Blending, by Art and by Chance - Part 1
A Night I Will Never Forget
One dark night in October 1993 I had the 2:00 a.m. pump-over duty in our winery cave. There were five or six tanks of wine fermenting, side by side. I had to connect hoses at the bottom of the tanks and pump the wine into the top of the tanks. The idea is to wet the grape skins that have been driven to the top of the tank to form a cap. this cap is supported by the CO2 bubbles of the fermentation. By pumping over four times a day, we are able to keep the cap wetted and extract the maximum amount of flavor and color from the grape skins. This dark night I had hoisted the intertwined hoses to the top of the tanks and tied them in place. I had three pumps going at once when, suddenly, I realized that I was pumping the Cabernet Sauvignon into the adjacent Cabernet Franc tank. My heart sank. Before I could stop the pump, we had a tank of 2/3 Cabernet Sauvignon and 1/3 Cabernet Franc.
Discovery of a New Blend
The following week was sad. There wasn't much for me to talk about with our winemaker Dimitri Tchelistcheff. But then the day after the tank completed fermenting, Dimitri approached me with a big smile on his face. "The blend you made is not bad; in fact it may turn out real good." He was right, and this blend is to this date consistently our most important blend. It was named Lake William since both vineyards involved are cooled by the breeze off the large nearby Lake William.
After this experience, somehow my name didn't again appear on the midnight pump-over schedule; apparently one streak of good luck was enough! But still it was an interesting lesson in blending. It seems that blending different wines together can frequently be a very good thing. "One" plus "One" can be more than just "Two". There is a certain logic to the blend that I accidently made that dark night; normally the Cabernet Sauvignon is considered the greatest of all wines but it can be overpowering to some peoples taste and particularly to some foods. The addition of its close relative, the Cabernet Franc makes it a softer gentler wine and adds a delightful lavender color.
In our next issue, I'll tell you how we use blending to advantage even with pure 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. We blend by using Cabernet Sauvignon from different clones and from as many as seven different vineyard zones. With this sort of single varietal blending we can realize the best wine and keep the same taste year to year. I'll save our real day-to-day blending story for the next issue.