For me, the blending process is the most creative aspect of making wine: for most of the year, my job is to recognize the potential in our grapes and coax out maximum quality by adjusting the farming and winemaking based on my 15 years of experience. But when it comes to blending, it’s about shaping the style of the wine. The one rule I’ve learned over the years is that there are no rules. For example, it would seem logical that blending a rich wine into one that tastes too thin would add weight to the thin wine, but that is not always the case. The only way to determine what works and what doesn’t is to taste it and see.
Winemakers approach blending in different ways. Some like to assemble their blends early on, within the first or second time the wines are racked (while they are about 6 months old). At Pride, we ferment and age all of our vineyard blocks (and often multiple pick dates from the same block) separately right up until the one year mark, and then we begin to do trials and create the blends. I enjoy this approach, because it allows vineyard management decisions to be followed for a long time, and also because it gives me great flexibility in building the blends. With over 50 lots of wine from each vintage and 13 blends to make, the possibilities for blending are truly endless.
I create my first round of blends for any wine based on tasting the grapes, ferments, and frequent tasting of the wines in barrel, as well as an understanding of what’s historically worked for that wine. After tasting the first blends, I either select a few that have potential or scrap them all and start fresh if it doesn’t seem to be working. After several rounds of this, I’ll come up with about three blends to taste with Steve Pride and Associate Winemaker Romel Rivera. We taste blind and compare the wines to a bottle of the same wine from the previous vintage. We’re looking for a wine that is both balanced and a knock-out, something with intense flavor, ripe (but never over-ripe) fruit, mountaintop tannins that are not grippy or excessive, and no overt oaky or alcoholic notes to cover up the gorgeous terroir of our wines. Often we all agree on the blend that we love, but when we don’t, I continue with additional tweaking until we find something that we all feel is perfect. I’d say that on average I create about 15 blends to get each wine to this point.
Next, the blend is racked from barrels and assembled in stainless tank. At this point, I revisit the wine and try some additional tweaks before bottling. How long does this process continue? Well, there was a day that Steve Pride and I were tasting final tweaks right up until the point when the hose had to be hooked to the tank for bottling. Obviously, spitting is essential when this much tasting is required. But, it’s great fun to spend so much time tasting our mountaintop wines!