Conn Creek Winery – Play winemaker for a day blending Cabernet
Winemakers often describe their profession as a combination of science and art, a notion that participants in Conn Creek Winery’s award-winning Barrel Blending Experience explore in entertaining detail. Led by the winery’s knowledgeable educators, attendees blend, bottle, cork, and label their very own wines. As countless social-media posts attest, the hands-on experience is “highly informative” and “loads of fun.”
Conn Creek, founded in 1973, specializes in Cabernet Sauvignon from grapes grown in most of the Napa Valley’s 16 AVAs (American Viticultural Areas, or appellations). The upbeat blending sessions, which also focus on the Bordeaux varietal, take place daily in the AVA Room, a few steps from the main tasting area. Each of the room’s French oak barrels contains Cabernet Sauvignon from a different AVA—Oakville and Rutherford among
other well-known appellations, but also lower-profile ones such as Chiles Valley east of St. Helena.
Sessions begin with a brief discussion of the Napa Valley’s unique characteristics as a winegrowing region, most notably the diverse microclimates, soils, and geology that influence the way grapes grow and how flavors develop. Guests not only learn about, say, the relatively softer tannins of valley-floor fruit versus the more powerful ones of hillside grapes, but also taste these variations in several wines.
Then it’s time, as Conn Creek’s head winemaker, Elizabeth DeLouise-Gant, noted recently, to apply that knowledge just as she does. Attendees create two “mock blends” containing 75% Cabernet from one or more AVAs plus a 25% combi- nation of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, or Petit Verdot as desired. Each of these
Bordeaux blending grapes affects a wine differently, with Merlot, for example, often used to soften Cabernet and Petit Verdot added to provide backbone and structure. After selecting one of the mock blends, guests head to the barrels to create a finished wine.
The hands-on experience is “highly informative” and “loads of fun.”
People love competing against each other to make the best Cab, said DeLouise-Gant. “I know I would,” she laughed. “Couples or larger groups play winemaker for a day and six months later have a dinner party, blind taste their wines, and vote to see who wins.”
Asked if she had any advice to give prospective participants, DeLouise-Gant, a Napa native who’s been involved in the wine business since working in her parents’ vineyard as a child, said, “It’s really about personal style and selection. People usually gear the wines they make to their own taste, and I think that’s right.” “Barrel blending is a great way to create memories with friends,” the winemaker added. “You come in and experience what it’s like to make wine, and you get to taste it a few months later and see how you did.” Conn Creek keeps cards of people’s blends on file. If you think you did well, you can purchase up to a case (12 bottles) of your made-to-order blend, which many guests do.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
707-968-2669 // www.conncreek.com
Article By: Daniel Mangin