Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Conn Creek Barrel Blending & Cupcake Pairing Challenge

On Sunday December 13th Thea Dwelle, (AKA: Obi Wine Kenobi) in partnership with Paul Asikainen, Guest Services Manager of Conn Creek, hosted a bloggers blend-o-rama in the Conn Creek AVA Room in Napa Valley.

Just last week I participated in The Wine Sensory Experience in Calistoga where I challenged my scent abilities, so the AVA Room Blending Experience seemed the logical next step in my wine experience portfolio.

The AVA room was designed to create a blending experience offered nowhere else. According to Paul the tax licenses and bottling permits needed to allow guests to blend their own wine and take it home were intricate and mind boggling to say the least. But the end result seems certainly worth the effort in my opinion.

The room has nineteen barrels in all, fifteen barrels of Cabernet Sauvignon representing the diversity of American Viticulture Areas in Napa Valley and one barrel each of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec & Petit Verdot. The Cabernet barrels are grouped according to five fruit complexity profiles— Soft, Supple, Complex, Rich and Bold. Each barrel had notes about climate and soils (including a soil sample) and a map indicating where the AVA is located.

The tables were set with beakers and glasses and a blending book for note taking giving the AVA Room the air of a very high-end test lab. (If high school had been this deluxe I might have majored in Chemistry.) Paul gave us an overview of the blending process and then we were set free to begin. The first step is to taste from each barrel and note what samples appeal to you most. Then after you have an idea of what blend percentages you’d like, you fill your beaker accordingly and then test it in the large tasting glass.

This is more work than you might think, and a lovely buffet lunch was provided to help us keep our strength as we blended. Inspiration can come from almost anywhere and it was a selection of cupcakes on the buffet that led to my wine blend philosophy. It seemed there were as many different cupcake flavors (red velvet, pink champagne and black cherry) as there were Cabernet Sauvignon AVA’s and I was inspired to create the perfect Cabernet to pair with cupcakes, something bold and complex to complement the sweetness of the cupcake.

My final blend was as follows: 40% Stags Leap District from the Clo Du Val Vineyard. 40% Rutherford, Hozhoni Vineyard. 10% Rutherford, Conn Creek Estate Vineyard. And 10% Merlot. I ended up choosing all moderately warm climates across the board. And all had volcanic soil components as well.

The AVA Room Barrel Blending Experience was tremendous fun and very educational to have access to all the Cabernet samples in one place. The only thing I found difficult about the experience was the math conversion—going from a 100 % beaker to the 750 ML blending beaker. Luckily for this journalism grad there was a conversion chart in the back of the blending book and Paul graciously helped me out when I realized I was filling my large beaker with the wrong percentages. (Hint: start with the big percentage first and work up)

Once your blend is done you choose a bottle and a cork and in one swift pull on the corker you have a sealed bottle. Final step-- design and apply your label and that’s it.

Supposedly, we will drink these blends in a blend-off-challenge to be held at the 2010 Wine Bloggers Conference in Walla Walla, Washington. But I don’t know if mine will last that long. I’m ready to open it right now. For more details and information on The Conn Creek AVA Room Blending Experience visit their website here.

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