This past August, Team Bottlenotes had the thrill of joining our friends at Sequoia Grove Winery in Napa for a blending session with winemaker Molly Hill and assistant winemaker Noelle Shamroukh. Our mission for the day was twofold—to help select the best barrels for their reserve chardonnay and to begin creating the cuvée for the 2013 vintage of their flagship “Cambium.” Here are four things we learned from this eye-opening insight into the art of blending:
1. Hungary makes barrels too. Move over France and America, Hungarian oak is now an option, and an economical one at that. The chardonnays we tasted that were aged in Hungarian oak demonstrated elegance and complexity. Some of these barrels even made the shortlist for the reserve blend.
2. Vineyards and clones count. We tasted cabernets and chardonnays where the only distinguishing factor was the clone. Clones can be a bit complex to explain, but in short: each grape variety has an indefinite number of genetically diverse clones that make it up. These are actually mutations that have occurred over centuries. The Dijon clone of chardonnay will never taste quite like the Wente clone. Similarly, growing the same clone in two separate vineyards will result in two distinct wines that will uniquely contribute to a blend.
3. One percent can make a powerful impact. Ever look at a back label and wonder, “What can that 1% of petit verdot possibly do?” We’ve asked the same question, but the answer is “a lot.” We added 1% malbec to the blend and the combination took us in a wholly new direction—and not one we wanted to go down either.
4. A winemaker must trust his/her gut. As much as she might want a roadmap for creating the perfect Bordeaux blend, trial and error is the only way to go. As Molly taught us, “You know you’ve found the blend when, after tasting the wine, you get chills down your spine.”
Photo Credit: Sequioa Grove