Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Wine Geek's Dream - VGS Blending Experience at Chateau Potelle: Part II

In Part I of this saga,  I told you about our invitation to a unique and exciting event - the VGS Chateau Potelle VGS Originals Wine Blending Experience.  The weekend of festivities included the following:
  • Friday – Welcome Reception at the new VGS Chateau Potelle Tasting House in St. Helena
  • Saturday – In the a.m., make your own wine blend and take home 5 cases of your creation. In the p.m., a cooking demonstration by Chef Ken Frank of the La Toque Restaurant in the City of Napa. Oh yeah, and lunch from C Casa as well!
  • Sunday – Brunch in the VGS Vineyard.
VGS Chateau Potelle  Tasting House in St. Helena, CA

Now for Part II and the main event - our wine blending event on Saturday!
On Saturday morning, we were up bright (well maybe a little tarnished) and early (definitely early – this is a vacation right?) to head off of Copia for our big day.  The schedule was fully booked for the day, but we were up to the challenge!  We arrived at the Copia just as it started to rain, we were sans umbrellas, but ran up to the building and were greeted by none other than Tony! Yes, Tony from our first visit to Chateau Potelle so many years ago.  Having had a first career in IT, where changing jobs every couple of years is a norm, I do really like to see when someone who enjoys their job enough to stick with it for so many years – a definite sense of family in the workplace. It was those type of drastic differences that led me to pursue a second career far from the corporate world…anyway enough about me!
Copia - The One Time American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts

For those of you that have not heard of it, Copia, the American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts was opened in 2001 as a non-profit discovery center to explore the pleasure and benefits of wine, food pairing, and the significance of wine on our culture.  Copia was envisioned through a partnership between Julia Child, Robert Mondavi, the University of California at Davis, the Cornell University School of Restaurant and Hotel Administration, and the American Institute of Wine & Food.  Unfortunately the timing for this type of institution was not the best, and in 2008 the Copia filed for bankruptcy and is now for sale. Luckily for us – also available to be rented out, and that is exactly what our Chateau Potelle hosts did.

Grapes? Art? Both!

It is quite sad that the Copia ended up closing down as it is an absolutely beautiful building. It had a very open design, and included a restaurant call Julia’s Kitchen. I have been in some restaurants where you have a good view of the kitchen activity – in this one it was like the tables were in the kitchen – all the cooking activity would have been in plain view.  Add in one huge glass sculpture of a bunch of grapes – and you have quite a place!

The Open View Kitchen at Julia's Kitchen in the Copia

Our blending experience was held in a theatre style seating auditorium that had a demonstration kitchen as the stage. 

The Site of Our Wine Blending Mayhem

Close-Up of the Demonstration Kitchen in the Auditorium at Copia

Setup for each couple were some wine glasses, plus bottles labeled Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah… 

Our Most Important Tools

OK so far, plus a beaker, graduated cylinder, and a pipette. I had a brief flashback to those recurring dreams where I am back in school and have a big final (chemistry in this case), but haven’t studied for it…cuz I haven’t been in school in, like, forever!  

The Rest of Our Tools

We also had a page describing what each of the wines would add to our wine blend, plus a sheet to record our creations and to identify which one we wanted to have turned in to our very own bottles of VGS wine! My wine geek adrenaline was on high, this was exceeding my expectations and we hadn’t even started drinking yet!

What Does Each Wine Bring to the Party?

 To Record Our Winning Concoction

The wineries head winemaker gave us a quick tutorial on the blending process and how best to use our chemistry set.  Blend in the beaker…check… use the graduated cylinder to measure larger percentages… check… use the pipette like a straw to draw in wine to measure smaller amounts of wine to add to the blend…really? a straw? I guess the last pipette I used was with something that using it like a straw probably wasn’t a good idea… some like acids and bases or something like from high school – but what the heck, I can use a straw!
The first part of the intro to blending was fairly technical, which was needed, but my favorite part was when Jean Noel, the winery owner took over with his recommendations. While the talk about beakers and what not was all about the science aspect, Jean Noel’s input was all about the artistry of the process.  He urged us to take our time… “we have rented zis place for ze whole day” (he has a fantastic French accent!),  try lots of combinations, experiment, be creative, mostly – enjoy the process. Ultimately there is no wrong or right answer – just go where our palettes lead us.
OK, so now we’re off and going – and the next couple of hours zoomed by faster than any in my lifetime.  We started off with blends of all four wines – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah. I know that Chateau Potelle bottles a very nice Syrah, so we experimented with Syrah being the highest percentage grape with the other three being mixed at all sorts of different ratios. I would propose a few blends and we would try, Win4o4Life wife would propose some and we would try.  At this point I will take a moment to mention a seemingly small but ultimately important detail.  From the classes I took to become a certified Level II Sommelier with the International Sommelier Guild, I learned the importance of wine tasting, but also of spitting.  In a classroom where we would try 8 wines during the course of any class day – drinking that much wine would equate to not being able to concentrate, and needing a designated driver to get you home. So you taste, swirl, swish the wine around – but ultimately it ends up in the spit bucket.  I wanted to savor this blending experience, so for the most part I practiced taste and spit (I know too much information!).  

