Great Tastes

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Conn Creek Winery

Author: Luke Straub
October, 2019 Issue

At Conn Creek Winery, they like to mix it up, with both its wines and tastings. The result is an abundant selection inspired by the 14 different Napa Valley AVAs where the winery sources its fruit. Its flagship wine, Anthology, is a Cabernet Sauvignon blend—a piece of art, so to speak, from winemaker Elizabeth DeLouise-Gant.

To create Anthology, DeLouise-Gant oversees a multitude of limited production Cabernets sourced from individual Napa Valley sub-appellations. Additionally, Conn Creek produces varietals such as Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot.
As for wine tasting at Conn Creek, there are three options, including a conventional bar tasting. There’s also an elevated, Anthology experience, in which guests taste all the different elements that comprise a bottle of Anthology.

For this edition of Great Tastes, Conn Creek offered its signature barrel blend tasting. Guests play winemaker for a day and construct a Cabernet Sauvignon blend to take home and enjoy. Of course, if one’s to know which varietals to blend, one must experiment.

We head to the winery’s AVA room to try six of Conn Creek’s Cabernets, which will form a base for our creation, in a ratio to be determined. Guided by Visitor Center representative Jessica Cope, we first try the winery’s 2016 Napa Valley blend—the only such wine on this six flight exploratory tasting. It has soft tannins with bright fruit notes and medium acidity.

Next are five Cabernets from distinct wine-growing regions of the Napa Valley, each one a 2016 vintage and 100 percent Cab. The Atlas Peak Cabernet’s tannins are striking, especially after the Napa Valley blend. The vines grow at an elevation of 2,000 feet, well above the fog line and get ample sunlight. The soil is iron-rich and sprouts grapes that are compact and flavorful, resulting in a big, bold drink.

The Oakville Cabernet is an elegant, approachable wine with bright fruit and bright acidity. The vines ripen slowly with the help of low, lingering fog. Oakville grapes are highly sought after, notes Cope, who says roughly 100 wine producers are packed into the small region. The Rutherford Cabernet offers a stark contrast: it reveals dark fruit notes of plum and currant with broad tannins and a rich finish. Volcanic soils in Rutherford give this wine its distinctive flavor.

A Cabernet from Chiles Valley is next. Bud break, or the awakening of the vines, occurs late here, according to Cope, resulting in a long growing season. This wine has notes of soft red cherries and raspberries and finishes with elegant tannins. Lastly, we try Conn Creek’s Pope Valley Cabernet. Though not an official AVA, Pope Valley is a fast growing area, according to Cope. Conn Creek is always looking for more fruit to supplement its 2.5 acres of estate vineyards. This wine tastes of dark cherries, and finishes with notes of chocolate and mellow tannins.

After tasting, guests blend those six wines to their liking, using a pipette tool to collect and disperse wine in increments of 3 milliliters or so. “It's like a chemistry lab,” says one guest, Brad Sundsboe, a pharmacist from Nebraska, thoroughly enjoying the experience along with his wife, Beth.

Visitors have two tries to create an enjoyable base before adding smaller amounts of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot to finish their custom formula. Once the recipe is complete, we use our data to blend a larger batch, pouring from tapped barrels in the AVA room. We transfer the personalized blend into a bottle, and after corking, guests can create a distinct label with provided art supplies.

Besides being a lot of fun, the barrel blend tasting nicely encapsulates what Conn Creek is. “It gives an insight into what I do,” says DeLouise-Gant. “It takes a lot of practice. You taste as much as you can. It’s every winemaker’s dream to work with so many AVAs.” It’s the wish of many wine tasters to be a winemaker, and that dream comes alive for guests at Conn Creek, if only for one glorious day. 



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