Consensus Blending – A Unique Wine Experience

Keswick Vineyard

As the only internationally recognized luxury media personality I am afforded many great opportunities and experiences globally. When I find something really special I like to share it with my readers who are people that for the most part can afford to do whatever they want. This is a unique and educational experience of rather modest cost, a “consensus blending” event at a lovely Virginia winery in Keswick on the Edgewood Estate, which is located just east of historical Charlottesville, on the acclaimed Monticello Wine Trail in one of the wealthiest counties in the country.

History of the area:

Founding fathers, James Monroe (the fifth President 1817–1825 ) was born in Charlottesville, James Madison (the fourth US President 1809–1817) and Thomas Jefferson, (the 3rd president 1801–1809, and former governor of Virginia), made Charlottesville their home. Jefferson founded the University of Virginia there. His home, Monticello, was located high on the mountain so that he could observe the building of the university. It was Jefferson’s hope that wine would become a staple product of the state of Virginia, but for various reasons from insects to the wars (Revolution and Civil) it never fully took hold until the last 20 year when the state has started to produce excellent quality wines that have won awards when up against some of the top global producers.

Edgewood Estate, the land where Keswick Vineyards is located, featured prominently in the Revolutionary war when Dr. Thomas Walker, the owner of Castle Hill, (now Edgewood estates owning Keswick Vineyards) talked the British troops lead by Colonel Banastre Tarleton, into staying for breakfast, giving time for twenty-seven year old Jack Jouett to ride to Charlottesville with a warning allowing Jefferson and the Virginia Legislature to escape. Almost a hundred years later it again played a role during the Civil war when it was used as a camp ground when troops lead by Colonel Banastre Tarleton were ordered from East Tennessee on April 7, 1864 to Charlottesville to prepare for the Battle of the Wilderness.

Virginia has entered the ranks of the respected wine producers with over 230 mostly family owned wineries. Several luxury retailers/hotels like Mandarin Oriental hotel in London UK have a Virginian section on their wine list. Virginia wines are becoming chic amoungst those in the know. The small batch wines make for a fun collectable and hobby for those with a passion for wines. The excellent small batch wines, combined with the natural beauty of the state of Virginia, and the many wonderful historic bed and breakfasts/Inns, has caused it to become a popular distraction for the wealthy. There are several local FBOs for those taking their private jets. These small wineries with no real distribution depend on the budding oenologist for their survival. This requires great creativity to cause reasons to get wine enthusiasts to visit and revisit the wineries. Many of the are located in spectacular sites, and use the venues for weddings, or host charity events etc. to help drive business. Each winery has their own “membership” that must compete with all the others for participation. One of the most creative membership perks I have seen, was a wine blending competition hosted by the master vintner and Keswick vineyard and winery, in Keswick Virginia.

About Keswick Vineyard:

Keswick is family owned and operated and is one of Virginia’s premiere wineries with a long list of awards too tedious to list all here, but some notable awards include:

Best White Wine in America (2002 Viognier Reserve) Atlanta International Wine Summit, Winner of the 2009 VA Governor’s Cup (2007 Cabernet Sauvignon), Platinum Award at the San Diego

International Wine Competition (2007 Heritage), Viognier & Viognier Reserve, highest rated by the Wine Spectator with 88 points, Double Gold at the San Francisco International Wine Competition (2009 Cabernet Sauvignon).

The owners of 400-acre Edgewood Estate where Keswick vineyard and winery are located, are Al & Cindy Schornberg originally from Michigan and they live in the estate house. Edgewood Estate was part of the original 1727 Nicholas Meriwether Crown Grant that comprised nearly 18,000 acres. George Barclay Rives, an internationally recognized politician, and a direct descendent of the original grantee, built the current residence in 1911.