The Happy Winemakers

 Don't Try this at Home!

As time went on, my wife and I narrowed our choices to two blends we liked, both more than half Cabernet Sauvignon, with a couple variations on the amount of the other wines.  We decided to do a blind tasting of the ones we like to select our winning blend. 

Our Two Contestants for the Blind Tasting

I decided we should through in third wine, just to have some contrast, so I whipped up a blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Merlot.  Earlier Jean Noel had told us not to be too worried about using all the wines.  So we had our three glasses, identified by a folder piece of paper under the glass.  My wife turned away and promised not to peek as I moved the glasses (and each associated paper) around. Then I turned away while my wife did the same so neither of us know which was which. We tried all three – our two finalist blend, plus my simple concoction. We each wrote down our favorite as a secret ballot, and I was already trying to figure out what to do when we each picked a different one.  It turns out I didn’t need to worry about that as we both picked the same wine. Whew!  Now to reveal which one we picked. I grabbed the paper underneath the wine and opened it up… drum roll please… the 80%/20% blend I just threw in the mix!  We were very baffled so tried again to taste them blind… with the same result.  I did not like it just a little more than the blends with all the grapes… I like it a lot more!  It was more complex, had a wonderful aroma, and a nice long finish. Our other wine had the aroma and a nice fruit forward taste, but the aftertaste dissipated almost immediately.   

Thinking this could not be our final blend, we tried a few more times to leave the 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, but to add a bit of Cabernet Franc with the Merlot.  Nope, blind tasting again – the 80%/20% blend was the winner and champion.  So this was our submission. The wine will be aged a bit more, then blended and bottled and shipped to us in personalized bottles (a very cool surprise).   Our wines bottles will be etched with the following:
  • Maridaje by Wino4Life and VinoDiva
Maridaje is the name of my LLC, and means marriage in Spanish – but is often used as the marriage of good food and wine, more than holy matrimony. Wino4Life would be me, and VinoDiva is Wino4Life wife’s other superhero name.  Stay tuned for reports when we get our very own wine delivered, it should be arriving in the March timeframe I would guess.

The Aftermath - Our Work is Done

Our Fellow Winos Checking Out all the Results
Our blending adventure complete, next up was lunch which was prepared for us on-site (still raining, so we were thankful) by the owner of C Casa. C Casa is located just a block away from Copia in the Oxbow Market. The Oxbow is like a miniature version of Pike’s Place market in Seattle with all sorts of wonderful food vendors (more on this later… please see Sunday dinner!).  Our lunch was served back in Julia’s Kitchen, and each table already had huge bowls of guacamole and chips waiting for us. Lunch was two open faced gourmet style tacos – one crab and one duck.  A very delicious lunch after our hard work in the morning, and it gave us a chance to get to know some of the others who were winemakers for a day along with us.
Now is the time where my graphic detail about tasting and spitting the wine during our blending becomes important. I can guarantee you that no one else in our group did the same thing.  The volume of chat and the amount of laughter was so high – it was great to see people having such a great time. I was still glad I stayed somewhat coherent during the blending, as it was a great learning experience for me, and I wanted to be able to remember it!
So now, this well fed crew headed back to the auditorium for a cooking demonstration from Ken Frank, the Chef of La Toque Restaurant which is located at the Westin in Napa.  I felt bad for Chef Ken, as he had a rambunctious crowd to deal with – but he handled it all pretty well. There were some shouts from the group… “I DON’T SEE WHERE IT SAYS GARLIC ON THE RECIPE” and other gems that made me think the cooking demonstration should have come before the blending.  

