January’s Virginia Wine Chat (#VAWineChat) hosted by Frank Morgan of Drink What YOU Like took us to Keswick Vineyards for a comparative tasting of Viognier, the state’s official white grape. Frank sat down with winemaker Stephen Barnard to talk wine, winemaking, Virginia and more.

Stephen hails from Cape Town, South Africa. In 2002 after studying wine, he came to America’s East Coast after the suggestion of many and talk of it as an up and coming wine region wine. Then he met a girl and went into her family’s business, Keswick Vineyards.

Keswick Vineyards is a family owned and operated vineyard on the Monticello Wine Trail outside of Charlottesville, Virginia on the 400-acre historic Edgewood Estate. They have 43 acres under vine and are producing about 5,000 cases per year only available  in their always lively Tasting Room and online.

Stephen is a down-to-earth guy, with a great accent. His winemaking philosophies…”What you smell and taste in the glass should be a product of the vineyard and vintage, not the winemaker’s hand.” And “If you grow it right, it will taste great right off the press.”

Of their 43 acres, 16 acres are Viognier, the focus of our evening’s chat and tasting. For those of you not too familiar with Viognier, it’s a challenging grape to grow but doing pretty well in Virginia. Stephen thinks it’s growing in popularity as it’s different.

We tasted three wines, all estate grown, 100% Viognier and each one distinctive in it’s own way.

  • 2012 Keswick Vineyards Viognier: Their house label is 70% tank fermented 30% neutral French oak.
    • Aroma: Apricot & herbal
    • Taste: Nice tropical notes with a balanced acidity and creaminess
    • Price: $24.95
    • Thoughts: As Stephen said this is “classic, text book Viognier.” A great stand alone wine.
  • 2012 Viognier Estate Reserve: Whole cluster pressed and fermented in neutral French oak barrels.
    • Aroma: Tropical fruit
    • Taste: Pineapple, mango, white pepper and vanilla
    • Price: $27.95
    • Thoughts: This wine has more body / texture from the oak. The group agreed this is a better food wine.
  • 2012 Signature Series Viognier: The Signature series is Stephen’s risky wine making. This is whole cluster pressed with nothing done to it, it’s naturally fermented in 70% French oak, 30% new oak.
    • Aroma: Pineapple and peach
    • Taste: Honey, vanilla with toasty citrus and herbal notes.
    • Price: $34.95
    • Thoughts: This wine is a great combination of the first two. And neat to taste what happens when you just let the wine do it’s own thing.

My personal favorite of the three was Keswick Vineyards Viognier…I like Viognier with only a touch of oak for a bit of creaminess.

The tasting was a great way to show that as Stephen said, “there’s a Viognier in Virginia for everyone.” And the best way to evaluate a wine, “do you like it or not.” “Know what you like, drink what you like…it’s made to be enjoyed

Thank you Frank, Stephen and Keswick Vineyards for a great evening!