A Winning Blend

vines and winesThere are some challenges, win or lose, that are worth the experience. Blending wine is one of those challenges – it’s fulfilling just to create. Of course, creating a fantastic wine that ends up being the winner in a blending challenge doesn’t hurt the experience either.

Last Sunday, we attended Montoliva’s “Blending In” event. This was our fourth consecutive year, and just like every other time, it was a fun ride.

Each year, a group of wine club members – all of whom have RSVP’d a spot right away (this event is popular) – get to try their hand, and their palates, at creating a winning blend. The blend requirements are a bit different every time, based on availability of juice, etc. The winner becomes the newest Sierra Bella, a wine that newcomers and long-timers alike love to have grace their table.

This year’s blend needed to be a combination of 2011 Teroldego, Nebbiolo, Estate Sangiovese, and Barbera. 2011 was a tough year for California wines. It was a cold summer – not exactly perfect conditions for maturing grapes, but the wonder of blending is in crafting an awesome wine out of grapes that may or may not be able to stand alone. We had an hour to create a beauty. Timers set, we began.

Charles and I started off trying the wines by themselves and then combining the Sangio and Teroldego to see how well they played together. Those two were totally BFFs. They complimented each other’s strengths and bolstered up each other’s weaknesses. Yet when we began to incorporate the other wines, it became apparent that some juice needed to be boosted and others scaled back so that our best friends would also interact with the group. We didn’t find the perfect comradeship until our seventh attempt. That seventh blend had a cocoa powder nose with dark cherry and vanilla bean on the palate. It had nice structure, and we enjoyed it so much, we continued to sip it – even after the winner had been declared.

notesAs if that’s not fun enough, then the sampling starts. The group, and participating judges, get to try everyone’s handiwork. It was such a great group! Each combination was different. Every combination was tasty. We had created our blend to be something with good fruit and nice structure, something that could be enjoyed right away or saved for a bit. This wine is a big hit at Costco, even though it’s a little different each year, so it has to be something that can be poured at the dinner table right away as well as being something that can hang out on a pallet for a while.

We had some stiff competition. Last year’s winner sat right next to us and created a very enjoyable wine – our number one choice, since we can’t vote for ourselves. 😉 But after everything was tasted and tallied, we won the day! And after the winner of Saturday’s “Blending In” was tasted alongside ours (it’s become such an in-demand event, it now requires the full weekend), we won the contest! We won two years ago, but this one was even more marvelous because of the quality of blends from all of the other creators. It made us feel pretty darn special and also gave us some vindication that we actually know a thing or two about wine.

This is truly one of the highlights of our year, and Charles and I are so glad that we’ve gotten to participate so many times. Winning is just the cherry finish.

Harvesting Sangio

The sun gifts us with the first light of day.

As it climbs higher in the sky, I will experience a slight ache in my back, an amazing sense of satisfaction, and a very minor buzzing in my head – the ache from harvesting grapes grown in the traditional, Italian way (tight rows and low-hanging fruit), the satisfaction from working as hard and as quickly as possible among the vines, and the buzz from the amazing champagne brunch that is our payment for a job well done.

For the past three seasons, my Charles and I have helped in Montoliva’s harvest of its estate-grown Sangiovese grapes. Each year, it’s gotten easier. In part, this is because we’re getting a bit better, but more of the success has come from nicer weather.

The harvest in 2010 was on Halloween. It was cold and stormy. It had rained the night before, so even though I was wearing a sweater underneath my raincoat, I was drenched and shivering within five minutes. 2011 was warmer and more pleasant, though there had been some moisture, so we dealt with a small amount of rot. Plus, I forgot to bring our gloves, so my Charles and I both managed to nick ourselves with our clippers. 2012 was hot and dry. The bunches were big and beautiful and dusty – no moisture, and therefore no rot, to be found.

This year’s crew was also outstanding. For the first time, the entire estate was harvested on the same day, and not only that, it was harvested in a few hours. Everyone kicked some major ass and took some major names. My Charles and I were home by noon, feeling good, though tired, and cheered by a beautiful, warm morning spent out amongst the vines.

2012 is going to be an amazing year for California wines.

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