10 Jul Pinot Noir Blending Trials
One of the most challenging aspects of making Pinot Noir is determining which barrels will be used in the resulting wines by a process known as Blending Trials. The goal is to blend the barrels to form a wine that truly represents the essence of the vineyard from where it was grown while still being true to the vintage.
Four aspects go into deciding what barrel goes into which blend.
The Vineyard: Block, clone, rootstock, soil, and site elevation, ripeness, seed maturity, fruit integrity, disease pressure, skin thickness, skin and seed tannins, berry size, all have a say in the flavors of the wine in barrel. The fruit flavors of cherry, raspberry, blackberry, blueberry, current, and plum, can be intertwined with aromas of rose petal, violet, herbs, and forest floor, which all originate from the vineyard.
The Vintage: The number of degree days, rainfall at the end of the season, rain during bloom, disease pressure, hail and bird damage, and forest fires, all contribute to the flavor profile as well. You can only have what Mother Nature decides to give you every year.
The Cooperage: Which brand of cooper, tight or loose grain of the oak, forest, toast level, oak tannin, vanilla, and baking spices, are some of the flavor impacts derived from oak in Pinot Noir.
The Winemaker: Use of whole clusters, tannin extraction, cold soaks, dry ice, maceration times, yeast selection, enzymes, SO2 levels, and percentage of new oak, are some of the ways the wine can be shaped by the winemaker.
The way we begin the blending trials is by extensively tasting and then grading each of the barrels with an “A, B, and C” rating. We only use our best barrels from the “A” category to create our vineyard designate and Reserve tier wines. These are the blends that we will always decide on first. To start, we pull a small sample of 150 milliliters from each of the “A” barrels and bring them to the lab and set up a row of glasses behind each of the samples. We select 10 milliliters from each of the barrel samples that we think might work into the mock blend and also create multiple variations with different barrels to compare to each other. Then we taste and evaluate each of the mock blends and take careful notes of each trial as we taste.
What are the primary fruit flavors? Spices? Herbs? Texture? Mouthfeel? Tannin levels? Acid balance? All of these parameters change as you combine each of the barrel samples. It can be very overwhelming and it may take days or even weeks for us to figure out where to find a home for each of the barrels in one of our wines. For the 2013 vintage we have three Pinot Noir vineyards in barrel from Shea, Zenith, and Kiff Vineyard. After extensive trials last month we have decided to create a Shea Vineyard designate using 3 new French Oak barrels. The wine holds up beautifully to the new oak and we think it may be one of the best Pinots that we’ve ever made. We are really excited about this wine as it displays gorgeous flavors of cherry, raspberry, and vanilla, with aromatics of nutmeg, violets, and forest floor. The wine has great structure and balance and it should last 7-10 years after bottling.
We will update you more on our continuing blending trials as the summer progresses before racking and bottling in September.