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El Tinto Lot 37—Reality is Sustainability
If you’ve been by the winery lately and talked to me about my favorite El Tinto blends, you’d know that I feel the dark chocolate spice and brooding berry fruit of the Lot 37 makes it one (if not the one) of my favorite El Tintos from the last 30 years. But to be honest, it isn’t the wonderful characters that sets the wine to the top. It is instead the overall balance of the Lot 37 that truly strikes me.
Why is this all important? Really, it’s not, especially for the point of this narrative. But there is one connection with how much I enjoy this wine. The El Tinto is pretty much the only wine we get credit for making. All of the other varieties (like Zinfandel, Riesling, Malbec, etc.) are meant to be expressions of the vineyard and vintage, and keeping our winemaking hands out of the mix makes are purer expression.
However, the impetus of El Tinto was not to showcase our winemaking abilities. Nor was it simply meant to provide us with a table wine for the tasting room. Instead, the idea of the El Tinto is wrapped up entirely in the notion of making all the other wines better!
It’s here that I think a little bit of clarification on wine production and blending is needed. First and foremost, not all wines are equal. Even early on during the pressing of the fermenting wine/juice, the higher pressure press lots are separated out simply because of the phenolics (harsher tannins, slight bitterness). But that doesn’t mean these wines don’t have unique and interesting characters. It just means they are harder to use without some fining or tweaking.
There are other wines also that don’t make the “un-manipulated” cut for our Hillside or Signature Collections of wines.
Truly, though, the majority of our orphan barrels of wine come from decisions we make in the blending. Not having unlimited amounts of each variety, we make choices in the blending that may or may not use all the wine. Imagine that the best Cabernet Sauvignon blend uses 80% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Merlot, and 5% Malbec. But by doing this, it leaves a barrel of Cabernet and 30 gallons of Merlot left over.
Now multiply this process of blending the best wines while making the Quintet, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Shiraz/Cabernet and Petit Verdot, and you can start to see just how many half-barrels and “bits and pieces” you might have “left over.” At this point, we have the choice of either “losing the wine” or making something different with the odds and ends.
“Losing the wine” is a practice where a winery titrates in a wine into an existing blend just to the point of tasting the difference (and then backs it off). In other words, adding in 2% of the left over Cabernet into the blend tastes ok, but adding in 2.25% makes it taste different.
But here’s the dilemma. If we truly believe the best wine possible is the original blend (not only for its balance, but also for its ageability), then adding wine in just to increase the blend and not have a leftover amount isn’t really achieving what we’re looking for…the best wine.
Thus, we have El Tinto. El Tinto single-handedly allows us to make the best Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Gewurztraminer, Petite Sirah, etc. that we believe we can make! We accumulate a base blend of all these different wines which traditionally has plenty of structure and depth. Then we start the El Tinto blending process by tasting how fruit-oriented lots like Zinfandel, Barbera and Grenache can brighten up the palate.
And I can already hear your next question. “What if the percentages don’t work out on the El Tinto?” Here’s the glorious aspect about all of this. We just roll over the extra amount into the next lot of El Tinto and start the next base wine.
To you, it may sound a little bit like sourdough starter, but for us it is sustainability at its best. Everyone wins, and we have an amazing wine to drink with bison burgers with a hint of blue cheese!