The art of blending wine and tourism

Tuesday, 3. January 2017 - 13:45
The AVA room at Conn Creek
Tracey Hoff says that many people feel overwhelmed when they walk into the Barrel Blending Experience room at Napa Valley’s Conn Creek Winery. But that feeling doesn’t last, adds Hoff, the guest services manager. “When people get in there, they really enjoy hearing about the different AVAs and how it affects the wine,” she says. “It’s fun to do the blending portion, because everybody loves to create.”

The initial idea came from winemaker Mike McGrath, explains Hoff. “Back in the early 1990s, he went to France to a tasting in Burgundy and had the opportunity to taste multiple wines from different areas. He really enjoyed how you could taste the difference in all of the terroirs.”

McGrath decided it would be a good idea to give visiting trade and industry the chance to taste Napa’s different AVAs, and created a room for them. “In 2009, we brought the experience to the general public,” says Hoff.

The space is airy, with barrels lining two walls. The barrels on the right are Cabernet Sauvignon, drawn from 14 of Napa’s 16 American Viticultural Areas (AVA) of Napa Valley. On the left side are other Bordeaux varietals, such as Cabernet Franc.

The table running down the middle of the tasting room holds a notebook and measuring cylinder for each visitor. After a quick introduction to the Napa Valley, they’re let loose among the barrels.  Soon, up to 20 people are deep in concentration, discovering which AVAs appeal to their taste, and creating their blending recipe. Then they carefully measure their wine into a bottle, which is sealed with a cork. The final step is creating a colourful label.

Between 500 and 600 people a month come through the room, to a total of 6,000 to 7,000 people per year. The experience costs $125.00, but Hoff says a tremendous amount of work goes into the back end, particularly in sourcing the AVA wines.

Having done the experience twice, Meininger’s can say with some authority that the secret to the Blending Experience’s success is that the barrel wines are of outstanding quality. The final wine, regardless of blending choice, is so good that the visitor feels like a wine star. And presumably the marketing of Conn Creek continues when the person gets home, as they show off their creation to family and friends.
Felicity Carter