Field Notes: Mary Goes to Wine Camp, Part Two

Salt Lake magazine editor Mary Brown Malouf is in Napa with other Salt Lake food and restaurant professionals attending local wine broker Francis Fecteau’s semi-annual Wine Farm Camp. Here is her latest letter home.

I’ve heard many wine people say that everything needed to make wine is right there in the vineyard—the sugar in the grape, the wild yeast, the water. That’s how “natural” wine is—basically, God makes wine.

Real wine people say, “God makes vinegar. Humans make wine.”

At Judd’s Hill in Napa, Libation‘s Francis Fecteau put the wine campers up against God. Four bottles were set on each table—cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, malbec and petite verdot–straight from the barrel—along with wine glasses, beakers and a measure. After tasting the pure varietals, unmessed-with by man, our task was to blend the best wine we were able. One that would be ready to drink by, say, Thanksgiving.

Each table of 6 or 7 campers worked as a team. Because my table was all women and we all appreciate packaging, we called our blend “Violet Femmes” and gave the blending page a lip smack with red lipstick as our brand. So, basically. we started out really strong.

Then we started mixing.

Let me just say that none of the unmixed varietals tasted very good. They were all rough around the edges, too acid or tannic or something. The only one that seemed palatable to us was the malbec which surprised me because it’s a wine I never order. So we made malbec our base and in the course of an hour played with adjusting the percentages of other wines to make a tasty blend. Mostly we added the cabernet franc, a little less cab sauvignon and a touch of petite verdot.

Serious blending. Seriously.

Here’s the deal: The winemaker isn’t just mixing existing flavors together. This isn’t like making chocolate milk, just mixing flavors together until you like it. It’s not even like mixing a drink. To blend wine, you don’t just need to taste the flavors of the component wines in front of you. You have to be able to imagine how those wines will taste in the future. It’s all going to change and develop in the bottle. You’re kind of making virtual wine that will only become a reality in a few months.

wine camp
The Judgment: Sipping and swirling our fates. Don’t make that face.

Our wine came in third out of three, according to the judges’ blind tasting. Evidently, marketing doesn’t affect anything if it can’t be seen.

The winning blend—based on petite verdot—was batch blended, bottled, corked and labeled for us to take home. Presumably to drink at Thanksgiving.

I’ll let you know how that works out.

Meanwhile, here’s what I learned: God may make wine. The winemaker makes GOOD wine.

Read Mary’s first letter here

Mary Brown Malouf
Mary Brown Malouf
Mary Brown Malouf is the late Executive Editor of Salt Lake magazine and Utah's expert on local food and dining. She still does not, however, know how to make a decent cup of coffee.

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