Have you ever wanted to make your own wine? I certainly have, and I was finally able to make that dream a reality while Peter and I were in California’s Napa Valley. It was such a wonderful experience I wanted to share it with you. Because you just never know, you may want to take a trip to a wine region and bottle your own little slice of (liquid) heaven.
Peter and I had the joy of attending the Bottle Blending Day Camp at Judd’s Hill Winery in the Napa Valley that teaches you how to make your own wine. These small classes—just 4-8 participants each—allowed us to spend the day learning more about viticulture, tasting different wines, and then participating in our own blending session.
We walked away with a wealth of knowledge, a better palate, and 4 Bordeaux-style blends that we had bottled, corked, labeled, and foil wrapped with our own two hands. It was an unforgettable experience that will live on every time we uncork one of our own blends.
Thinking about making your own wine? Here’s some useful information on the process and where classes are in the Napa and Sonoma valleys.
What is Wine Blending?
Making your own wine no longer entails stomping grapes with your feet in a large wooden vat, a la Lucille Ball. The process nowadays is much simpler and a lot less messy!
Typical classes in California’s wine region use a technique called “bottle blending.” Rather than just taking a single variety of wine that you like the taste of and bottling it onsite (because that would be boring), bottle blending allows you to mix up several varieties of wine—straight from the barrel—to produce a custom blend that is perfect for your own palate. It’s all in the chemistry between those wines and your own taste buds.
You mix up the blend and then bottle it yourself, complete with foil capsule and custom label.
The Process of Making Your Own Wine
You don’t have to be a rabid oenophile to make your own wine. You don’t even have to be a wine enthusiast. The joy in making your own blended wine is that it is designed for you and you alone. If you like, that’s all that matters, even if it wouldn’t win any awards from critics. You’re the only critic that needs to like it.
Learning About the Wine
We started our winemaking journey at Judd’s Hill by getting some basic information about the region, the winery, and the process of bottle blending. We then were given four different barrel samples to taste. In our case, they were Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petite Verdot, and a Cabernet Franc. The master blender walked us through each barrel, from appellation, picking conditions, the grape’s sugar content, the crush, all the way up to its final destination in that barrel.
Tasting the Wine
We moved on to tasting all four of the wines, learning how to distinguish different flavor profiles in each one. Then it was time to experiment. Beakers assembled, we took notes as we tasted each one. Completing the initial taste test, we began to add different ratios of each varietal to produce a blend. Taste again. Start all over or refine the mixture. And so it went until we were perfectly happy with our custom blend.
Blending the Wine
Then came the hard part: we had to name our blend and make our own wine labels. Not an easy task for most of the attendees. I kept it simple and named mine after my blog, Stylishlyme. (And the wine certainly was that!) Once we all settled on names, they helped us design and print out labels for our bottles.
Bottling Our Wine
Based on our exact formulas, we then went to the barrels from our tasting and measured out the requisite amounts from each. We got to use the filling machine (rather than an old-fashioned funnel), then a 3-foot tall manual corker (good exercise), and finally, adding the label and a foil capsule around the cork end. Et voila, our own blend!
So much more fun than any day camp I went to as a kid!!!
Sound interesting? Read on for some of the current “make your own wine” classes offered in Napa and Sonoma valleys.
Napa and Sonoma Valley Classes to Make Your Own Wine
In addition to Judd’s Hill, where we took our wine blending class, there are a number of other wineries, in both Napa and Sonoma valleys that offer classes in making your own wine or wine blending. Below is a highlight of some of those classes with a brief description and link to each one.
Buena Vista Winery: Be the “Count Blending Experience” offered at this Sonoma winery provides a royally good time where you become winemaker for a day. A little learning, a tour through their Cave of Curiosity, and then to the blending your own bottle.
Conn Creek: This St. Helena winery offers a “Barrel Blending Experience®.” Up to 20 guests are given a quick Napa overview, guided barrel tasting, instructions on blending techniques and strategies, and one bottle of your own custom blend.
Franciscan Estate: The aptly named “Mastering the Magnificent: The Art of the Blend” at this St. Helena winery is a mini-competition amongst the attendees. Given all the information you need to blend, bottle, and design a label, your team must then market your blend before a critic. Educational and creative fun!
Ravenswood Winery: Head to Sonoma for an aptly named class: “Blend Your Own Unwimpy Wine.” This seminar provides three varietals—Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Carignane—and ample education to make your own wine blend, corked in a 375-ml bottle.
Raymond Vineyards: This Rutherford-based winery opens up its St. Helena blending room to students who get to be “Winemaker for the Day.” Don some space-age silver lab coats and a jaunty silver beret and learn all there is to know about blending. Then whip up a bottle of your own custom blend to take home. (You can even order additional cases to be made if you so wish!)
And for more details on our experience: Judd’s Hill: Bottle Blending Day Camp
P.S. If it’s your first time in Napa Valley make sure to review the Best Napa Valley Wineries for First Time Visitors for some help on scheduling your winery visits!