Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Keswick Vineyards

Our final stop on the tour was Keswick Vineyards, situated on the historic 400-acre Edgewood Estate. This track of land has seen its share of history - being the site where Colonel Tarleton extended his breakfast which allowed Thomas Jefferson and the Virginia Legislature to escape capture. (Thanks to Jack Jouet and Dr. Thomas Walker.) During the Civil War the confederate army under General Longstreet camped on the estate before marching to the Wilderness, waiting for his troops to disembark by rail. After Al and Cindy Schornberg purchased the estate and learned of its history, they invited Civil War historian William Leigh of Hamilton to search the area, where he discovered hundreds of civil war artifacts. Today the Schornberg's hope to make their own history by producing world class wine. After planting grapes and purchasing top-quality winery equipment, their best decision was to higher Stephen Barnard as the winemaker. Mr. Barnard comes from a distinguished South African family of doctors, which includes Christian Barnard - the first person to perform an open heart transplant and a legendary pioneer in organ transplants. Yet Stephen chose to help the heart in the different way - through wine.

Mr. Barnard greeted us on our arrival and led us into the barrel room where wine glasses and barrel tasting awaited. While watching the carbon dioxide escaped from a Norton ice style wine fermenting in the barrel, he described his wine making philosophy, which consists primarily of "the vineyard makes the wine". "It's easy to make wine with quality grapes - its almost impossible to make good wine with poor grapes." They keep yields low by cropping and pruning and actually use only half of the 43 available acres. They don't weed the vineyards - forcing the vines to compete for water and nutrients and it allows bees and bats to cross pollinate. All the wines are made from estate grown grapes; thus he spends a good percentage of his time in the vineyard. Another interesting techniques is he uses native yeasts on occasion. And from what we tasted in the barrel -- these are good wines.

We started with two styles of Viognier. The first was the Reserve Viognier, fermented with native yeast for 6-8 weeks and then aged 16 months in neutral oak. It was slightly creamy - much different than the previous Viognier wines that we had tasted on the trip. The second was the upcoming 2008 Estate Viognier which was the similar fruity style - more acidic and refreshing. We were a minority in our party that preferred the Reserve over the Estate. We also sampled a Chardonnay from the barrel made in the Chablis style. The wine is not racked for one year, allowing the juice to sit in the lees. The wine was slightly reductive, which was alleviated after several swirls of the glass. This will be a nice wine as it settles before bottling. Moving to reds we tasted a Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a Reserve Cabernet Franc. The last was very similar to the one we just tasted at Jefferson Vineyards - very creamy. The Merlot was also a mouthful with a long finish - even with more time waiting in the barrel. The 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon will eventually be blended with the Merlot - but as a 100% varietal its pretty food. The biggest wine was the Petite Verdot - after only 3 months in the barrel it had strong tannins - that will make this wine suitable for aging in the bottle. At this young age its already a full bodied wine - possible the best of the bunch.

When starting the vineyard, the Schornberg's set a goal to produce world class wines within 10 years. From our experience they are close - real close - particular with respect to their Viognier and Petit Verdot.

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