At its heart, winemaking is a series of rituals. Some wine rituals are mysterious, some commonplace. Blending is one of the most talked about and most mysterious of all rituals. People who enjoy and are curious about wine ask me all the time: “How do you blend wine? How can you detect differences between lots, between clones, between tanks? How do you determine that perfect final blend?” So, here is the true secret to how I do it… I believe that the true blending of any wine always takes place in the vineyard, before we even pick the fruit.
What does it mean to blend wine?
Blending is a common expression winemakers use to talk about the process of selecting vineyard lots, varietals, specific vine selections, oak barrel profiles, etc. No matter how small a final wine bottling is, there is always a fusion of blending that eventually plays an important role in the final taste of the wine.
From France to California – blending lessons learned
In my experience, blending rituals begin with knowing your vineyards, as I learned in France through years of walking the rows and tending the vines. That intimate knowledge of the plants themselves is fundamental to success in making the finest wines in the world. Then, based on the knowledge of the fruit you are working with, blending becomes your “magic wand” to refine, select and confirm your gut feelings. Result: a moment where all your experience, knowledge and expectations become one single, focused lens. Will the result be success or failure?
I remember my harvest experience at Château Haut-Brion in 2003, as I was just starting to learn the art of making wine at the highest level. When harvest arrived, each parcel from the estate vineyard was fermented separately, giving birth to many lots. These became individual components that the winemaking team at the Château would use to create a wine with a perfect expression. As the winemaker began tasting each tank, the process of blending physical lots began. Each varietal carries a particular taste, color and tannin quality that impacts the overall balance. For example, Merlot generally provides a sense of velvety and soft tannins with an intense aromatic profile. As the king of all Bordeaux varietals, Cabernet Sauvignon was used as the backbone of the wine, providing a long-lasting structure during aging.
Later, when working in Burgundy in 2006, the blending experience was completely different than that of Bordeaux. Blending Pinot from one single parcel requires you to become more in tune with each barrel, as if they are a unique sound that will play a subtle but essential role in a symphony. Making a Chambolle-Musigny for example, involves evaluating the quality of each barrel before blending them all into just 100 cases of wine from a certain producer.
From Sonoma County, CA. Bibiana González Rave
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