I got to accompany winemaker John Levenberg in the One Woman winery as he tested, tasted and planned his blends for the 2008 pinot noir grown by Russ McCall in Cutchogue.
We started with five samples from different clones and different barrels/tanks, tasted each separately, evaluated their strengths and weaknesses and then decided which would bring the best to a blend.
John, ever the modern winemaker, basically makes wine with his laptop filled with spreadsheets of tiny numbers and an indecipherable short hand — easily explained if you have a patience for numbers. One lot came from vines close to the wood line where the deer have done a lot of damage. Another, clone 115, went through cold maceration, which highlights aromatics; it had a honey, raspbery fruity nose with grainy tannins. The clone 667 spent time in 33 percent of new wood and smelled like it. It was tannic, thanks to the wood and had more of a mid palate with the same grainy tannis. It went through a hot extended maceration, which John says adds to the finish, aside from extracting color and tannins. The clone 777 had 29 percent wood with a nice finish, honey aromas and medium tannins but nothing up front. The final sample is called the reserve; it spent its time in 100 percent new oak and was a 50/50 mix of the 667 and the 115. It had a real bacony nose.
We made two blends: #1- 50 percent reserve, 38 percent 115 and 12 percent 777. #2 43 percent 115, and 29 percent of each the 667 and the reserve.
I liked the honey nose of the 115 and suggested the #2 blend. I think it boils down to a preference for oak, which John admits he loves. Me, not so much. The #1 blend was interesting because it seemed to have more heat than any of the components; it was still bacony with the honey, fuller on the palate and the tannins were softened.
Of course I like #2 best (it was mine), because it preserved the honey and got the added heft of the oak and the mid palate from the 667.
What was interesting, but I guess not too surprising, was that winemakers explicitly make different components to achieve a complete finished products. Also entering into the mix and making it a science, aside from the art, is working with what you have, not only the quality but the quantity. No wine should go to waste, so you have to work with what the vintage gave you. And you have to satisfy the boss, while thinking about how you can sell it.
I also tasted from the tank the 2008 sauvignon blanc from the One Woman vineyard. It was delicious and clean, fruity and easy to drink. John hadn’t decided what to do with it yet — blend with other varietals or bottle it on its own. I thought it was delicious on its own, but there really wasn’t enought of it to warrant selling it at the price an unoaked newly released sauvignon blanc would fetch. It would be great by the glass, but can they make money on it?