It was a dark and stormy night… no really. The night before Meg and Larry’s wedding we experienced one of the strangest storms ever, and I have seen a lot. No one saw it coming but it uprooted trees and knocked out power throughout the state for days. We knew we had a lot to do the next morning to get ready for the celebration, but we found the help we needed and got the job done. By the time the bride and bridesmaids arrived for hair styling and make-up at lunchtime, there was barely any visible signs of a storm. We carried the entire event with generator power, never missing a beat. Many of the guests never even knew the power was out that day. I asked Meg, who is a very unique kinda gal (Larry is a lucky guy!), is this bizarre activity happening because you are such a daring redhead? She just laughed and said “Perhaps so!” She was so lovely in her layered cream gown with a tan sash. The heat of the day did not phase her beauty and Larry could not wait as she came down the aisle. They both had a glow about them that made the day extra special and so very worth the extra efforts to make it perfect for them. Their families were also glowing with pride for the union they had witnessed and the anticipation of the many years of happiness they will share. Guests were escorted to the East Lawn as an alternate ceremony location for extra shade, and also had lovely parasols and fans matching Meg’s summer colors to help beat the heat. They feasted on tender beef and rockfish dishes served family-style by 20 South Catering, with an assortment of pies from Family Ties & Pies for dessert. The extra special touch to this wedding was the wine served. Meg & Larry had participated in Keswick Vineyards blending party and won! They were able to serve the blending wine they came up with called Consensus which featured their picture on the label. How’s that for bragging rights at your wedding? Then came the first dance – hot! Larry in his fedora and Meg had changed her tan sash for sassy black lace. They surely got the crowd going for the rest of the night. We also refined the plan on Keswick’s “magic umbrellas”. There was a chance of more storms in the forecast and Keswick Vineyards provides golf umbrellas, about 4 dozen of them, as needed. These seem to keep the rain away for the events and sure enough, Meg and Larry never got wet. Congratulations to Meg and Larry and welcome to the Keswick Vineyards family, as our newest wedding couple and winemakers! Special thanks to the following vendors: Barb Wired LLC Event Planners, 20 South Catering, DJ Derek Tobler, Blue Ridge Floral, Family Ties & Pies, Terra Voce, Ralph Alswang photographer, Virginia Glenn hair & make-up, Camryn Limo and Skyline Tent Company.
I have been reminded by my wife that my blogging career has taken a serious turn for the worse of late, and that I have shirked my duties. My apologies. It is hard to believe that 2012 is almost half over and that we are around 60 days from starting the 2012 harvest. Where has the time gone?
After the challenging 2011 harvest, we duly set about pruning the vineyard after Christmas with the intention of building the vineyard back slowly. This was done by reducing the number of buds on the vine, and also by a new pruning method of cane pruning. In the past we have spur pruned, whereby 3-4 spurs [each having 2-3 buds] are left on each of the cordons. Cane pruning means laying down a one year old shoot, leaving 6-8 nodes, simply establishing a new cordon each and every year. The primary reason for cane pruning, was to allow us to remove cordons and shoots that showed incidences of phomopsis. Phomopsis Viticola overwinters as Pycnidia on infected wood between one and three years old. When the Pycnidia are wet, the exude spores that are splashed onto developing shoots. These spores then germinate in warm temperatures, and under conditions of high humidity, infection can take place within a few hours. This is one of the challenges facing growers as fruit and the rachis [main axis of the inflorescence of Vitis vinifera] can become infected throughout during the growing season. When fruit starts to ripen in the latter stages of the growing season, the pathogen becomes active leading to fruit rot. Symptoms include browning and shriveling, almost resembling black rot. Pruning is done during winter while the vineyard is in a dormancy phase.
This year however, mother nature thought that 70 degree days were called for, great for pruning in shorts, not so great when it leads to an early bud break. We started noticing some cuts starting to bleed [due to osmotic forces pushing liquid from the roots], which is one of the early signs that vines are starting to break dormancy. Our vineyard duly had bud break March 22nd, while we were still frantically trying to complete the pruning of the vineyard. One of the issues of an early bud break is the susceptibility of the vines to spring frosts, and true to form, Mother Nature duly obliged and threw seven days at us where temperatures were below freezing.
We experienced a radiation freeze, marked by beautifully clear skies and no wind. Under these conditions, air stratifies near the ground and radiant heat loss occurs from the ground and vine tissues. 4 am is such an un-appreciated time of morning, well when you are forced to get up, you just convince yourself it is a great time. Wind machines were duly run, frost dragons were making their way through the vineyards and raging fires were tended to, all trying to raise the ambient temperature to protect our vineyard. We did lose some fruit, estimated at about 5% in the Chardonnay but for us that is a minor miracle. Flowering and fruit set duly occurred with no major issues, and I am happy to report that we have a full crop thus far.
