Winemaker, Winemaker Make Me a Wine!

While out in the Sonoma area we had the chance to play winemaker for a day at Nelson Family Vineyards. We are members of the Nelson Wine Club and several months ago, winemaker Chris Nelson had told me that this event was coming up. I knew we were planning to head to CA to visit my in-laws this spring, but wasn’t sure of the dates yet, so I tucked the information into the back of my head. Fast forward, and we start thinking more about going to visit the in-laws. I mention the event to Matt, as we had now received the official date and information and after a little haggling, convinced him we could combine the in-law visit with a trip up to Northern CA. And thus we arrived on Saturday at Nelson to make our own wine blend and enter in their Barn Blend competition, the idea being that they will then bottle the blend and sell it.

We were the first to arrive as I am not all that familiar with the area and wasn’t sure how long it would take us to get to Nelson, which is in Ukiah. Shortly after getting there, a dog bounded up to greet us and soon some of the Nelson family appeared, bearing wine and appetizers. While waiting for the event to begin, we were able to sample many of the current Nelson releases and chat with other club members. We discovered that we came from the furthest distance of anyone to be there this year. Standing outside the barn I tasted the 2006 Viognier, which in my quick notes is described as having pear, lemon and orange zest flavors, light and would make a nice apertif wine. I also tried the 2006 Orange Muscat, the 2005 was one of my favorites from Nelson last year, and as always, I found it to be very aromatic with honey and orange blossoms, but good structure to hold the sweet flavors in check.

On moving into the barn, we had lunch, which consisted of 6 or 7 different kinds of sausage, salad, curried rice…lots of good food. Mr. Nelson, father of Chris the winemaker, joined us at our table and I pestered him with a few questions about the vineyard. He told me that his father had moved the family to the farm in 1951. They have been growing grapes for 56 years, but only started selling their own wine in 2003.
After lunch, we got to play winemaker! The Nelsons had set out 4 small barrels of wine for us to draw from, a Zinfandel, a Merlot and 2 Cabernets. You were paired with your table to create a blend, the rules being that it had to have at least 3 of the varietals in it. My favorites from the barrels were the Zinfandel and the Merlot. I didn’t much take to the Cabernet 2, it had a sour barnyard note that just didn’t appeal to me. Our group made 5 or 6 different blends before settling on what we thought was a sure winner: 60% Zinfandel, 20% Cabernet and 20% Merlot. My notes on our blend say that I really liked the nose, it was fruit forward with berries and violets.

Sadly, we did not win. The blends that were the final contenders were very Cabernet heavy, and looking back, I guess the fact that there were 2 barrels of Cabernet out should have clued me into the fact that they were looking for a Cabernet heavy blend. Oh well, we had a lot of fun trying and talking with our tablemates. One of the sets of people we were sitting with turned out to be the only custom crush client of the winery and they opened a bottle of their wine, Trixie’s Cat House Cabernet, for us to try. Look for a post on that soon! Not to mention the man on the left was an alum of the college both Matt and I attended!

We were also given vanilla ice cream for dessert with their Ice Wine-style dessert wine poured all over it. I was full and only had a few bites, but Matt gladly ate my portion! We spent a few more minutes walking around the vineyards attempting to get a close-up of the interesting Guinea Fowl that inhabit the winery, but alas, they were camera-shy (or maybe it was the fact that Matt kept chasing them….). All in all a really fun event and I’m glad we attended.