There are two ways to get an entirely new perspective on a familiar old town: you can tour another land, very expensively and very far away, to return with new eyes, or you can just hop on a bus that other tourists take to experience your home turf.
Although I've lived in Sonoma County for a good few years now, I didn't know that this winemaking clan lived over here—as a tour bus driver points out at high volume over the loudspeakers of the mostly empty luxury bus I'm riding in—or that that other century-old dynasty occupied that hilltop estate over there. Our destination is Ravenswood Winery. I've also been here many times, and noted how the friendly atmosphere of the tasting room has held up remarkably well under corporate overlordship. Heck, I've even tasted some of the fresh grape components that go into the Ravenswood Vintner's Blend Zinfandel in the field. But have I ever sat down for a blending seminar that challenges me to strike a balanced blend with the traditional troika of Petite Sirah, Carignane and Zinfandel? Why, no, this is the first.
Blending seminars are a new addition to the winetasting repertoire. Instead of paying a triple tariff to simply kick back and nibble some cheese with your wine, or even a scallop or two, blending activities require that you roll up your sleeves and contribute. It works, and it's great for groups.
Our host, Peter Griffith, offers a detailed explanation of what makes Petite Sirah and Carignane crucial to the classic Zinfandel blend. Long story short: tannin, acid, fruit.
Now's the time when we suck the pipettes. Leaving the group to do their thing, Griffith encourages experimentation in 1 to 20 milliliter increments, sucked into laboratory pipettes and deposited in glasses. Each participant's favorite blend is dialed in and deposited into a 375ml bottle that, Griffith says, mostly ends up drunk up within 30 minutes of leaving the tasting room. The rest end up on people's desks—they're topped with attractive but impervious-looking wax caps.
The wine will actually keep for few years, says Griffith. History, by which I mean my sketchy notes, does not record my final blend, but I believe it was heavy on the earthy Zin, with a good dose of bright Carignane and a miserly dash of what was, to me, an uninspiring Petite Sirah.
After the work is done, blenders are ushered to the members-only area of the terrace to taste Ravenswood favorites like Old Hill Zin and, yes, nibble on cheese while taking in the vineyard view.
Ravenswood Winery, 18701 Gehricke Road, Sonoma. Blending seminars $65 per person, by reservation. 707.933.2332.