When I was newly into wine in the 70’s, the Big Bold Over-the-Top California wines were all the rage, and I reveled in their all consuming power and hedonistic pleasure. They combined extreme levels of alcohol with massive amounts of toasty-new-oak barrel aging. Subtlety was Not the word of the day.
Another curious viticultural philosophy back then was the fascination with 100%. By 100%, I refer to 100% varietal: a wine containing juice from only one grape variety. And 100% appellation: all the fruit sourced from one place. The epitome of winery pride was declaring that one’s creation was 100% Napa Valley Cabernet !
Never mind that the finest wineries in Europe had been successfully making beautifully balanced wines for centuries, owing their finesse to blending grapes from different varieties and different terroir (soil types). Thankfully, California has emerged from this adolescent stage, now concentrating on beauty, not brawn.
Let’s look at the Concept of Blend.
The definition is: “to combine so that the separate constituents cannot be dis tinguished….to produce a harmonious effect.” Blending is the key to success in so many aspects of life: cooking, when we blend several spices; in our communities when we integrate several cultures; and in a business team when we combine the talents of those who are Creative, Financially Savvy, Street-wise and Risk Taking.
THE ART OF THE BLEND is back in vogue, and Joel Gott is the Master of the Art. And to prove that he walks his talk, JOEL GOTT WINES are not the product of just one man…..it’s a team of talented winemakers, each with their own contribution: his wife Sarah, the Head Winemaker, is an enologist who aces the art of nuance and decides the final blend; Joel, the Habitual Entrepreneur, is in charge of viticulture and finding the flaws; another is a yeast chemist.
He is also one of THE THREE THIEVES, a team including fellow entrepreneurs Charles and Roger, who make THE SHOW wines in Chile, Argentina and California.
Joel explains the gains attained by blending each of his current releases:
2010 Joel Gott Sauvignon Blanc:
For this varietal, he looks for a sweetsour combo…the fruit and the acidity need to be balanced. (as in Life, balance is always the ultimate goal). It needs to be a palate refresher, so there is no aftertaste of woodiness, or overt sweetness or puckering acidity. To achieve this harmony he included in the blend 30% sauvignon musque, a clone with a muscaty flavor. Add to that 1 to 2% of semillon and other lesser-known varieties. And for further complexity, he chooses fruit from older vineyards (more concentrated and nuanced) for 20 to 30% of the final blend.
He says “I Shop the Whole State”, referring to buying fruit from vineyards all over California, each giving it’s unique personality: Monterey has a green, grassy quality similar to New Zealand; Napa’s fruit is big, heavy, oily and mouth-filling; Sonoma lends an over-the-top ripe fruit component.
Making the final blend, he and his team put 60 glasses of different lots on a table and taste and assess each one for their separate attributes (“this is great”; “this is too tart”; “this sucks”). It then takes several months of constant blending to arrive at the final wine.
Their 2009 “815” Cabernet Sauvignon is the wine that most reflects Joel and Sarah Gott’s winery. They started with over 100 potential lots and narrowed them down to 64 separate fermentation tanks. The key to making great cabernet is tannin management: making sure the tannic acid doesn’t camouflage the richness, body and mouth-feel of the final wine. By blending Napa fruit with fruit from Mendocino, where the tannins are softer, you garner the true expression of Cabernet.
When Sarah made “Insignia”, as Winemaker for Joseph Phelps Winery, she used a blend of the best parcels of Napa’s top vineyards. When Joel and Sarah started making their own wines, they sourced from the best parcels all over California, and were dedicated to making wines for under $20……..something Joel’s still stubbornly dedicated to today! Hard work and savvy grape buying yielded them almost a cult following and Joel just got better at forming great grapegrower relationships. When the wine industry took a hard turn in 2009 and many wineries retreated from their grape contracts, Joel’s phone was ringing off the hook………. he had his pick of the finest fruit available and at fantastic prices!
The 2009 Joel Gott Zinfandel was a lesson in taming the potentially high alcohol of the grape. Blending is again the answer and the triangle of components needing balance is fruit, alcohol and structure. California Zins have been a bit overlooked in recent years with the rise in popularity of Argentine Malbecs, but when the alcohol is tamed so the grape’s sweetness can shine through, there’s no better BIG WINE than a Red Zinfandel.
Ever the entrepreneur, you’ll find JOEL GOTT isn’t resting on his California laurels………he also makes wines from Oregon and Washington, with France and Spain on the horizon. Folks, you GOTTa’ try these wines!