Saturday, July 30, 2011

Experience Blending

I am honored to be chosen to participate in the Raymond’s 2009 Sommelier’s Selection blending.  When I was first asked I did not realize the gravity and importance of the invitation.  I am one of nine Sommelier’s from around the USA to come together and work on the blending of the components to make the 2009 bottling of the Sommelier Selection wine!  (If you would like to taste the 2009 we are serving it at my restaurant Francesca's at Sunset for 16 a glass and 63 a bottle.)

I got to unwind in Sonoma before arriving in Rutherford; flew in on Sunday and made my way to De Loach Winery in the Russian River Valley.  It was a leisurely pace underscored by the quite pastoral surroundings.  Monday the relaxation continued as I road over the Mayacamas Mountain to Napa arriving after lunch and free until about four o’clock when the schedule of events with the Raymond Winery began.  We gathered in the hotel lobby; the sommeliers from all over.  Several were new faces for me, a few I had the pleasure of meeting before and one was my mentor who gave me my start as a sommelier; Virginia Phillip MS.    ( I owe my entire career to her teaching and encouragement to get into the Court of Master Sommelier’s testing and certification progress.)    Lot’s of hand shakes and warm greetings as the introductions continued with our hosts from the winery arriving to whisk us away.  We divided up into several cars; I had the thrill of riding in the winery owner’s black Maserati!

Driving up to the winey we pass the many acres of vineyards around the winery, all newly planted with tender young vines.  The Raymond Winery is a great historical property made successful by the pioneering families of Napa Valley.  In 2009 the winery was purchased by the Boisset Family Estates and the replanting of the vineyards is the first of many improvements they are making.  It is important that they begin with the soil and the vines; the Boisset Family are worldwide leaders in Organic and Biodynamic farming and this great effort, expensive and long term improvement is proof of their commitment to this venture, California wine and the people who live and work there.

We are all received at the winey under a grove of trees by the charismatic and energetic owner Jean-Charles Boisset.  We have an awkward and funny moment when this group of Sommeliers are welcomed with Raymond Sauvignon Blanc; only the wine is corked!  It seems as if everyone notices however it takes a moment for someone to say something.  And to his credit Jean-Charles is not flustered, they just get more wine to serve to us and state the obvious case for the use of Stelvin closures to avoid moments like this!  

Our host continues the getting to know you experience by sharing the vision they have for The Theater of Nature feature under construction.  It will be an outdoor path which will take visitors on a tour of the reasons Organic and Biodynamic farming is important to all of us.  The vision is grand and will be significant as an experiential way to communicate the science behind this time honored and proven techniques; as we all want to understand the best way to live, grow and enjoy our world.
The Crystal Cellar

From here we toured the winery’s newly remodeled tasting room and “red room” before retiring to the “Crystal Cellar” filled with beautiful Baccarat Crystal decanters and objets d'art, along with mirrors and chandeliers for a reserve tasting of the Raymond Cabernets.  All the reflective surfaces mentioned before in addition to the stainless steel tanks, this is the wineries’ working tank room, with special colored “mood” lighting makes this tasting experience unlike any I have experienced before.  Jean-Charles is very creative and theatrical in his “staging” of the winery experience; his efforts are effective in taking you out of the ordinary and gives you permission to dream and fantasize in a way one would not otherwise, and that can be a very good place to taste wine.

We emerged from the dark night atmosphere of the Crystal Cellar to return to the grove of trees, with the California sun still shinning brightly the feeling of the time that has passed grows and I have the impression that we have been at the winery longer than we actually have.  Here we are introduced to the JCB line of sparkling wines from France; first a Rose and then a Blanc de Blanc.  Jean-Charles sabered, or more accurately “meat cleavered” them open.  With light canapés the sparkling wines were refreshing and delicious.  

After the appropriate time of mingling and savoring we entered the JCB Lounge; a building from the outside looked like a pool house; being next to the pool.  However, once inside you have entered a world dipped in gold and lit by a thousand flickering candles, with load Michael Jackson music in the air and the flashing video images on a large projection screen.  The room is appointed with unconventional furniture and eclectic objects the affect is, as before; to transport you out the ordinary and into a different place.  It is a place where every one of your senses is being engaged and excited.  We soon sit down for a four course Chef prepared dinner paired with a wide array of wines all poured in quick succession.  Each dish is excellent and each wine is better and the getting to know you conversation is punctuated by Lady Gaga videos and Federico Fellini movie clips.  If it sounds a bit dizzying; it was, and in hindsight it seems appropriate as we are there to blend, to mix and to concoct a very special wine vintage the very next morning.

