This past Sunday, North Gate Vineyard in Purcellville hosted their first ever wine blending workshop with winemaker/owner Mark Fedor. Eight of us from the squad were lucky enough to get tickets to attend this incredibly unique event. Thanks for the heads up Chris, you’re the best!!!! North Gate and it’s owners and team have long been a favorite of mine, and one of the things I love that they do is bring their club members and regulars in on the process and really try to educate on how and why they do what they do to make consistently great wine. So this workshop was perfect for a wine geek like me!
We arrived early so that we could get checked in and say our hellos to all of our friends at North Gate. The tables were already set with lots of science experiment looking tools and such like beakers, tubes, and a fun looking long skinny tool for sucking exact amounts of wine up out of a bottle. We quickly learned that it was not for sword fighting or poking your neighbor, some people are no fun. And there were a few papers at each spot that looked interesting but also like they might require some work. Hmmmm, paperwork on a Sunday morning? This better be worth it.
Mark got us started by talking about how he personally goes about blending wines…always at the kitchen table at the house, always in the evening, and no food before or during the process. Gotta keep the palate clean! He described blends as the winemakers true art form, the place where they can take a few different good wines and create a custom great wine that only they can offer. He explained how adding even a small percentage of another wine to a single varietal can completely change the taste and how they look at the properties of each wine and try to add other varietals that would enhance the flavor. For instance if you have a wine that is highly acidic you might add a smoother wine to mellow it out a bit. It was a really cool education on the practice and reasoning behind blending.
On to the fun part! On our table were five bottles of freshly opened red wine. We had a bottle each of 2015 Petit Verdot, 2015 Merlot, 2015 Cabernet Franc, and to our great excitement a bottle each of 2016 Chambourcin, and 2016 Cabernet Sauvingnon. The last two were particularly exciting because they haven’t been bottled and released yet, so we got to play with two brand new wines complete with handwritten blue tape labels. Our first task was to taste each of these five wines and take notes about them so that we could use this info to make educated blends later in the process. Our note cheat sheet was pretty comprehensive and covered areas like aroma (fruity vs oakey, strong vs subdued), taste (on the front, middle end and whether short or long finish), acidity (bright, round, or dull), and tannins (chalky/dusty, smooth/soft, or astringent/bitter). As we began this part of the process, Mark informed us that we didn’t have to actually drink all the wine, we could spit it out. In a move that will shock absolutely no one we informed him that spitters are quitters and proceeded to drink every drop. Seriously, does he think we’re a bunch of amateurs? This was a really interesting exercise and I thoroughly enjoyed tasting the wines using a more analytical approach.
After completing our tasting, the next step was to review our notes and use them to come up with some blends we thought would be good and then have at it! This was the really fun part and it was made even more fun by the fact that as there were eight of us we got to try A LOT of different blends. Some of them were really good, and a couple were well, let’s just say that one of our group circled the blend he’d made and wrote ‘DON’T LIKE’ next to it, I think that says it all. My blends consisted of a 70% Cab Sauv/20% Chambourcin/10% Petit Verdot, a 40% Cab Franc/40% Merlot/20% Chambourcin, a 90% Chambourcin/10% Merlot, and finally a 60% Cab Sauv/40% Cab Franc. I think my favorite blend was my first, the Cab Sauv/Chambourcin/Petit Verdot. It was nice and smooth and very drinkable. The Chambourcin/Merlot was also really nice. The Chambourcin, being new and not ready for prime time was still a little weak, but the addition of the Merlot helped it quite a bit and added some oomph. It was really quite amazing how just a small addition can really change the entire taste of the wines. Others in our group had some really good blends going on too, but honestly it was a bit confusing figuring out what was what with all the glasses going around our table. A couple of our blends were SO good we offered to sell the recipes to Mark for ONE MILLION DOLLARS, but alas he declined our generous offer. Some people don’t recognize a deal when they see one. His loss.
This was a fantastic event and I had an amazing time. And you could tell by the buzz and laughter around the room that everyone else did too. North Gate has really done a great job of coming up with fun, creative and educational events over the past several years, and this was definitely no exception. In chatting with Mark afterwards he told me that maybe next time they’ll do white wines, so keep an eye out for that. And the next time you visit North Gate, or any winery for that matter, pay special attention to the blends and think about the thought and work that goes into making them just right. Winemaking is part art, part science, and part luck. When all three hit just right it’s magical!