Blending Pinot Noir on the Central Coast: Scents and Sensibilities

As with most things in life, collaboration is the key to success. In the world of wine, collaboration is evident between winemakers and growers, winemakers and coopers and so forth. Yet when the critical stage of blending a wine happens, many winemakers go it alone. Blending various wines means that different clones, different toast levels of barrels, and grapes from different vineyards, must be taken into account in order to produce a stand-out wine. For Summerland Winery’s winemaker, Etienne Terlinden, this is part and parcel of the job. Along with his duties at Summerland Winery, based in Santa Barbara, Terlinden also has his own label, Cordon, and makes wine for other private labels. Recently, I was invited by Terlinden to join him for a blending session at his Central Coast facility.

Summerland has 450 barrels of wine, including Syrah and Pinot Noir, among others. For Terlinden, and Summerland’s owner Bilo Zarif who started the blending practice when he owned Barnwood and Letitia Wineries, it’s important to know each barrel intimately. To begin the blending process, samples are taken from each barrel and placed in small 10 ML bottles, all labeled and numbered. Everything is consistent.

One of the keys to blending wines is the consensus of palettes, including a female palette. Enter Michele Pignarre le Danios, a stocky French woman who, in addition to consulting for Summerland Winery in the U.S., has also worked for over 30 years consulting for many top Bordeaux Chateau and teaching oenology in her native France. Le Danois was also a student of the legendary French oenoligist, Emile Peynaud, so she knows a thing or two.
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For more than 25 years, The California Wine Club founders Bruce and Pam Boring have explored all corners of California’s wine country to find award-winning, handcrafted wine to share with the world. Each month, the club features a different small family winery and hand selects two of their best wines for members.