I’ve heard many refer to myself and other winemakers as artists. I’ve never gotten my mind around this concept. Me, an artist? The same man who can’t play an instrument but loves music, and singing especially in the shower. Me, who’s only drawings worth a damn were stick men while I was doodling in school. No, an artist is a little too much for me to handle. I will write of a true artist in a future blog but for now let’s just say it’s a stretch when talking of myself.
However, blending is an art! It sounds contradicting but its how my feeble brain works. Putting together a cuvee or a vineyard wine of high quality is very difficult. Remember my blog post called “wines are not created equally”? Most producers take what they have from a certain Vintage or certain Vineyard and throw it all in a tank and presto, they have wine. No, that’s not how the great wines are put together. The quality producers agonize over the blending process trying to come up with the best combination. Some blend for consistency such as champagne houses in their non vintage wines. They will, on a regular basis, blend two, three or more vintages together to achieve what they call their house style. No easy task, believe me.
We blend our flagship wine Bulldog to be consistent from vintage to vintage. Of course this is limited to wine from one vintage but there is a thread were looking for, a moniker, so to speak, that makes it recognizable as such. A vineyard wine is all from the same vineyard. Bulldog is not, so it’s even harder to blend. All of our wines, however, start with the same premise: blend the best wine possible no matter the sacrifice. So step one is blind tasting each and every barrel, scoring that barrel on its quality from every sensation we can muster. The noise the mid palate, the finish, the complexity,(how many flavors are present), the balance, the balance, the balance! No I’m not repeating myself. We, meaning myself and my staff, try to execute our plan to the best of our abilities. Not unlike the preparation for a football game. Now this might sound a little “off” but I am also looking for an emotional response to the wine. Please save the hankies but when you get it right it’s, well, euphoric!
Here’s the part that’s hard to figure. It was best put by my co-winemaker Eric Bolton. Some barrels just don’t play well together. There’s no answer for this phenomenon, but let me explain further. Let’s just use a simple numbering system say 1 to 10. One is the least agreeable and a ten is excellent. If you use all 10’s and blend them together they might or might not produce a great wine. Something could be missing from the mix…some tannin, some acid, some fruit flavor. Now you can have four barrels from the same fermenter and all will be slightly or dramatically different. Why? Heck if I know! But what I do know is to make a great wine, some of those barrels that scored 5’s or 6’s might have to be used. If a gap is missing then you need to fill it if you have the ingredient to do so. Not that dissimilar to the DNA strain in Jurassic Park, throw in a frog and you have a dinosaur and in our case a great wine.
Blending is the most important or equal to the most important things we do. It takes many weeks in some cases and is painstaking sacrifice. I am often reminded of this when the wines we don’t use end up somewhere else and my staff thinks I’m nuts not bottling this on its own. A less expensive wine with our label, but that’s not who we are. A final story, we made 500 cases of 2006 Bulldog which scored a 93 from Mr. Parker if you care about such things. The vintage as a whole was widely trashed by many in the critic community. Although I don’t agree with that assessment, it is worth mentioning the following. Our total production for all our Pinot Noir’s was 1500 cases. We sacrificed 20 Barrels, bulked them out! 20 barrels is equal to 500 cases of wine. That’s 25% of our total production! Maybe we should call this article sacrifice because if that’s not it then erase the word from the dictionary.
It takes will, and a lot of tasting in many combinations to come up with the right blend. It’s frustrating, rewarding, disappointing, and extremely gratifying all rolled up into one. It is our artistic expression of what wine should be. You’re the real critic and the only one that counts. If you don’t agree then we better put down the brush!
Drink well my friends,