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I Blend My Own Wine in the Napa Valley
August 2008 by Matthew Debord

Unlike seemingly every other wine journalist on planet Earth, I have never had any desire to become a winemaker. I like the people and the stories and the product and I'm happy to leave the men and women who have chosen this demanding trade to the very very very very hard work of tending vines and producing bottled poetry. Still, while on my recent jaunt to Napa, I did get the chance to blend my own wine, from primo Napa juice, and so I went for it.

Who knows if the results are any good. But I thought it tasted OK. We were at Bennett Lane Winery, which produces a great wine called Maximus: it's an interesting blend of mainly Cabernet, Merlot, and Syrah. And so for our little experiment, guided by staffer Stefanie Longton and winemaker Rob Hunter (who told a cool story comparing picking grapes at proper ripeness to doing likewise with blackberries, a story that reminded me of Galway Kinnell's famous poem), we were given some Cab, Merlot, Syrah, plus a graduated cylinder and a pipette (Flashback! High school chemistry!). Then we were told to go to town!

I adopted a cowardly strategy: figuring that if I had great Cab and great Merlot, I decided not to mess with the Syrah, thereby controlling for two variables rather than three. Besides, I don't much like Cali Syrahs from outside Paso Robles (that said, Bennett Lane's is pretty much rockin' on its own, and you can see in the final blend of Maximus why it makes sense).

I went from mostly Cab with a splash of Merlot (too crispy and tannic) to a 70-30 blend (structured, but not much fun to drink now) to 60-40, which I decided was the winner because it was the most fun.

Unfortunately, the Bennett Lane stock car was not on premise, so I didn't get my chance to at least sit in it (I was kinda hoping they might let me start it up).

For the record, Bennett Lane's Hunter has developed an interesting attitude toward new oak--he doesn't like to use it 100 percent, preferring instead to mix some used oak barrels from previous vintages. I think he's on to something, definitely fulfilling BL's goal of producing a solid sub-$100 primo red that consumers can enjoy right away and on a more consistent basis. It's plush, generous, and elegant, with plenty of layers of ripe, yummy fruit and the structure to prevent it from seeming flat or flabby.

BL also produced one of the best Cali Ports Dessert Wines (they can't call it Port, so they use the DW designation and tack on "After Feasting Wine") I've ever had. So there, naysayers of Cali! The Valley really can do it all.

And guess what? Longton went to USC--as in Gamecocks! So we got to trade barbs over lunch, as I went to ultra-rival Clemson. Go Tigers!

Welcome to Bennett Lane Winery  - Home of 36 90+ Point Wines from Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast and Robert Parker's Wine Advocate


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