I’ve tasted a lot of Virginia Viognier in the past 12 months, and while I still haven’t tasted enough to make any grand proclamations, there are a few things that I am confident saying:
  1. Virginia Viognier varies wildly from producer to producer in terms of style
  2. A lot of it isn’t anything special
  3. Keswick Vineyards 2015 Signature Series Viognier is a special example
“Great vineyard site and a winemaker who hopefully does not screw it up,” said winemaker Stephen Barnard when I asked him what makes this wine special. Obviously, much more goes into this wine, but let’s start with the vineyard site.
Red clay dominates the soils in much of the region — including Keswick Vineyards. But this section of the vineyard is a bit different. “This particular block is planted on unique soils unlike the clay which is the dominant part of our front block. It has a high concentration of schist, shale, and quartz which helps evacuate a lot of the water, resulting in smaller berries and more concentration. The juice also seems to have a lovely minerality or almost salty like component which I find fascinating,” Barnard told me in an email.
Pick Viognier too early, and it doesn’t taste much like Viognier. Harvest it late, when it’s screaming with Viognier qualities, and it can be flabby and high in pH. This is what drives a lot of the inconsistent quality in Virginia Viognier. To find balance, Barnard does multiple harvest passes on this block. The earlier pick brings acidity and freshness while later picks deliver riper fruit with more varietal character.
The juice was then fermented in oak barrels — 55% New French and the balance neutral — because, according to Banard “It can take some oak and I think along with the fact that we give this block 18 hours on the skin, it can take a little more oak.” If you’re looking for an oaky, Viognier-as-Chardonnay wine — which you can find at other Virginia wineries, this isn’t that. “We monitor the development of the wine and pull it out of
If you’re looking for an oaky, Viognier-as-Chardonnay wine — which you can find at other Virginia wineries, this isn’t that. “We monitor the development of the wine and pull it out of barrel if the oak is being a bit aggressive, but with the higher phenolic content (and) the acidity of this wine we think the oak is pretty balanced. We want this to be more a textural experience versus the full-blown typical aromatic juggernaut that (Virginia Viognier) can be,” Barnard said.
This is the best Viognier I’ve tasted this year — from any North American region. And while delicious today, I think a few years in bottle may bring added dimensions and complexity.

Keswick Vineyards 2015 Signature Series Viognier

92 points

Floral and saline on the nose with somewhat subdued stone fruit aromas. Fresher and frankly more elegant than many Virginia Viogniers, the palate shows nice acidity and subtle tannic structure that combine to frame focused, concentrated flavors of peach, quince, flowers, ocean spray and the most subtle touch of nutty oak. Ripe but still elegant. Great texture and a long, saline finish.

AVA: Monticello
ABV: 14%
Winemaking: French oak fermentation (55% new)
Retail Price: $39

About Author

Lenn Thompson, a proud Pittsburgh, PA native, moved to Long Island more than a decade ago and quickly fell in love with the region’s dynamic and emerging wine community. A digital and content marketing and community professional by day, he founded NewYorkCorkReport.com in early 2004 to share his passion for the wines, beers and spirits of New York State. After running that site -- which became the premier source for independent New York wine commentary, reviews and news -- for 12 years, he launched TheCorkReport.us in late 2016 to add the wines of Virginia, Maryland, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Vermont and beyond to his beat. Lenn currently serves as the wine columnist for The Suffolk Times weekly newspaper and is the former editor of the Long Island Wine Gazette. He contributes or has contributed to publications like Wine Enthusiast Magazine, Beverage Media, Edible Brooklyn, Edible East End and Edible Hudson Valley. Lenn served on the board of directors for Drink Local Wine, and is the creator and founder of TasteCamp, an annual regional wine immersion conference for writers and trade. An admitted riesling and cabernet franc fanatic, he’s intensely passionate about eating local and the many local wine regions of America. Lenn lives in Miller Place, NY with his wife Nena, son Jackson, daughter Anna and their dog, Casey Lemieux Thompson.

1 Comment

  1. stephen barnard on

    Thank you Lenn for your kind words, thrilled to hear that you like this wine. Kudo’s to our vineyard crew who did a wonderful job in the vineyard. A wonderful piece of real estate here and a wine we can hopefully improve upon.
    Wishing you continued success.
    Stephen Barnard
    Keswick Vineyards

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