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Blending and Fine Tuning our Whites

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  • Blending and Fine Tuning our Whites

    Several months ago I discussed what happens to our white wines once they have finished fermenting, and in this post I’d like to look at the final stages in the life of a white wine – blending and fine tuning.
    After each vintage we will have several hundred individual parcels of white wines stored in different size stainless steel tanks or in barrels. Once we have tasted each wine and decided where that wine will be used, we can finally start blending. 
    Yellow Label Chardonnay - A Case in Point

    For a wine like Wolf Blass Yellow Label Chardonnay, there may be up to 100 separate parcels of wine from different regions across South Australia. Each region and each individual wine will bring something different to the final blend – some will have lovely citrus notes, some will show rich oak, some will have more tropical fruit characters, and the skill of the winemaker is to bring these individual components together to produce a wine of a certain style. For example the Wolf Blass Yellow Label Chardonnay shows rich fruit, subtle oak and a hint of grapefruit pith on the palate, so each year I work through the individual component wines and pick out those that will work together for that style of wine. I start by tasting each of the wines, and grouping them together in loose categories – for example “oaky”, “citrus”, “tropical”, “elegant” – and then start to bring them all together on the tasting bench to arrive at the final wine. It usually becomes obvious fairly early on if something is missing – there may not be enough oak character, or not enough rich fruit – and this is where I’ll look at bringing in extra components or leaving something out of the final blend.  
    Working as a Team

    At each of these stages we tend to taste the wines as a team – this ensures we get a really consistent approach to our house styles, and is also a great forum for debate as we work through the wines. Chardonnay in particular is a style that has evolved significantly over the last decade, and we draw on our experience as both winemakers and consumers to talk about where we think the style is going, and how we can continue to improve and refine our wines. It’s a fascinating and rewarding process, and one of our strengths as a team has been to respect other people’s views while being comfortable in expressing your own – I think it’s a sign of confidence in our ability as individuals and as a team.
    Fine Tuning

    Once we have agreed on the final blend, the wines are blended in the cellar and we can look at the final stage of creating a wine – fine tuning. The winemaking process is in reality a long and often very slow one. We spend time in the vineyards to select the right fruit, and ensure we harvest it at the right time, and then nurse the wines through fermentation, maturation and blending. Finally we can make any adjustments to the wine prior to filtering and bottling, a process we call fine tuning. Some of the fine tuning is to ensure the wine reaches the consumer in the best condition possible – we will look at protecting the wine from spoilage, and also checking the wine is stable and won’t become cloudy or deteriorate in the bottle. And then the final step is to taste the blended wine and look at fine tuning the palate – if we have got the previous steps from the vineyard through to the blended wine correct, we should need to do very little. We generally make minute adjustments to the wine to make sure its balanced, that it has the structure and profile that we are looking for, and that it has all the hallmarks of a Wolf Blass wine – quality, character and consistency. 
    This is the point where the wine spreads its wings and leaves the nest – our work is done and it’s a case of bottling the wine and shipping it out to be enjoyed around the world, and usually time for us to start thinking about the next vintage and the process starting all over again!