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Six Wineries Where You Don’t Just Taste the Wine, You Actually Make It


Bragging rights abound.

SLIDESHOW

The Raymond Vineyards blending session comes with a costume: silver lab coats with huge red collars.

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Photo: Raymond Vineyards

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Photo: Judd's Hill

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Much of the artistry of being a winemaker is knowing what grapes to blend, and how much. The reason you like most of the wines that you do often comes down to those proportions. (Grapes can, of course, be mixed into wine blends right after the crush, but most blending happens months after harvest.) And since no one knows better what you like than you, why leave this all-important process to the experts? Take matters into your own hands and head to one of these six wineries, where you can make your own blend and, in most cases, walk away with a bottle—or a case. (All are by appointment only.) 

Raymond Vineyards
Winemaker for a Day, $125  
Like everything at Raymond Vineyards in Napa Valley, this blending session is over the top, wild, and loaded with the velvet personality of playboy owner Jean Charles Boisset. You’ll put on your shiny silver lab coat with a bright red collar and enter a room made of steel, which is primarily lit by blacklights. With the mood set, an expert will lead you as you begin blending neutral oak cabernet sauvignon, oaked cabernet sauvignon merlot, and cabernet franc using glasses and beakers. When your blend is complete, you can design a custom label and you get one bottle to take home—or buy as many additional bottles ($50 a pop) as you can afford.

Ravenswood  
Blend Your Own Unwimpy Wine, $75  
Think of Ravenswood’s class as the choose your own adventure of wine-blending lessons. You can decide just how short or long, silly or serious you want this Sonoma blending session to be. The winery’s staff are certainly knowledgeable enough to please somms in the making, but as you can tell from the name of the class, they’ll also be encouraging you to have some fun, be bold, and make a big wine. The varietals you’ll chose from here are zinfandel, petite sirah, and carignane—and you get to take home a half bottle. 

Buena Vista Winery 
“Be the Count” Blending Experience, $100  
Don’t be fooled by the name—you don’t have to act like nobility at this lighthearted Sonoma winery known for its costume parties. During this blending session, your guide will explain the art of blending and then take you to the “Cave of Curiosity” to get those creative juices flowing. Wine varietals change frequently, but right now they’ve got grenache, syrah, zinfandel, merlot, and carignane. Here you’ll get to create three different blends, of which you’ll select your favorite and then bottle and label it by hand. Like sister winery Raymond, Buena Vista includes one bottle with your class ($50 per additional bottle). 

Judd’s Hill 
Blending at Winery or Offsite, $95–$775
Judd’s Hill is known for being easygoing, and their blending sessions are too. The pricing tiers get steep fast—$279 gets you 4 bottles of your wine blend, on up to $775 for a case of 12. (Don’t worry, you can split the prices among a group; just be mindful of the group size limits, which are outlined the Judd’s Hill website.) In class, you’ll have some help as you strive to get it just right, and then you get to bottle and label your wine by hand. Varietals at this Napa winery change each year, and currently include cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, and petit verdot.  

Paraduxx 
The Blend Experience, $65
In Napa, Paraduxx makes highly acclaimed, complex blends that include cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel on the red end and viognier and chradonnay on the white end. Paraduxx’s hour-and-a-half blending sessions are among the most affordable—in part because you’re not taking home any wine. But that won’t stop you from tasting: You’ll be sipping along the way. You’ll be guided through the process of mixing and blending while you learn the basics of what makes a good blend, the background of the grapes, and history associated with different blends and varietals. And if you're not too tipsy by the end of class—hopefully you've been spitting—you can savor the final blend. 

Dry Creek Vineyards 
The Art of the Blend, $50  
Offered only on weekends for groups of four or more, this blending session gets right to the point. Less expensive than the rest, Dry Creek’s class is mostly about education and understanding the history of blending the five red grape varietals that go into a Bordeaux-style red blend (cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot). This is an ideal way to get a better understanding of what you like and why so that you can choose wines at wineries, from wine clubs, and off the shelves with some sense of what you’re getting. Just keep in mind that you’re doing your only sampling during class; as with Paraduxx’s session, this one doesn’t send you home with a bottle. 

 

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