We were first introduced to the wines from Raymond Vineyards aboard the Napa Valley Wine Train. Raymond produces its signature Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, and as all three were unexpectedly good, we added a stop at Raymond to our itinerary.
I was expecting a country house-style winery with an intimate tasting room, but instead we were greeted by a modern décor. An entire wall displayed golden hands clasping bottles of wines. We were given the tasting menu and a list of events hosted by the winery. The “Winemaker for a Day” experience caught our eye. Presenting friends with a bottle of wine that we had blended ourselves sounded like a unique gift. Risky, if we created a disastrous wine, but fun nonetheless.
As we made our way to the Blending Room, we were led down to the Crystal Cellar. There, to our astonishment, we found a glitzy space with chandeliers dripping from the ceilings and glass cases holding a glittering display of crystal decanters and flashy jewelry. It felt as if we had just stepped into a VIP suite in a Las Vegas nightclub. What had we just signed up for?
Fortunately, in the bottling room, the design and mood were much more subdued. Long stainless steel tables were set with wine glasses, graduated cylinders and pipettes. The four wines from which we would construct our blend were a Cabernet Franc, a Merlot, a neutral oak Cabernet Sauvignon and a new oak Cabernet Sauvignon. After a few tries, I felt like I had identified the right percentages for a distinctive blend. My full-bodied wine was rich with layers of ripe fruit and hints of vanilla and spice on the finish. At the very least, I felt that I had created a palatable wine. I could only hope that my friends would feel the same way. Blends perfected, we were led to a separate room where we corked, foiled and labeled our bottles. The opportunity to order bottles of “our” wine at any time in the future was a pleasing prospect.
“Winemaker for a Day” is a whimsical experience, but one that gave us a new perspective on the winemaking industry. It will linger long in the memory.