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:
- Virginia Viognier varies wildly from producer to producer in terms of style
- A lot of it isn’t anything special
- 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.