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Published on February 16th, 2013 | by Charu Suri


Custom Blending Your Own Wine in Sonoma Valley

America’s fascination for everything personalized these days —from perfumes to monogrammed towels—lends beautifully to the concept of custom blending wines, which could well be the pantheon of the leisurely gourmet arts.

As a group of visitors boarded the coach led by Trafalgar, eager to continue our exploration of San Francisco and Napa Valley, we went across the magnificent Golden Gate Bridge, taking in the shimmering Bay, Marin County and Oakland silhouettes. We were in great hands with our well-informed Travel Director, J.P. Smith, who seemed to know everything about the area like the back of his hand. The sun blanketed everything in delicious amber tones, and there was a crisp, cool autumn air which was ideally suited for a vineyard visit. This perfect autumn day had started out with a brisk, aromatic tour at the Farmer’s Market in the Ferry Building that morning, where we had devoured everything local from the creamiest Cow Girl Creamery Mount Tam cheese to the most delicious, ripe blueberries from Frog Hollow Farms.

Golden Gate Bridge San Francisco Custom Blend Wines in Napa and Sonoma

A glorious ride over the Golden Gate Bridge set the tone for our visit

And like so many in the quest for a good bottle of personified wine, I went to Ravenswood Vineyards where I learned about Joel Peterson’s unique vision to pursue the art of that most rugged, tough grape, the Zinfandel, which was typically used to add body to other lighter wines.

Edgar Allen Poe, opera, ravens, Zinfandel. These seemingly unrelated icons all play a role in defining the ethos, ethics and vision of Ravenswood winery.

Zinfandel is one of the oldest grapes in the world, hailing from Croatia in as early as 1300 BC. Joel Peterson, the creator of Ravenswood Winery in Sonoma County, has been affectionately heralded as the “father of Zin,” and his tireless vision and energy helped propel the Zin from this vineyard to the being the premier producer of Zinfandel in the world (Ravenswood produces some 2 million bottles per year). Ravenswood does not mollycoddle the Zin by adding too much sugar or “overwhelm” it; instead, it lets Zin be pure and never subject the grape to over oaking. The result is a striking, full bodied Zin that’s emblematic of their “no wimpy wines” motto.

Ravenswood Vineyard Custom Blend Napa Sonoma Wines

Million dollar vista: You can enjoy sweeping views of the valley

Truth be told, I did not know what to expect from a custom wine blending class, being quite a novice to the idea. When we arrived at the winery, we were led to the custom blending room which resembled a large, roomy cellar where we found perfectly-set tables set for the group of writers. Each table had personalized place settings with a pipette for measuring the various components of the custom blend, along with three wine glasses filled with Zinfandel, Carignane and Petit Sirah–ready for us to pour and mix and match. I felt a bit like a kid in an adult chemistry class.

The custom wine blending class, led by Peter Griffith, led us through a barrel of laughs and a lot of mixing and matching. I discovered that adding too much Petit Sirah gave the wine a very dry taste, and the sting was a bit too much, so I went with a blend that was more zinfandel and acidity (thanks to the Carignane) than Sirah.

Ravenswood Vineyard Custom Blend Napa Sonoma Wines

Three structural components (Sirah, Carignane, Zinfandel) and plenty of room to mix and match your custom blend bottle

Ravenswood Vineyard Custom Blend Napa Sonoma Wines

At the store, purchase iconic Zin bottles featuring the famous Ravenswood logo

Ravenswood Vineyard Custom Blend Napa Sonoma Wines

Everything about Ravenswood is pure poetry: the vineyard, the philosophy (they make wines from local fruit, thereby celebrating the individuality of hundreds of local vineyards and being a centralized source of the best wine growing regions), and the commitment to being strong.

Each of us got to take that custom bottle of wine home, with the famous Ravenswood logo and all (the M.C. Escher-like logo featuring a triumvirate of ravens is actually a tattoo-able option at the vineyard; those who get a tattoo become part of the Ravenswood family and get free tastings for life).’

It’s a place that’s more Evermore than Poe’s Nevermore.

Note: If you’re a newbie, try the Vintners Blend which come in the Chardonnay, Merlot, Shiraz and Petit Sirah varieties; these are bold, full bodied and far from wimpy.



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6 Responses to Custom Blending Your Own Wine in Sonoma Valley

  1. Jenna says:

    I like that Ravenswood uses locally grown grapes. I think it can be a surprise to find out that a lot of wineries make blends from grapes from all over California, which helps them get really good wines but seems a tad less authentic, I suppose.
    I had a similar blending experience at the ultra-chic tasting bar called District4 Wines in Napa. Unfortunately, it just closed a couple of weeks ago, but the experience was so fun! I’m sure you all had a lot of fun making your own blends, too.

  2. Karla says:

    Blending your own wine must be quite an amazing experience and from the looks of it, you were in the perfect place!

    I would love to visit Napa Valley and learn more about wine making ;)

    Love your photos, especially the one of the Golden Gate Bridge & million dollar vista!

  3. Tricia says:

    Charu, we just explored a bit of California wine country last autumn, so I enjoyed this piece immensely (and your lovely fog-free image of the Golden Gate; it was shrouded in fog during our visit).

    Here in the Balkans, we haven’t had the chance to blend our own wines, but I’d certainly love to do so. In Croatia, we went on a ‘hunt for the Original Zin’ in the grape’s ancestral home-growing region near Split. That was special!

  4. Maria says:

    Nice photos, good company AND you could blend your own – Wow! You know how to unwind.

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