It's become my practice to taste and blend our wines in June of the year following harvest. Some wineries blend earlier, but I find that I enjoy the blending process just as the wines turn away from their sixth month in barrel. Before that, the nascent wines are too young to be focused enough for me to make the best of them. I might not understand them yet; they might not show themselves. (That's me in a dooshy hat to the left.)
Tasting for blending is consuming; a labor-intensive labor of love. Even at six months, the wines are young and tannic, backwards, uncompromising, unyielding ... tasting them day in and out, blending samples, distinguishing between the barrels that will be blended into other main lots and those that may stand out on their own to be designated some sort of "reserve" is a tough process. (Tough work: that's me racking the "lies" into kegs for possible inclusion in the wines next year.)
This year I made sample blends over a period of two months, with most of the tough final blending and tasting performed last week prior to the final blending days, which occurred Thursday and Friday of this week. We began with base blends of our varietals -- Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot -- and then experimented with single barrel additions and reductions, "reserve" or "barrel selections," and blind tasted everything with friends and family repeatedly. (Jaime, below, laying out the barrels for blending.)
The base blend for the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, a Mt. Veeder AVA designate, showed a wonderful perfume and tannin profile, with notes of black olives and herbs, and a soft tannin profile from its largely new French oak cooperage, but the addition of 11.7% Merlot from Oak Knoll and 1.7% Petit Verdot from Hendry Ranch brought out dark fruits and filled in the early-finish, or what I consider the top of the throat finish, with a touch of heat and svelte. Roughly 75% new wood; 13.6% alcohol. This wine reminds me of a Leoville Barton clone from a ripe year, with more pronounced new oak. (Crosby Roamann barrels, below, returned to the caves for extended aging.)
The base blend for the 2010 Merlot, an Oak Knoll AVA designate, showcased robust dark fruits, monster tannins in the front of the mouth with more fine grained red berry notes on the finish, with a touch of heat. (We brought this wine in at over fourteen and a half percent potential alcohol in early October, and at this stage of its life, it is dark, mean, and voracious on the palette.) I had already added about 1.5% Cabernet Sauvignon at the initial racking in December, and the inclusion of another (roughly) 12% Cabernet Sauvignon truly mellowed and humbled this wine, making it more generous and loving. It shows wonderful notes of mint, sweet blackberry, and dried herbs on a long warm finish. 50% new wood; 14.6% alcohol. (Jaime and Christopher, just looking cool.)
The finest cuvee in our cellar from 2010, however, was a barrel selection -- or "proprietary blend" -- of just two new barrels of Merlot and a mixed barrel of Cabernet Sauvignon (half new, half once used). The nose is all sweet blueberry, with gorgeous soft sweet tannin and a long, lingering finish. Just over 80% new wood; 14.3% alcohol -- only three barrels produced -- the best of the best.