As the year winds down and the holidays approach, harvest still seems fresh in the minds of the production team. Crafting the final blend of Cabernet before it is transferred to barrels might seem like a pivotal step in the artistry of winemaking for the new vintage, but in fact, it is a quick tasting of myriad lots to confirm what we have been observing on the vines for months.
At the onset of harvest in September, Winemaker Rob Davis, Assistant Winemakers Ronald du Preez and myself work together tasting the highly diverse lots of grapes that are sampled daily before they are harvested. This grape review is the most critical to the quality assessments that make up the blend. After the grapes are delivered to our fermenters, each tank is tasted twice a day throughout the fermentation. Following the fermentation, each tank is pressed individually, sensory notes are assessed and then paired up with other lots that are similar in quality. After a 3- to 4-week malolactic fermentation, the wines again are re-tasted and assessed for matching with other tanks that are “blend worthy” for our vintage Cabernet.
At this point we take samples from each tank to a white room, lit only by dim red lights, and taste together, verbally comparing our sensory notes. Why the red light? Color more than any other component in red wine prejudices the palate when fruit aromas and flavors want to be prioritized. Cabernet rarely suffers from lack of color. So by reviewing the wines under red light, the variation of hues is mitigated, and we can focus more on the lovely notes of blackberry and cassis that are so important to the style of our wine.
Our final blend can be drawn from as many as 30 lots. The quality bar is set very high: the very best Cabernet in the world. Grand cru classé wines are exceptional for this reason: rigorous selection. Either the lot makes the cut or it is set aside for further consideration at another time. Normally this means that the lot will be sold to the bulk wine market at a considerably less profit. With the selection made, the next step is to blend the wines together in our upright, 6,000-gallon oak casks in preparation for going to barrel.