The California mornings are always slow in coming; the time zone difference is definitely in our favor because even when you have to get up early it feels like you are sleeping in.  We gather in the lobby of our hotel to return to the winery from a light breakfast under the trees before heading to the “laboratory.”  We got to work in teams of two and I was blessed to pair up with Virginia Phillip MS.  We were introduced to the five wines that could go into the blend by the Raymond winemaker; Stephanie L. Putnam.  The wines were all the 2009 vintage; Napa Cab, Napa Cab Franc, Lake Cab, Sonoma Cab and Sonoma Merlot.  With some brief guidelines and advice we were set to the task of blending wine.  It never ceases to amaze everyone the way just a percentage or two differences in the blend affects the taste very noticeably. (Read more on the blending here.)  Virginia and I worked well together and progress through several blends making minor adjustments and by the fifth blend or what we called “wine E” we felt we had it!  We kept on blending to try to push on further maybe find and even better combination.  Three more wines are blended and I think “wine G” is very good and also has a chance.  We are able to submit these two wines to the final tasting.  Which will be after lunch…
Foreground: Steven Krueger and Virginia Philip blending "wine E"
Background: Matthew Turner and Emily Wines
For lunch the winery has table set outside under another grove of trees.  It is really amazing to experience the gentle California weather; this day the sun is very bright yet the temperature is very comfortable and the scenery is beautiful to an almost dreamlike degree.  In this setting we get to meet Brian Maloney; the wine maker for Raymond’s sister property De Loach, in Sonoma.  Brian tells us all about De Loach and the many Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays they are making.  Many are single vineyards and very unique, I thought the most impressive were from their “new” vineyards in Marin County just north of San Francisco and south of Sonoma.  I am confident we will be seeing many more wines coming from here in the future.  Along with these amazing wines we had another meal prepared by the talented Chef Michel Cornu.  His extensive knowledge of cuisine and wine can be experienced in each dish.  My favorite of all was the Gilled Japanese Eggplant with fresh goat cheese and smoked tomato coulis.  The earthy notes in the eggplant and goat cheese with the smoke and umami in the tomatoes made the De Loach Pinots sing!  Very delicious.

After lunch we returned to the lab where we all have a taste of each of the eight blends in the running.  We get to taste them blind and rate them one through eight, one being the best and the blend that will make the 2009 Sommelier Selection from Raymond!  It is quite exciting.  The wines are only subtlety different.  Some are all Cab and show more structured and firmness others have Merlot and Cab Franc adding to their finesse and smoothness.  Each of us voted and Stephanie compiles the results very quickly.  Stephanie reveals them in contest fashion with the last place being announced first; it is “wine G” Virginia and I blended; it was the wine too far and was the least liked by the group.  The rest of the wines are listed off; seven, six, five…until wine two...when it is revealed that there is a tie for first place between a wine submitted by Emily Wines, MS and Matthew Turner vs. “wine E” that Virginia and I blended!  So, Stephanie conducts an instant taste off and we all vote by a show of hands…and the winner is Emily and Matt’s wine!  The wines were all quite comparable and the decisions were made by blind tasting and very difficult to make. For me it was very exhilarating to contribute.  We cheered and celebrate the winning blend and the blenders.  Gifts from the winery were given and soon everyone was saying goodbye and heading in different directions; back to reality; with very fond memories and the sweet anticipation of the release of the 2009 Sommelier Selection.  Now I know when we all came together; we blended a lot more than just wine.
From Left to Right: Spencer Cole -Boisset, Mark Drake -Boisset, Virginia Philip -The Breakers, Steven Krueger -The Westin La Cantera, Stephanie L. Putnam -Raymond, Frenchie (The French Bulldog) -Boisset, David Flom -Chicago Cut, Emily Wines -Kimpton, Steve Giancotti -Lowrys, Peggy Gsell -Boisett, Jim Gallagher -Cole's Chop House, Matthew Turner -Michael Mina, and in his space suit; Jean-Charles Boisset (Not pictured but present for the blending; Ron D'ellero -Knickerbockers Restaurant.)

No comments:

Post a Comment