THE ART OF THE BLEND | WINEMAKER CHRIS CORLEY
The Relationship. My relationship with our estate grown wines at the blending table really begins in the vineyard, when the vines are planted. We nurture them, we develop them, we guide them to grow to their best potential. The growing season is a dialogue between the winemaker and the vines, a silent and thoughtful communication from budbreak to harvest. We celebrate together, and work through issues together. We work through the rigors of fermentation together, and enjoy the bliss of aging together. It's a dynamic relationship like no other. By the time the wines are on the blending table, I know them intimately. We've spent years together already. Working with the wines to help them find their best expressions of themselves, and of our vineyards and terroir is wonderfully enjoyable.
Synesthesia. The magic of blending is when we can distort the laws of mathematics, and make 1 + 1 = 3. This is satisfying on a tangible level, when I can taste the beautiful textural dance on the palate between the tannins, mouthfeel, and acidity ... or the ethereal interplay of flavors and aromas swirling in the blend. It's also intellectually compelling, as numbers like TA, pH, Oak %, and Tannin whirl around in my mind's palate. The emotional interaction with the wine is most intriguing to me, when I close my eyes, and I can hear the wine like music in my mind ... with subtle pianissimo notes on the front of the palate, building crescendos and a fortissimo finale!
The Wine. One of the best represenatations of 'The Art of the Blend' at MONTICELLO is our 'Corley' Proprietary Red Wine. We made the first vintage of this wine with the 1999 vintage, and over the last 24 vintages the wine has been an absolute joy for me to blend. I love the freedom of working with the different varietals, and the ability to create a wine that has a distinct and diverse personality of its own, that doesn't really fit into a specific varietal characteristic. Our current vintage is 2018, it's an expressive blend of Estate Grown grapes from our southern Oak Knoll District vineyards. 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Franc. It's displays a wonderful juxtaposition of dark berry aromas and lighter fragrant spice tones on the nose. On the palate, the wine has spicy attack from the Cabernet Franc, a round midpalate mouthfeel from the Merlot, and a long, robust finish from the Cabernet Sauvignon. I hope you have an opportunity to enjoy this wine as much as I enjoyed making it!
Chris Corley | Monticello
Assistant Winemaker 1997-1999
Cellar Master 1994-1996
Cellar Journeyman 1992-1993
Cellar Apprentice 1990-1991
Cellar Rat 1987-1989
S54 E9 | Harvest 2023
We're very excited for Harvest 2023! We can feel the energy in the air! Most of our grapes are through veraison ... when the grapes begin to soften, change colors and make the transition from berry growth to berry ripening. We typically begin our field-sampling of the grapesonce veraison is complete.
The first of our still wine grapes to come in is almost always Pinot Noir, and it looks like 2023 will not be an exception. Our Pinot Noir is currently sampling around 23 brix ... even more importantly, the grapes are still plump with softening skins, nice fresh bright berry flavors, and are displaying a great balance of acidity and sweetness when I'm chewing on them. The seeds are all brown, and we've got nicely liginified canes. These are all tangible indicators of ripeness which I pay close attention to.
In the last few years, we've been intentionally leaving a little more fruit on the vines in order to delay the sugar accumulation, and allow for more time for ripening. When it comes to managing sugar accumulation and ripening on a grapevine, you can imagine the leaves as the gas pedal and the grape clusters as brakes. More leaves, less grapes can result in faster sugar accumulation, and less time for true ripening. Increasing the crop load on the vine, makes more work and can slow down the sugar acuumulation in the grape, allowing more time for ripening, and hopefully picking more fully ripened grapes at a lower brix, which will in turn result in lower alcohol. Winegrape ripening is an extraordinarily complex process, and this description greatly oversimplifies it, but I hope it helps to provide a glimpse of some of the considerations that I think through leading up to harvest. The 2023 winemaking program started with the first pruning cut back in March, and we're very excited to start making the transition from the field to the winery with these first upcoming picks of Pinot Noir!