We often get questions along the lines of “what happens at a winery in the middle of the winter?” While there is no doubt it’s a bit less crazy compared with harvest, it is still rather busy. Outside the farm team is busy pruning the vineyards, a herculean feat. In the cellar we are busy cold stabilizing and filtering wine in preparation for release starting this spring. As a winemaker, this time of year is very busy at Fenn Valley. In January we embark on the challenging process of wine blending.
What is wine blending? Simply put, it’s mixing wines for the purposes of creating a different product. There are many scenarios when we may choose to blend. For starters, we need to make our popular multi-varietal wines, such as Meritage, Capriccio, and Edelzwicker. We also often need to blend different vineyards of the same varietal. For example we grow Riesling in many different vineyards throughout Southwest Michigan. We need to ascertain the best blend of all these different vineyards to create all our different Rieslings – Dry, Semi-Dry, Sweet and Sparkling.
The process of blending is itself a combo of art and science. On the art side, a good winemaker is able to pick out subtle aromas and flavors and can forecast how the wine will change as it goes through the rest of the winemaking process. This is especially difficult for barrel aged red blends, months of barrel aging has yet to happen and will have a profound impact on the wine. And each wine is at a different place in the winemaking process. Those furthest behind can be very difficult to evaluate. Also, a good winemaker is in tune with customer feedback and market trends. While we aim to make our blends consistent year after year, we also try to evolve them to continue to exceed customers’ expectations. Last, and perhaps most important, a good winemaker has the ability to work with different raw materials, as no two vintages are ever the same. Simply put, a winemaker can’t make the same product each year but instead strives to make the best product possible with what we are given from Mother Nature.
On the science side even a small producer can have a mind boggling array of options in terms of raw materials. At Fenn Valley we use spreadsheets to track all the base components and track those already theoretically used so we don’t accidentally blend a base wine twice! We also look at chemistry of both the raw materials and previous vintages. We can then simulate the chemistry of proposed blends to ensure we are making wine that fits the intended profile and is shelf stable for years to come.
As a matter of practicality we try to prioritize the blends before starting. Wines with strict label requirements (such as Meritage) get blended first. Small leftover components can sometimes be blended into giant batches where they won’t have any negative impact. But at the end of the day, the quality of the wine is the most important factor.
Once the blends are made in the lab, the winemaker then creates work orders to direct the cellar in the process of making the theoretical blends a reality. These are some of the most intricate and important work orders of the year. As a result the winemaker and cellar staff will work hand-in-hand through the process to ensure every step is executed precisely as written.
As a winemaker, once the blends are made in the cellar there is no turning back. Now all you can do is wait until the real experts get a chance to give feedback…the customer. At the end of the day the customer is the ultimate judge of our success as winemakers. We anxiously await your feedback in the upcoming year!