Last week, about 20 participants in Elderhostel’s “Road Scholars” program — which sponsors three- to five-day educational outings for active senior citizens — spent a few days learning about winemaking in the Santa Ynez Valley. On Thursday, I was invited to join them for an afternoon of blending wine at Curtis Winery, which is nestled among the rolling hills near Los Olivos.
We were given a tour by winemaker Ernst Storm, who has worked at Curtis since 2005 and has made and distributed his own Storm Wine for years. He first introduced us to the Curtis Heritage Rosé, a delicious, citrusy blend of mourvedre, syrah, and grenache, and then showed us through the barrel room and onto a sunlit outdoor patio.
There, we were separated into groups of four to determine our preferred blend of the four available red Rhone wines. The next step was tasting through the syrah, mourvedre, cinsault, and grenache, which all had their own unique flavor and dryness. Using a graduated cylinder, we began to determine which percentage of each varietal would become part of our perfect blend.
Our biggest challenge, after creating three different samples, was choosing the one we liked best. But after more tastes, we decided that our best final blend was 33 percent syrah, 33 percent grenache, 17 percent mourvedre, and 17 percent cinsault. That combination, our team felt, offered a stronger nose, more pronounced fruitiness, and an overall delicious taste.
As a novice wine taster and first-time blender, I learned that there is so much personality in wine and that blending allows us to choose exactly what qualities we want in creating our own combination. There is a certain element to watching how it is done, utilizing our creative sides, and actually making our own wines that add to the whole experience.
After the blending, we were treated to a great lunch catered by Solvang’s Succulent Café and Trading Company. Over sandwiches, well-known Santa Barbara wine photographer Bob Dickey, who coordinated the week-long program for Elderhostel, explained why the Road Scholars have come to enjoy our region. “Wineries have a certain style that they want to be known for,” he said. “There’s a lot of passion in the wine industry … which is why the subtitle for the program is ‘Passion in Wine Making.’”
Though our collective wine experience ranged from absolutely none to veteran vintners, we were all at Curtis for the same reason: to learn about blending wines, enjoy the company of fellow enthusiasts, and work toward the same delicious goal.