Blending it All Together
There’s a lot that goes into making wine—from the soil to the tank to the lab. And when we’re talking about the lab, we’re talking about more than just chemistry check-ins on tanks and barrels; we’re talking about a group of skilled palates gathering to illustrate vintages through crafting the perfect blend. But aside from what we already know about the basics of winemaking, what happens when the team sits down to blend? Buckle up; this is a marathon, not a sprint.
It’s a standard within the wine industry to blend wines, not just to make the commonly labeled “red wine” but to work within the same vineyard to take different blocks of fruit to combine and create well-balanced and approachable world-class wines. The various components end up being the same varietal but from different elevations, soil types, microclimates, or opposing ends of the property. Our team must take these pieces, put them together, and present a wine that you, the consumer, can trust you’ll enjoy.
The collection of talented masters of their craft wanders to the table at the center of the lab, covered end to end with stark white paper, which will be littered with splotches and splashes of red wine by the end of the day. Each seat comprises a singular wine glass, a spittoon, and a stack of papers filled with what to the naked eye looks like gibberish and a jumble of numbers, but to this group of experts, it makes perfect sense. Eventually, the glass count grows from one to two and finishes at four, all stained with layers of the days worth of red wine samples.
After exchanging greetings and a few jokes, everyone takes their seat. Priest Ranch Winemaker Cody Hurd takes charge of pouring the first samples and kicking off the first of several hundred sips the group will take by the end of the day. They start by stating the varietal, the block from which the fruit came, and the current aging (barrel toasting level, barrel neutrality, etc.) And now, the marathon begins.
A peaceful silence falls over the table as the first sniffs and swirls occur. Breaking the silence is the sound of sips, mini aerating, and scribbles on the white paper covering the table and some on the stack of gibberish-filled papers. Then, finally, someone speaks. From then on, the quiet moments become fewer and fewer until lunch, which, even then, isn’t that silent.
It’s a beautiful scene to watch, a group of palates that craft not only one but two impressive portfolios of wine—and we’re not trying to brag. And not only are they crafting wines that taste good now, but they’re also crafting them for the future. Each pour from the various bottles represents a different piece of a puzzle that their minds and palates are destined to figure out. This time is where artistry takes hold of a scientific process and guides it to the finish line/masterpiece. Another beautiful part of this process is that there may be disagreements, but there is a shared respect and an understanding of each other’s points of view and input.
“We always start our blending from the top down. We taste through the lineup and pick out the blocks that really stand out, and these blocks can stand out for different reasons. Some blocks may have a nice perceived sweetness, while other blocks can show more structure and length. This is where the blending jigsaw puzzle begins. Our goal is to identify the gaps in the wine and fill in those gaps with other components to make a complete wine. Working with such a diverse Estate with so many unique microclimates, provides an abundance of blending options.” - Cody Hurd, Winemaker
It’s time to break bread, aka lunchtime. The plastic takeout bag is ripped open, and its contents are placed around the table for the appropriate recipient. Our Vineyard Manager, Jake, pulls up a chair, joins the conversation, and adds even more comedic banter by sharing an upcoming vacation he’s taking his family on. The rest of the group cracks jokes and makes playfully funny comments about everyone around the table. Mouths are wiped clean from crumbs and sauces, sandwich wrappings are crumpled, and everyone takes some stretches before sitting back down to finish out the day.
The team settles in and picks glasses back up to finish out the session strong and make some final decisions about the future of our portfolio. These decisions can range from claiming near perfection of a sample to a plan for barrels that need some care and attention. For the amateur palate, this would be an exhausting, intensive, and demanding experience to taste through 30 different sample bottles plus 10 to 15 different blends after numerous revisits, and this crew is filled with seasoned professionals.
And with that, the final sips are taken, the final percentages are decided, bookmarks are placed for the next meeting, and they take a collective sigh of relief. Just like the day began, everyone cracks their final jokes and slates the next meeting to finalize blends that have been left to age or have some adjustments that need to happen to the barrels before the team can deem them ready to bear our label. Chairs are pushed back for the final time, and everyone says their farewells until the next time these masters of their craft meet.
All of this being said (written), there’s something truly special about those that have dedicated their time and honed the craft of tasting wines in their infancy and piecing them together to eventually morphe into the wines you enjoy in your glass. So from all of your friends that you see in our tasting room and those behind the scenes, cheers to you, and we can’t wait for you to enjoy your next glass of Priest Ranch wine!