment I could have paid that wine.

11 wines tasted by lunch time, how cool is this gig

Lunch included a glass of King Family Meritage and Trump Blanc de Blanc, beautiful wines, nice people, good winemakers and thoroughly enjoyed them both, “am I driving the Maserati home this evening?”

Keynote Speech by Mr.Oz ClarkeVirginia Wine Summit

I have sat on many panels and tasting seminars over the years and many times I think the “pretentious” tag given to  wine is a fault of the wine writers and professionals who use effusive terms to describe wines, where they should be getting people excited about wines and how accessible they are to anyone. Anyone who starts off a speech by saying ‘Never speak longer than you can make love to a woman” and then leaves the stage, demands attention and what a personality this gentleman turned out to be. This man knows wine, has an incredible palate, but has a way of communicating that just makes you fall in love with wine all over again. Watch You Tube and look up Oz and James drink to Britain to see what I am talking about. His speech was an impassioned plea to industry professionals to embrace our history and focus on wines that truly can stand alongside the world’s best. I got the impression that he really did taste and love many of our wines and was speaking from the heart when raving about the wines he had tasted thus far, top class guy.

The afternoon was again broken up into three sessions. Since Keswick has more Viognier planted than any other varietal, we decided toVirginia Wine Summit attend the Viognier Voyage session. Moderated by Andrew Hoover of the Wine Enthusiast magazine, three Virginia Viogniers were pitted against two examples from France and one from California.  Veritas, Pollak and Jefferson were the local champions of the grape and well made in albeit slightly different styles. The Jefferson Vineyards Viognier used Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Gris in the blend and the wine came in at around 1% residual sugar. Veritas also used blending as a tool with a small portion of Petite Manseng making it into the final wine, while the Pollak was a single varietal. My favorite of the bunch was the Veritas, made by winemaker Emily Pelton. Her hallmark seems to be one of balance and elegance, as was the case here. The wine had the typical floral and tropical aromas associated with Viognier, but enough acidity to keep the wine fresh and vibrant. Aging on the lees imparted a more viscous textural quality that I really like; so a very good wine indeed, Bravo!

My favorite wine of the lot though [and I was the only one] was the 2011 Guigal Condrieu, a full M.L 100% new barrel fermented wine. It was definitely a fatter, richer wine than the rest with a phenolic bitterness on the back end that I really liked. I honestly thought it was the most interesting of the wines but at $56 retail, I would get more bottles of the Veritas [or any Virginia Viognier] at the fraction of the price. I copped a bit of flack from some wine writers that thought I was not supporting the Virginia wines, but I had to be honest and vote for the wine I thought to be the most interesting. Here at Keswick we make 4 or 5 different Viognier wines on any given year and the hardest part for me is to make wines that are each unique in their own style. I have been told that our Viognier wines are a bit more French than most Virginia Viogniers, maybe that is why I leaned a bit to the Condrieu.

Virginia Wine SummitAfter some passionate talking points and a valuable discussion on the state Grape of Virginia, we retired to taste some locally made Ciders from Potter’s Craft, Foggy Ridge, Castle Hill, Albemarle Ciderworks and others, a perfect way to wash down the copious amounts of wine we had tasted through the course of the day.

Faced with a decision of going out to dinner with the rowdy marketing folk or heading back home, we decided to make the hour long drive back to Charlottesville and call it a day. Driving a six figure worth car is so much easier after a day spent tasting wines and I duly pulled into the winery without a scratch imparted onto the paint.

This is what makes wine and the wine community fascinating. We do not agree on everything and we each have our own style, but what a great passion we share, the passion of wine and more importantly making wine in Virginia.

Cheers

Stephen Barnard

Winemaker at Keswick Vineyards and avid promoter of Virginia Wines.

Is Virginia Viognier “Authentic”?

Virginia Viognier

Keswick Vineyards’ Viognier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers

Stephen Barnard

Winemaker and pursuer of authenticity at Keswick Vineyards

www.keswickvineyards.com

Our New Cabernet Sauvignon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers

Stephen

Winemaker

Keswick Vineyards