Monday, May 16, 2011

How I became a wine blending expert in under 2 hours

When my friend Jacob asked me if I wanted to redeem a Groupon with him for a “wine blending class” in Lacey, WA (an hour south of Seattle) in which we'd end up with six bottles of our own blend, I of course said yes because I adore random activities. I’m happy to say that it far outweighed even our loftiest expectations of randomness.

Jacob (who is like a brother - ask anyone, we bicker like siblings) and I both love a sleepover and my couch is unbelievably comfortable, so Sunday morning started with this...

...followed by homemade frittata and coffee before we hit the road at about 10:45 to make it in time for our 12:00 class. It was pouring rain which was fine by us – a sunny day would have made us want to ditch and hang outside, especially after this spring of winter weather.

We rolled up right on time to Classic Winemakers, a combination "micro winery" and retailer. Since neither of us knew what to expect, it seemed normal that there were people perusing the inventory sipping glasses of wine while carboys of wine occupied every available space in the small store. Why not?

Soon, our brewmaster Andrew led us into a separate room in the back - also filled with carboys, barrels, and other wine accoutrement - where there were four wines on tap and sets of 2 and 4 wine glasses waiting. So, this was going to be a private class... we had no idea if we'd be with a group in a classroom or what! Andrew told us we'd be tasting four wines, gave us a brief description of each, and poured them out for us: a merlot, cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, and tempranillo. They were all pretty sweet with the latter two being the driest.

Once we'd tasted them, he showed us the next set of wine glasses with large syringes in them, plus a small measuring cup: these were our "blending" tools. We were to make four different blends of our own, and then choose the one we liked best. That was it. Andrew left us to our own devices to blend.

We jumped right in with a 75% merlot/25% tempranillo blend. Yuck - too sweet! Next was a 75% shiraz/25% tempranillo blend that we liked pretty well. Third we tried 50% shiraz and 25% each merlot and tempranillo. Nope. At this point we were pretty sure we'd go with blend #2 and decided that, what the hell, we'd try 25% of each for our fourth and final blend. We couldn't be sure if it was our destroyed palates but it was actually quite tasty! We got Andrew to taste it and told him he could make fun of us if it was terrible, but he actually seemed to like it. This was our blend: the 4x4.

Our next task was to "recreate" the blend to make sure it tasted the way we wanted it to, and then Andrew brought us six empty bottles, a bottle with measurement marks on it as a guide, and a funnel, and once again left us to our devices. It was hardly an exact science and each bottle ended up with a different composition, but we weren't too worried about it. We tended toward more shiraz and tempranillo and called it good.

Once bottled, Andrew came back with a manual corking machine and let us pick our own color of cork - we went with a classic black. He gave us a quick demo and we corked the rest ourselves.

Next we moved on to labels. We chose a farm motif and Andrew showed us how to use the label making program on the computer. Jacob is a designer and I'm in marketing so we spent a semi-absurd amount of time designing our label.

It's worth noting here that Jacob had been pouring himself single-serve "4x4" blends right from the taps and at one point even moved on to drinking our rejected blends. To categorize him as "in the bag" would not be unfair. I, as driver, remained what we called in college "essentially sober," i.e. BAC below .08, but I was certainly not an innocent bystander to the one-off drinking of 4x4s. During one such pouring, I managed to knock one of the reject blends all over myself. After insisting on a photo for full documentation of the event, I hurried to the front counter where they sprayed me down with "wine out" or some such miracle spray - I'm happy to report it washed up beautifully.

Labels finally designed and printed, we carried our bottles to a flat rack to wipe them clean of our fingerprints and adhese the stickers. The very last step was the cap. We had originally thought we'd use a black and gold topper to match our label, but at the last minute inspiration struck and we chose a bright yellow finish to our bottles.

They have a fun heat machine where you stick the topper on the wine and then heat it for three seconds:

Voila! Totally professional-looking bottles of our own blended wine. Behold, Archerstone Estates "4x4" blend, May 2011:

The whole thing took about an hour and a half. After turning in our voucher and tipping the very accommodating and chill Andrew, we headed back into the rainy afternoon, disoriented and amused by the complete randomness of what we'd just done. A decision was quickly made to Eat Lunch Now, and we pulled off one exit later into the Nisqually Bar and Grill, which was surprisingly light-filled with great servers and amazing burgers:

Full from lunch and tired from the day's excitement but fully sober, I got behind the wheel for the haul back to Seattle. Also full from lunch and still buzzed, Jacob did his best to stay awake and keep me company. Traffic was blessedly light and we were both relieved to be back in my apartment by 3:30. Jacob was so happy he promptly laid down on the couch and slept for 2 hours while I puttered about, waiting for my laundry to finish. This is one of many positions I laughed at during his "best nap ever": (All photos reproduced with Jacob's permission!)

A brisk walk, a bowl of pho, and a terrible movie finished off a hilarious Sunday.

We're currently accepting applications from qualified applicants to help consume a bottle of Archerstone 4x4 - interested candidates should submit an essay entitled "Why I want to drink a bottle of mystery blend."

p.s. We took some great videos as well. Once I edit them together I'll share.


Desomniac said...

Why I want to drink a bottle of mystery blend: I suspect it to be full of two of my favorite things. Alcohol and Love. Mmmmmm alcoholic love. *drool*

Daruma-san said...

"Why I Want to Drink 1-2 Glasses of Mystery Blend"

By Morgan

I like the yellow cap a lot. And I will praise your blend extensively and often while I drink it. Wine goes really far for me, which means I'll be giddy and flushed after only 2 glasses. That's a promise.

Jacob said...

Best. Nap. Ever.