I have heard people say that winemaking is an art. Actually, making wine is a relatively simple process. Yes, there are any number of steps in the process and certainly a good deal of knowledge is required. However, the actual art of winemaking comes with the blending of wine.
Almost every bottle of wine was created by a winemaker and his team who sat down and tasted through many different blends of the wine before they all agreed that this blend is the one they would bottle.
This past March, when blending for our 2016 vintages, it took most of a morning to take the process from start to finish. Winemaker Bruce Devlin and I sat down with wine glasses, bottles of wine samples from my barrels of wine, and several liquid graduated cylinders and began to blend the wines.
Our wine samples were Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Lagrein. The mathematical calculations for a blend similar to our 2015 Adler’s Blend were worked out by ounces. That much wine was poured from the graduated cylinders into a wine glass.
We started with 50% Zinfandel, 30% Petite Sirah and 20% Lagrein. We swirled, tasted and discussed how the wine tasted. As the blending session progressed we blended 4 to 6 different versions with the same process taking place; swirling, tasting and discussing. Several times we would let a blend sit to open, after tasting the wine the blending discussion would begin again.
After several rounds we came up with a final blend that we all agreed we liked. This blend, for the 2016 Adler’s Blend, turned out to be 41% Zinfandel, 40% Petite Sirah, 18% Lagrein and 1% Merlot. Then we had to make a decision on what oak barrels to use and how much oak flavor we wanted in the wine. The effort is to have a nice balanced wine. In the case of the Adler’s Blend we selected used barrels rather than purchasing new oaks for the wine to age in. To give the wine some extra “oakiness” which wouldn’t come from used barrels it was then decided that we would purchase oak Aging Staves to insert in the used barrels.
We went through the same process for my 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2016 Merlot. Since I am still a rookie at blending, even after making 6 to 8 different vintages of various wines, it is an absolute must to rely on Bruce Devlin or Kent Humphrey (my winemakers) for their extensive knowledge, experience and excellent palates to assist me in making good wines.
At times you have to taste dozens of blends before you get the one you like. The flow or profile of a wine is largely defined by the territory (a combination of climate, soil and vines) of the grapes. However, the excellence is a reflection of the winemaker’s experience and expertise. When you blend different varieties of grapes together at just the right percentages they can bring out the best of each other. It is also a must to have knowledge of how grapes affect each other in terms of the balance, mid palate, finish, etc. Again this comes from experience and knowledge.
Another important item is to think about the aging of the wine. How does it taste today and how might it taste in five years? Once the wine is blended and aging in oak barrels it can be adjusted during the aging process, but the real test (and we only get one chance at this), is how does the wine taste when it is released and how well it is received by the consumer.
The next time you open a bottle of my wine or any other producer, you can taste it knowing that you are tasting the results of great care, attention to detail and in my case, the desire to produce a good or great bottle of wine. It doesn’t matter what the wines are, or the quantity being produced, all wines go through the same blending process. Some blendings might be a little more sophisticated than others, but in the end it comes down to the artful use of our taste buds to make a great wine.
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Until next week,
Calendar of Events
- November 7th – International Merlot Day
- November 12th – International Tempranillo Day
- November 15th – International Zinfandel Day
- December 16th – National Wine Club Day
- December 20th – National Sangria Day
- December 31st – National Champagne Day