Wine Blending Day Camp

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This guest-post comes to us from Mira Advani Honeycutt, author of California’s Central Coast, The Ultimate Winery Guide: From Santa Barbara to Paso Robles.  She frequently reports here on her various wine travels.

“You can take a very good wine and ruin it by blending,” remarks Judd Finkelstein.

Judd Finkelstein transferring the measured wine into a glass
Judd Finkelstein transferring the measured wine into a glass

Blending wine to a blissful cuvee is an art like creating a masterpiece on canvas or whipping up a perfect souffle.

I learned the art and science of blending four Bordeaux varietals at Judd’s Hill Winery’s blending day camp in Napa Valley. The tasting room resembled a laboratory: there were graduated cylinders, flasks, calculators and dump buckets. We were given a selection of four 2008 vintages: Merlot, Cabernet Franc and two Cabernet Sauvignons from different Napa Valley appellations – Oakville and Weir Vineyards.

As we sniff and sip the four varietals poured in our glasses, Judd asks us two questions. Does a particular varietal speak to you? (This will determine the base of the wine). And, when do we expect to drink it? “We’ll approach the blending according to when you want to open it,”  he advises. Wines with good tannins and fruit ensure a wine’s ageability to wine.

I like to cellar my wines, so I selected cabernet sauvignon as my base wine. I made two different blends using the two different Cabernet Sauvignons as my base wine using 80% of this varietal with 15% Merlot and 5% Cab Franc.

Mira siphons cabernet sauvignon from a barrel
Mira siphons cabernet sauvignon from a barrel

I made two more blends adjusting the percentages of two Cabernet Sauvignons. From a total of four samples, I was finally satisfied (and so was Judd) with the formula of 80% Weir Vineyard and 5% Oakville Cabernet Sauvignons, 10% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc. The addition of 5%  Oakville gave the wine some depth, the Merlot offered silkiness and the Cabernet Franc added a long finish.

After Judd guided us through our personal blend, we moved to the production are and siphoned the wine from barrels with the help of winemaker Kenn Vigoda. He then assisted us with hand bottling and corking. With our bottles labeled (Mira’s Reserve) we departed with our personally crafted wine ready to rest in the cellar.

So who goes for these blending sessions? “This is the next step after tour and tasting,” says Judd. “We’ve done corporate groups, birthday parties, even a bridal shower.”