In the build up to bottling our 2018 wines, one of the best and biggest vintages we have ever had, we thought we would catch up with Ridgeview’s Winemaker Simon Roberts on the art of blending.
How long have you been doing the blending at Ridgeview?
I have been part of blending the wines for Ridgeview since day one in 1995. In the first years it was Dad and myself blending together. After Dad’s passing in 2015, as the Head Winemaker at Ridgeview, my team and I have continued to manage this process.
Can you explain blending?
The process of blending is taking different parcels of wine, from either different varieties, vineyards or regions and blending them together to create a complete and harmonised base wine. Each batch will have different flavours and profiles which when added together create a fuller, more complex wine than they would individually.
What are the skills required for blending? How do you use your imagination?
When blending the base wines you are creating a wine that generally will not be tasted for a considerable time; in the case of Magnums it will be over ten years. You therefore need to imagine how the wine will develop over time. As part of ‘traditional method’, the second fermentation takes place in the bottle and this changes the character of the wine. The flavour created from the yeast develops over time, creating a taste from “yeasty”, bready through to Brioche and if left long enough this will eventually become the dominant characteristic; almost burnt toast. Along with this, the bubbles from the second fermentation will have an impact on the profile of the wine. All these stimuli will have a big influence on the wine and need to be considered when blending.
Where can you train?
Plumpton agricultural college run several courses that help with the skills required for blending. Either the winemaking degrees for the science background or the WSET courses for understanding different styles and varieties, ideally both! Ultimately, a bit like a chef, developing a palette for blending does require natural skills that can be trained over time.
What characteristics are you looking for in the base wines?
Characteristics we look for are varied with acidity being one of the most important. We choose to pick the grapes at a point when we are happy with the acid levels; high enough that we can put the wine through malolactic fermentation. This is a process that changes the complexity of the acid by converting it from a hard acid (malic) to a soft acid (lactic), this also brings a soft, silky structure to the wine which we like. We strongly believe the old cliché that winemaking begins in the vineyard, therefore we want the fruit to be the hero of the wine, we want all the complexities each variety brings to the blending table.
Can you explain the different nose/palette characteristics of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier?
Chardonnay brings freshness and austerity from the acid, with tropical and citrus fruits and in truly ripe years, coconut. Pinot Noir is softer and more rounded than Chardonnay, with forest fruits, black cherry and sometimes tobacco leaves. Pinot Meunier adds more structure and linear characters than Pinot Noir, with strawberries and redcurrants. This is more savoury than fresh fruit.
Can you tell the difference between the different sites of the vineyards and age of the vines?
The location of a vineyard also has a big impact on the wine: altitude, geographical regionality and exposure. Along with this, the older the vine, the more complex the fruit.
With all these influencing factors to consider, you can see how the art of blending is a complex and specialist skill. If you enjoyed reading more about the wine making process, why not book onto one of our tour and tastings to learn more