Going on a Blender
Blending marries the giddy high of drinking your own wine to disarming flashbacks of high school chemistry, chaperoned by Mr. Wizard. A graduated beaker and a glass pipette ensure precise aliquots of each individual clone are added proportionally, science in a Reidel globe glass. The butcher paper protecting the tasting table is scarred with the scrawl of illegible tasting notes and drying blotches of red wine. We're flanked by a phalanx of restaurant-grade, plastic flats of freshly steamed wine glasses, ready to battle Mother Nature and any smoke taint residua. The mood oscillates between austere business and guarded ebullience. More than any other step in the winemaking process, this one will bear the enduring stamp of our personal taste. At this fantasy camp for winos, we'll mix, taste, swirl, spit, contemplate and debate innumerable wine combinations until we settle on the recipe that will become our 2008 inaugural vintage. No pressure, guys. No pressure. After reverse osmosis, my expectations were low. I was skeptical. Could a machine really perform the miraculous and isolate and remove a single, noxious chemical compound without sacrificing the nuances, depth, and organoleptic complexity that makes great wine sing? Well, I was right - sort of. I am happy to report that our first taste of the Annahala pinot noir revealed a lovely, sweet cranberry nose with a fruity flavor, nice balance, fine acid, and importantly- no smoke. But that was about it. We're talking about your best friend's, freckle-faced kid sister, not some smoldering hottie. The wine's pretty cranberry aromatic was simple, transparent and unlayered; I'd hoped for more. Luckily by blending in some other pinot clones, we'd be able to elevate the aroma, flesh out the mouth feel, add some structure, and build complexity. In other words, regain what we'd lost.
Now I don't mean to sound ungrateful. Before reverse osmosis, the wine was undrinkable. Wet ashtray and smoldering charcoal won't win you 90 points, even from the Reno, Nevada Chain-Smokers Wine Club of North America. Yes, we had a serious job to do. Really, tasting is a fun, happy buzz until you're challenged to heighten the wine's structure without careening over the abyss into cotton-mouth puckering tannic overload. The process works like this: naked Annahala is ground zero, our control wine. Then each clone is added to it individually, one at a time, in a 10:1 ratio. If something works, figure out why. Is it a better smell? A more lingering flavor? Does it coat more of your mouth or less? If it tastes rotten (as sometimes it did), just spit and move on. Then, it gets tricky. If one clone lifts the nose to heaven but another adds some much needed tannin, try adding both in different proportions, like 2 ½% and 5% or 7% and 10% or 5% and 5%. You get the idea. This is a dishwasher's nightmare. Each permutation nudges the vino a little closer to perfection. Swirl, sip, and scrawl. Repeat. Hope notes are legible 10 glasses later. Mix more. New combinations. Now you're just writing gibberish.
Happily, we converged on a final "recipe" that enlivens the cranberry, red berry profile that characterizes the pinots of the region while adding some depth, richer, creamier mouth feel, and greater mid-palate weight. The 777 clone elevates the aromatics while the pommard clone adds structure and tannin. The wine is still 85% Annahala juice, and do understand the clones we've added derive 100% from Anderson Valley pinot noir fruit. So the integrity of our "terroir" remains intact. In fact, I think we've crafted a really beautiful, restrained, elegant, cranberry/ red fruit driven pinot noir.
Now back to bed, my darling. Time to slumber in oak for a few more months.
(A blending video will follow soon).