- I touched on the fact that we have been experimenting the slightly different training techniques and since last year gave us no good indication of how effective our new systems are, we are once again trying to grow in the fruit in a slightly different way. Conventionally vines are trained vertically in a series of catch wires, aptly named the Vertical Shoot Position [V.S.P]. we however are experimenting with a split system or divided canopy, whereby only 50% of the shoots are trained vertically while the rest of the canopy is allowed to hang down. There are a couple of thought processes with regards to this system. Our primary soil is clay, which leads to pretty serious vegetative growth. In our climate marked by warm temperatures and high humidity, we have to be mindful of diseases. By splitting the canopy we feel we can create and an environment that allows great air movement through the canopy, better sunlight exposure which ultimately suppresses the disease pressure and more importantly riper fruit with better flavors.
- Our best fruit, which grow on some of our poorest soils are still trained vertically, where vigor and retention of water does not pose any serious threat to the quality of the vines and thus the fruit. At this point in the vineyard we are trying to ensure the vines and vineyard are in balance, ensuring that we leave the optimum amount of fruit that will be harvested at ideal picking parameters. We are currently pulling some leaves on the East side of the vines, exposing the fruit on the cooler side as sunburn is a serious threat with temperatures forecasted to reach the 100 degree mark in the next few days. A lot of people ask us about the attitude towards diseases and what we do to combat it. The honest answer is that we have a detailed spray schedule worked out, whereby we spray what is needed, when is needed and most importantly how little is needed. It would be fantastic to talk about organic grape growing, probably even more marketable would the term byoynamically farmed. The truth of the matter s that Virginia's climate [in my opinion] does not allow the wine grower to farm organically. We would lose our crop to everything ranging from Downy and Powdery Mildew, to Black Rot, Japanese Beetles and aphids. We rotate sprays so that the vineyard does not build up any resistance and we ensure that our sprays are stopped well in advance, so that no residual spray materials come in when the fruit is harvested.
- The vineyard looks in great shape right now, we have plenty of fruit, no diseases and more importantly I think we have the balance right. Unfortunately a lot can change between now and harvest, as the weather has the final say and pretty much determines if we can one day look back on 2012 and say that it was one heck of a vintage. All we can do is chug along and look after what we can. I am cautiously optimistic about this years harvest, what will be the 11th harvest at Keswick Vineyards. I will chat with you soon about some of the exciting wines to be released in the upcoming months.
- Keswick Vineyards
Keswick Vineyards began its 2012 wedding season on April 28th with the marriage of Sarah & Joyee. What a way to start off our wedding season. Sarah & Joyee had 2 ceremonies; one American & one Hindu. Sarah wore a beautiful lace wedding dress for their first ceremony. Joyee and the groomsmen wore dark suits. Guest enjoyed the backdrop of the Southwestern Mountains and the vineyard as they gathered on the front lawn of the estate. Sarah was escorted down the flower lined aisle by her father. After the first ceremony guests enjoyed cocktails & hors d'oeuvres while the wedding party changed to get ready for the Hindu ceremony. Sarah was carried in like Cleopatra by four groomsmen. She kept her face covered with 2 leaves as she circled 7 times around Joyee before revealing her face to him. I was fascinated with this ceremony. I have never seen a Hindu wedding and was just amazed by the beauty and culture. Even though I couldn't understand a word of the ceremony, it was easy to understand by the hand gestures and props that were used throughout the ceremony. The colors were just amazing with all the red and gold. I'll never forget this ceremony; simply breathtaking! Once all the ceremonies were completed the guest were escorted to the Sperry Tent for the reception. After dinner the dancing began and again, what a treat that was with the Indian music and dances. I can't say enough to how sweet of a couple Sarah & Joyee and their entire family were. I really appreciate you choosing Keswick Vineyards for your wedding and wish you a lifetime (times 7) of love and happiness. Congratulations!
Special thanks to the following vendors for such a wonderful job: C&O Catering, Jen Fariello Photgraphy, BeeHive Floral & Decor, DJ Pauly Madison, Barb Wired Wedding Planner, Albemarle Limousine.
Click here to see this wedding featured in The Knot.