Our Cooking Demonstration and a Wonderful Hunk of Steak 

At this point in my life, Chef’s are my rock stars, so I struggled a bit when I felt the crew was being disrespectful, but again, the Chef didn’t seem to care that much, so I just went with the flow. Chef Ken started off with a fantastic shrimp dish on a garlic puree – oh so cleverly called “VGS Shrimp.”  He then followed up with a New York steak served with a Tapioca based side dish. We also got the recipes for these dishes and I am so glad. The process to make the puree involved cooking it in milk, and changing the milk 5 times which removed all the bitterness. So the puree was pure garlic flavor with none of the bitter bite.  Using large pearl Tapioca as a savory side dish was fascinating to me, and the steak demonstration gave me some pointers that my cooking has benefited from already.

This wonderful day at the Copia wrapped up at about 5:30p – and next up was dinner at the Westin… at 7p!  Back to the cruise analogy I made in Part I of this post – it was like one of those super busy cruise days where you wished you had a little bit of relax time.  But what the heck, we’re not THAT old – so let’s zoom back to our hotel, change, and catch the shuttle back to the Westin (no driving for us tonight!).  Dinner brought us more great wine and more great food from La Toque (note: I recommend the Vino Bello Resort and La Toque for any one visiting the city of Napa – we will definitely go back to both in the future).

Our Menu for the Evening at La Toque

Delicious Duck Breast
Just as important, we had some more time to get to know our wino cohorts.  We met many great people, but especially two couples from the Chicago area that through the wonder of Facebook I know we’ll be Facebook “friends” but hope we also remain regular human interaction friends as well.  I love Chicago and we visit often, so you never know what the future holds!  By the time our dinner wrapped up, the shuttle from our resort was parked for the night, so we were faced with getting a Taxi in a small town late at night. We headed to the entrance of the Westin just behind another couple from our group – and overheard the Westin dude tell them it was a 3 hour wait for Black Tie Taxi.  Well, that’s not good news…. That couple decided to walk the few miles to their hotel, and despite the advice otherwise from Westin dude – they headed down the road.  Next Westin dude turned to us and repeated the three hour for Black Tie, but also asked if we were OK with another Cab company. Uh… yeah… duh!  So, we still had a 20 minute wait, but given the alternative we were happy. We got in the Cab and listened to our Cab driver tell the story of two people walking down the very dark road who tried to flag him down… I hope those people made it back OK!

A stellar weekend so far - and on Sunday we had one more event to enjoy. Remember that rain I mentioned on Saturday, well that the first rain in Napa in many, many months - and it was enough to turn the road to the vineyard into a mud bog. Sunday was a beautiful day, and a brunch in the vineyard would have been fantastic. We ended up heading back to the VGS Chateau Potelle tasting house to enjoy brunch, a few more sips of wine, and... what the heck... a case of Rosé and Grenache Blanc to go. 

A Beautiful Day for a Brunch at VGS Chateau Potelle Tasting House

With the remainder of our Sunday in Napa, we stopped by one more winery. With cases of our own Cabernet Sauvignon blend to delivered in a few months, and plenty of Cab at home, I was looking for something a little different, so wed headed off to Envy Vineyards who made a Petite Sirah that intrigued me. I was hopeful we would have a better experience than we had on Thursday at Frank Family, and we did - their wine was very good, mostly fruity with very little oak character.

I was intrigued by the Oxbow Market located right next to the Copia, so we headed there next to grab some groceries and head back to our hotel room (with fully stocked kitchen) to have dinner at home. We grabbed a couple of ribeye steaks from Five Dot Ranch. With some of the tips from our cooking demonstration I made one of the best Steaks I've ever cooked - if I do say so myself.  Add a salad from some great local produce (with a homemade vinaigrette), and it was a great way to wrap up a great weekend.  Oh, and some chocolate truffles from Dean and Deluca to end it all on a sweet note... yum!
We got up way too early on Monday for the 12 hour drive back to Chandler.  I-5 is not the most beautiful drive in the world, but at least I discovered a new McDonald's treasure - the  Habanero Quarter Pounder. Not as hot as I expected, but fairly tasty.

McDonald’s Habanero Quarter Pounder

This weekend event was everything I hoped.  We met some great people, and were able to have a once in a lifetime experience (until we buy our own winery that is!). Overall I'd say we found out that VGS story was true!  The VGS Chateau Potelle Wine Blending Experience was...without a doubt... Very...Good...Shit!

Definitely VGS!

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