A lot of you might know that back in 2009 I teamed up with a couple other winemakers in Pennsylvania to create the first cooperative red blend in the state. We took as our model the wine Tierce produced by Fox Run, Red Newt, and Anthony Road up in the Finger Lakes in New York. But, being more interested in reds, we turned our thoughts to the really nice, full-bodied wines from the 2007 vintage.
The winemakers in question were myself, Joanne Levengood from Manatawny Creek Winery (Douglasville), and Brad Knapp from Pinnacle Ridge Winery (Kutztown). Every year the three of us get together and bring samples of all of our barrels to a central non-neutral location. Not that it matters. We all know each other well enough after years of doing this that there really is no home-field advantage. For that matter, it's not a competition either. At least that's what we say.....
Suffice it to say that we start early in the morning tasting wines, beginning with the Chardonnays as a way to get the ball rolling. We all make Chardonnay, but I've been starting to wonder why. We can make blockbuster wines from time-to-time, but since when does anyone expect a world-class Chard from PA? And, to make matters worse, who would pay for one? It gets depressing when we don't get the full respect we deserve. So, we're still playing around with different things. Chardonnay is a great experimental wine as it takes a winemaker's influence readily, and it's easy to mold and shape.
But we quickly move on to the reds, the real reason most of us winemakers are winemakers. I'm sure that if I was in a cooler climate, I would come to love white wine production. But for me, there's just something about punching down the red fermentations in the fall, racking the wines to barrels, sampling from those barrels, and then creating blends at the end of the process. It's more hands-on, nitty-gritty, getting-into-it winemaking. It's why I'm a winemaker.
We spend numerous hours in the day sniffing and swirling and spitting--yes, spitting--stopping barely for a break for lunch. After doing this for years, we have a comfortable rapport with each other, and we not only expect honesty from each other, we also have to deliver honestly. We all have egos, of course. You can't make great wine without one. But with that you need thick skins. If someone says, "Carl, it smells musty, like earthy concrete" when it's not supposed to, I have to check myself from saying "But that's what I was going for" because we all know the wine shouldn't smell that way. So, I re-examine what the hell might have made this nice barrel smell offensively, trying to figure out if I have a TCA infection or some other weirdness. It's like when the doctor orders more tests because they can't figure out what's wrong.... Then I realize that it was probably a dirty sample bottle that I re-used this past time--a hypothesis confirmed when I got home and the barrel was fine.
After years of doing this, we finally made a wine together. Which is somewhat of a nice culmination of events, because in one regard we've been making wine together all these years. It turns out that we forgot about all the headaches of finding a label that worked for us, bottles that would work, and all the rest of the logistical problems we dealt with almost two years ago. And so we thought we might give it another try with some 2010 reds. We think.
We'll just have to get together again and try some more barrels this summer to find out.