Have you ever wondered how a winery and winemaker confidently predicts how a wine should be tasting it's best in 8-10 years? When you have a few years of wine making behind you, have a style that has been consistent and grow grapes in a conducive environment; then guessing the age ability of wine is really not that hard. That being said, we assume the wine is not being kept above the kitchen stove where temperature fluctuations happen on a daily basis, instead they are being stored in pristine cellars where temperature and humidity levels are perfect.
So why are storage conditions so important? There are three storage conditions of concern to collectors and consumers of fine wine: light, humidity and temperature. The storage area for wine must be dark because ultraviolet (UV) light will damage wine by causing the degradation of otherwise stable organic compounds found in wine. Since these organic compounds contribute to the aroma, flavor and structure of the wine, the changes caused by UV light result in the deterioration of the essence of wine. Have you ever wondered why clear glass is not often used anymore, with darker green bottles being preferred for red and white wine? Well now you know.
The only reason humidity is an issue in wine storage is because of the use of the traditional cork seal. The relative humidity of the storage area (i.e., the amount of gaseous water in the air) can exacerbate the rate of evaporation of wine from the bottle if the cork is defective. Since corks are far from perfect in their ability to seal a bottle of wine, ullage (the space between the bottom of the cork and the wine level in the bottle) develops in almost all bottles stored for extended periods due to evaporation. If the cork (seal) is defective, low humidity in the storage area will result in wine moving out of the bottle faster over time and significant ullage will develop in less time under these conditions. Thus, the more important issue is the quality of the cork seal and not the relative humidity in the storage area. Of course, very low humidity can dry out the cork leading to sealing problems. The advent of technical closures and screw caps though sort of takes the humidity issue out of the equation, but the conundrum is. Are wines bottled under screw caps, really destined for long-term aging? There are some trials being done on wines bottled under screw caps and the results are quite astonishing but that is for another blog I think.
Assuming one has good cork seals, and a non-drying (i.e., moderately humid) and dark storage area, the most important factor in the storage and aging of wine is temperature. If you ask most anyone associated with wine, from collector to so-called expert, they will most likely tell you that the ideal storage temperature is 55° to 60°F. According to conventional wisdom, wine develops most harmoniously if stored in this temperature range with little or no fluctuation. So, for example, an excellent storage temperature would be 55°F with a fluctuation of plus or minus one degree.
Lets assume that storage is perfect and that all variables associated with atypical aging have been taken care of, all that leaves is the quality of the wine. Hang on a moment, what determines the quality of a wine, what if it was a good wine that was designed to be consumed in one to two years? The plot thickens. Hah, a great wine can certainly be something that needs to be consumed young, think Sauvignon or Chenin Blanc for example. Their charm lies in their accessibility and their lack of over complicated terms and descriptors. I would just love to read a label where it says the following.
Enjoy me, for I am delicious Case closed, drink it how you like, when you like and with whom you like and if you love it, have another. With all the food pairings, temperatures you have to serve it at, don't we sometimes just have to remember to enjoy the wine, is it not the reason we make it? Before I digress too much further, as a winemaker I am asked to write back labels for wines that I have made prior to them being bottled. The information we provide includes the blend, some flavors and aromas the customer might perceive and the age ability of the wine.
For our 2007 Heritage, I said the wine should age 8-10 years and drink beautifully. The question is, can I confidently say that the wine will actually taste that good if someone laid it down for that period of time? Honest answer, I think so but do I know for certain, NO! I thus thought I needed to develop a tasting guide for all the wines that we have made here at Keswick Vineyards, advising the consumers who have these wine in their cellar, if they needed to be drinking or holding onto them.
My research project thus consists of opening up 115 wines over the next few weeks and developing new tasting notes with the suggestions of drink now; not yet ready or past its prime. It should be a very informative period of "tasting", one that will be hugely beneficial to me as a winemaker to re-visit wines that I have not tasted for a while. I should also able to go back to my original notes and see how these wines have aged, as I have them stored in a Eurocave where the temperature has been constant and any atypical aging can be directly attributed to wine making instead of environmental conditions. I shall take into account vintage variation, wine making methodologies and wax lyrical about non-interventionist wine-making. I shall present a very honest opinion [for this will be from my point of view] about how the wines are tasting at that very moment.
I am therefore asking if you taste an older vintage of our wines, please let me know what you think about it. Could the wine age longer or was it past its prime and how long would you still leave it for if you have another bottle. I hope to have this tasting guide up in about a month. HMM, 4 weeks and 115 bottles of wine as a rate of 28.7 bottles per week. You have got to love doing some research! Stay tuned for the results.
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 about this elixir is that it transports you a 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 that 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.
- 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.
- 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