Winemakers Blind Taste Each Other's Trials

Unusual event in Napa Valley shows dramatic results regarding techniques

by Jim Gordon
the winemakers tasting
Napa Valley winemakers get instructions from Elizabeth Van Emst, West Coast operations manager for Cooperages 1912, before blind tasting one of 21 trials during The Winemakers Tasting at The Culinary Institute of America, Greystone.
St. Helena, Calif.—Rarely do winemakers get the opportunity to blind taste other winemakers’ experiments with wine quality, particularly examining the effects of various winemaking techniques in a controlled, peer-reviewed environment.

A recent event called The Winemakers Tasting helped fill that vacuum for members of the Napa Valley Vintners. About 60 winemakers came to The Culinary Institute of America, Greystone, to blind-taste 21 trials involving harvest methods, yeast selection, fermentor type, extended maceration, oak types, closures and more.

The results were dramatic in some cases. The winemakers’ votes favored machine-picked Cabernet Sauvignon over hand-picked by a 3:2 ratio in one trial. And they preferred hand sorting almost 4:1 over optical sorting for the same Cabernet grapes when they were all hand picked.

In a trial of barrel-fermented Cabernet with six different extended maceration times from 15 to 135 days, the sample with the shortest time got the most votes as No. 1, and the sample with the longest maceration got the lowest marks. Full results of all the trials were sent to participants.

Kristin Belair of Honig Vineyard & Winery is one of six winemakers on the advisory board for The Winemakers Tasting. “We know these wineries are keen on camaraderie,” she said. “We decided that if sharing the wines from various trials we’ve done could help us make better wine, we would do it.” The other board members are Sara Fowler, Peju Winery; Kimberlee Nicholls, Markham Vineyards; Ted Henry, Jarvis; Joe Shirley, Trinchero Family Estates; and Jeffrey Stambor, Beaulieu Vineyard.

Cooperages 1912 sponsored the venue, food and other logistics. “We know that winemakers love to experiment,” said Jason Stout, sales director. “But few wineries have the resources to do all these trials themselves. By pulling them all together in one place The Winemakers Tasting provides a new way winemakers can learn from each other in addition to learning from us suppliers.”

The all-day tasting May 10 was by invitation-only for area winemakers to ensure the wine trials were relevant and the peer review was valuable. Stout said the tasting went well enough to consider expanding to other California regions in the future.

Posted on 07.09.2013 - 07:10:52 PST
If you are planning/willing to do some trials this harvest that could be used for The Winemakers Tasting next year we would love to hear from you. Please contact Jason Stout at jstout@cooperages1912.com.
Teri Smith

Posted on 07.09.2013 - 11:53:31 PST
I'd love to see this with happen with Pinot producers in Sonoma Co.
Evan Pontoriero

Posted on 07.09.2013 - 10:20:15 PST
More detailed reporting is needed in order to understand the machine picked outcome in 'one trial' and the hand sorting vs optical sorting in another.

It would be particularly interesting to know what kind of sorting went on after the machine harvesting operation and the hand picked reference operation where machine harvesting was shown to be quite acceptable.
Jim Bullis