A blending party is one of the most enjoyable of the various events offered by wine clubs. When combined with a lobster feed, it makes for a most memorable day of hands-on play at winemaking, then hands-on work at lobster-cracking. A tasteful pairing of higher education and higher hedonism.
It was just such a day at Alderbrook Winery, located just west of Healdsburg, just off US Highway 101 in California’s Sonoma County. They’re a medium-size winery specializing in Zinfandel and Pinot Noir, and they also make a very nice Chardonnay. Prices range from about $18 to $34, with frequent sales at special prices, and regular discounts for club members up to 25%.
Lynne Opperman (she pronounces her name “LINN-ee”), is Club Director, Event Coordinator, Mistress of the Lark, and Princess of All Proceedings. Everybody loves Lynne. And she obviously loves throwing parties. Despite a large turnout and a thousand things to attend, she never seemed stressed or preoccupied.
First on the agenda was an informational tour of the vineyards, followed by the blending party, both guided by Vineyards Manager Rob Weinstock. We were seated at tables for eight, each with our own individual mini-laboratory – four glasses with samples of the various components for blending, a pipette, and a blending beaker. In the middle of the table were pitchers with more of each component to aid in the difficult decision-making. Once we’d settled on the percentages for our blends it was off to the bottling table for the final blending, filling, and corking of the party-favors – our own personal bottles to take home.
The components consisted of three Zinfandels plus an Alicante Bouschet that served to add body and color. All were vintage 2006 from Dry Creek Valley, the Zins from Perotti Vineyard, Weinstock Vineyard, and Alderbrook Estate Vineyard, the Alicante Bouschet from the latter.
Blending for commercial sales is fine and good, but for my personal bottle I chose my favorite among the Zins, with only a dash of my second-favorite, just so I could legitimately call it a blend. No Alicante Bouschet in my bottle, color be damned. I feel terrible now, just thinking about it, but that’s what I did.
A contest judged by the winemaking staff to select the best blend would have been ideal, but impractical with so many participants. Instead, everyone designed their own label and conjured a (usually) clever name for their bottle. The best labels were awarded prizes of select Alderbrook wines.
After a short break it was time for the lobster feed. A long table with seating for about fifty was set out on the lawn next to the tasting room. Along came the chefs with huge pots of lobster, shrimp, sausage, corn, artichoke, and onion. Everyone stood back as the pots were arranged for serving. Then while the burliest chef hefted a pot, one after another, his partner performed the scooping, an artful distribution of the contents. The lobster, corn ’n’ copia came tumbling forth, all along the butcher paper, all along the table, one end to the other.
No one waited for instructions. Somehow we all got at least one whole lobster. Loaves of sourdough and cups of dipping butter were no more than an arm’s length away. Lynne and her staff circled the table like royal servants with their 2003 Old Vine Zin and 2004 Chardonnay.
Great club, great staff, great wine. Yes, yes, yes!
Alderbrook Vineyards and Winery is located at 2306 Magnolia Drive, Healdsburg, CA, just off Westside Road and Kinley Drive, west of town and the 101 freeway. Their phone number is 707-433-5987.
Jim Arnold and photographer Ingrid Larnis have a book Wine Clubs of Sonoma County: The Pleasures and Perks of Belonging, published by Pelican Books. They can be contacted at [email protected].