Stephen Barnard is Keswick’s master vintner and vineyard manager . He originaly heralds from South Africa where he worked for Groot Constantia Winery, the oldest winery in South Africa. He studied Enology and Viticulture at Elsenburg Agricultural College. Upon completion of his studies Stephen became the assistant winemaker at Flagstone Winery where he worked exclusively with red wines. He interned at Keswick from 2002 to 2004 when he took the position of Winemaker at Rappahannock Cellars and returned to Keswick in 2006 with his current title. He is married to one of Al & Cindy Schornberg’s daughters. A small sampling of his many wine awards includes: Best White Wine in America at the Atlanta International Wine Summit, Governors Cup in 2006 with Viognier Reserve,Governor’ Cup in 2009 with Cabernet Sauvignon, Platinum awards at San Diego International for Heritage and Verdejo, Double Gold at San Francisco International for Cabernet Sauvignon, Highest rated Viognier from Virginia by the Wine Spectator. .

About the event:

Wine blending is the art of taking different varietal of wines, and making a superior wine by mixing two or more together. The blend is superior to any of the wines on their own. This synergistic process is called blendingand it is usually done by the master vintner.

The competition is called “consensus blending” as participants are broken down into teams and your team must create a blended bottle in about a 3 hour time frame. So as an individual, your personal directives might get out voted by your group. The day I was there were 10 teams each having 5 to 9 members. Each table was given four wines straight from the barrel, a shiraz, a Chambourcin, a Norton and a Touriga. They can use all, three, or only two of the wines in any combination. At the end of the day, there is a blind tasting where each individual scores all the team wines. This process is repeated on 6 different days , each day having a whole new set of members participating. The overall winning group gets their wine produced that year, as one of the Keswick wines and their teams photo on the label. Not only is this a wonderful educational experience for wine enthusiasts, it builds brand loyalty with members having direct access that day with the master vintner and the owners of the winery. Several of the participants owned barrels at the winery. But even better, the winery has had great success with a “consensus blend” that went on to win awards.

The Master Vintner started off the event with an explanation of the process. We started off by each tasting the four wines and making notes about the nose, color and taste. The team then discussed their notes with the other members until a consensus (or majority rule) was established. We picked two wines and using beakers and ml measures we started to combine. After each new blend we would discuss the nose, acidity, tannins, fruit, and residual taste, and would try to fill in weaknesses with the remaining varietals. Increasing and decreasing percentages of different wines until we felt we had a contender to submit. For the competition, it was about a 3 hour process, which would take a master vintner about 6 months to finalize. At that point we measured and blended our teams formula (360 ml Shiraz, 180 ml Chambourcin, 180 ml Touriga and 30 ml Norton) to present for the overall blind tasting competition at the close of the day. Stephen Barnard, a very pleasant and approachable man, stopped by each table several times during the process, to answer questions and help teach the art and science of wine making. Cindy, one of the owners was also very available to chat and took on the responsibilities as event photographer. It was a fun event that offered a unique educational experience.

Experiential luxury is the fasts growing segment of the massively expanding luxury sector. As an international luxury marketing specialist, I commend Keswick Vineyards on their creating a positive win/win experience for customers and their brand. One vintage Consensus Blend won Keswick an award. The 2009 Consensus won a bronze medal at the Fingerlakes International Competition. Keswick winery even offers the ability to purchase bottles of your teams concoction (not more than 12 per table) at about $36 dollars/bottle with your teams photo, that can be picked up in approximately 4 months’ time. The event took place in January (typically slow month for the local wineries) and was held for 6 different days over 3 weekends. It is for “members only” (but that really just require a commitment of the purchase of a certain amount of wine) and the event cost was about $68 a person. After all, these small wineries with little to no distribution, depend on membership commitment to drive business. And for people experienced in wines, the bottle prices are fairly modest ranging from approximately $18 to $35. Every membership could bring one guest. Just one word of advice…Dress warm!

Out of town guests to the event can chose to stay at the Inn there at Keswick Vineyards, or there are several lovely B&B’s right nearby. I chose to stay in one of my favorites in the area, Clifton Inn, which was formerly Thomas Jefferson’s daughters home. It retains the charm of a B&B, but with luxury
level service and amenities like Mascioni linens, Molton Brown soaps and lotions, robes, and even a little of Jefferson’s favorite Madera wine complementary in every room. Clifton Inn is a Relais and Chateau property with 18 uniquely appointed rooms on a 100 acre estate and a gourmet restaurant lead at the time of writing this article by Executive Chef Tucker Yoder.

For more information about the consensus blending, Keswick wine membership, event venue, or just visiting for a tour and a tasting




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