On The Road: Teaching Grand Reserve Cabernet Blending Seminars

I’m on the road right now traveling all over the country, leading Grand Reserve blending seminars. This is one my favorite parts of the job and one of my favorite wines that I make.

Twelve years ago I attended a Kendall-Jackson Cabernet blending seminar led by Winemaker Randy Ullom. I was toying with the idea of a career in winemaking, and I remember how excited I was to explore the differences in the various Cabernets he presented. I made my blend from the richest, boldest, mountain wine they had, with a splash of a lighter, more aromatic one. Just over four years later I began working for Randy.

Grand Reserve is the winemakers’ choicest selection. It derives from the top 3% of our wines. In particular, the Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is a special wine. It is a serious, mountain Cab that is sourced primarily from our Estate vineyards in Sonoma County, the majority of which are grown at over 1100 feet.

The wine has dense, bold tannins and ripe blackberry and black cherry fruit resulting in wine that is elegant and focused, and a great example of how wonderful Sonoma County Cabernet can be.

All the wines that go into the Kendall-Jackson Bordeaux portfolio are treated with care and attention to detail; however, with Grand Reserve level fruit, we employ additional artisan techniques like hand sorting, small-batch fermentation and additional cold-soaking to coax the finest expression out of our fruit.

We select the wines based on the potential they showed in the vineyard and during the final stages before draining off the skins. These wines are barrel-aged in French oak, usually seeing 35-40% new oak. When we make the final selection we taste each individual barrel to make sure it belongs in the blend. The result is fabulous.

For the seminar, which we call “Contours and Climate in Cabernet,” participants taste three Cabs from choice vineyards. In addition to the three mountain and hillside Cabernets used in the blend, we also look at Merlot and Petit Verdot from two prime vineyard sites that are used in the Grand Reserve program.

We explore how the different Cabernets work together in a blend, and then appreciate how the Merlot and Petite Verdot add complexity. When done just right, these wines meld together to create a seamless, wonderfully enticing wine.

Now that I’m on the road leading the same types of seminars that made me want to be a winemaker, I think back to that seminar 12 years ago. I get to see the same type of inspiration in these groups that I felt all those years ago. I’m reminded of why I wanted to be a winemaker in the first place and that I’m lucky to have this job.