This week, we put together our white blends for 2014:
Typically, our blending weeks follow a consistent pattern. We start by tasting each lot, variety by variety, and giving them grades. [For an overview of our grading system, see this post by my dad from 2012.] This initial phase gives us an overview of the vintage's strengths and weaknesses, helps point out lots that need attention in the cellar, and suggests which lots are of a quality that they should be considered for the Esprit de Tablas. This year, the white tasting included 4 Viognier lots, 5 Grenache Blanc lots, 2 lots each of Picpoul Blanc and Marsanne, and 10 lots of Roussanne. My notes:
A good initial test of the vintage is the percentage of lots that receive our top grade (a "1" in this case). Somewhere around 40% is normal for us; this vintage I gave 13 of the 23 lots a "1" grade. The next thing I look at is what percentage of our total gallons of each grape get that top grade, which helps us know what the likely profile of our blends will be, and if there are lots whose friendliness and relative lack of depth suggest they're better suited for the Patelin than for our estate wines. This year, I gave "1" grades to 55% of our Roussanne, 72% of our Grenache Blanc, 23% of our Marsanne, 15% of our Viognier, and 100% of our Picpoul (I rated both of our lots a "1"). We did identify one Viognier lot for declassification into the Patelin Blanc. The lineup of lots, on the bar on Monday, and below it, our flight of 5 different Grenache Blancs:
Our next step is to blend the Esprit Blanc. We typically start from the outside and work our way in. We tasted blends between 60% and 80% Roussanne, 20% and 40% Grenache Blanc, and 0% and 10% Picpoul. It took us two days, but we came to the conclusion that as good as the Grenache Blanc and Picpoul were this year (and both were excellent), because of the good acidity on Roussanne -- often a low-acid grape -- we didn't need as much of the others as it might have at first appeared. We even toyed with the idea of eliminating Picpoul entirely and focusing on the richness of Roussanne and Grenache Blanc, but in the end decided that the tropical fruitiness of Picpoul, which came through appealingly even at just 5% of the final blend, was of value to the finished wine even if the acidity was OK without it. Our (tentatively) final Esprit Blanc blend: 72% Roussanne, 23% Grenache Blanc, and 5% Picpoul Blanc.
We then turned our focus to the Cotes Blanc, having removed from consideration the lots earmarked for the Esprit Blanc. This is typically an easier process, because we have fewer options in front of us. We knew at this point that because we had declassified one Viognier lot to Patelin, we weren't going to make a varietal Viognier. So, we knew the Viognier base that would form the core of the wine. Our questions were at that point to decide the relative proportions of the Grenache Blanc, Marsanne and Roussanne, and over two days, we decided to keep the Roussanne percentage low, both because we want the wine to be different from the Esprit, and because too much Roussanne, added to the rich Viognier base, seemed to make the wines too heavy. In the end, our chosen blend was 42% Viognier, 30% Grenache Blanc, 23% Marsanne, and 5% Roussanne.
The blending session also made clear that we'll have some knockout varietal wines this year, in pretty decent quantities. We decided against making a Viognier, but the Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, and Picpoul Blanc should all be terrific.
This was just the first of three blending weeks on our calendar. We'll reconvene week-after-next to repeat the process with the red lots, and then welcome Francois Perrin to the vineyard two weeks after that to get his take on everything we think we've decided. But even after just one week, it's clear that the raw materials are exceptional. I asked Neil to summarize his impressions of 2014 at this point, and his answer ("a lot of depth, and great acidity") is about as good a starting point as we could want.