Remember the last time you uncorked a great-tasting bottle of wine? Sure, the vineyard probably deserved some credit for growing tasty grapes in the first place. But the real star behind every wonderful red or white is a winemaker who’s skilled at blending—the art of mixing and matching lots of grapes, batches of wine or both. Blending wine is simple in theory, and most winemakers are plenty good at it—but to achieve perfection in a wine, you want winemaker Helen Keplinger in your corner.
Blending is basically the same as an Italian grandmother combining just the right amounts of beef, pork and veal to make her awesome meatballs. Or think about baking a strawberry rhubarb pie. Strawberries bring the sweetness; rhubarb the tartness; and usually some lemon juice and orange zest bring acidity—but the pie only tastes good if you get the proportions exactly right. Same goes for wine, whether it’s a ten-dollar Dolcetto or a $1,200 bottle of Bordeaux. Almost every wine is blended to achieve great flavor and balance—just like a meatball or a pie.
So, let’s say you’re the winemaker of a Napa Cabernet that’ll cost $500 per bottle. Your first job is to crush the grapes and ferment them in a large tank. A few weeks later, you’ll siphon the wine into several oak barrels for aging. Several months after that, you’ll taste, analyze and select the best barrels, then blend them together in a tank. At this point, the wine might be missing a little finesse, so you may blend in, say, a few gallons of Merlot to give the wine that extra dimension of flavor or aroma you’re seeking. Only then do you bottle the wine and collect the five bills for each one.
Guess who made $500 Cabernets like this not so long ago? Helen Keplinger.
She worked for some of the biggest names in Napa before she set out on her own. The blending skills she mastered making those wines went into her special Vermillion red and white for Blue Apron Wine (available here until September 16 for far less than $500). But for us, she didn’t simply select a barrel of this or a barrel of that. She searched far and wide for special vineyard plots, and selected from them grape varieties no one else would think to blend together.
Helen’s journey to create the Vermillion red and white wines involved logging 1,200 miles on the road each week, visiting the vineyards as often as possible in the few months before harvest to ensure the grapes would be picked at the right time. She put in all those hours behind the wheel before the work of blending even began! The Vermillion red wine is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Petite Sirah from vineyards separated by about 180 miles. The Vermillion white is made of seven different grape varieties from multiple vineyards spread across the reaches of Napa and Sonoma.
Next time you sip an especially flavorful, balanced wine that pairs well with dinner, think about the hard work the winemaker put in getting the wine to taste just right. Then taste your Vermillion red and white—you won’t have to ponder how much harder Helen worked to get her blends tasting just right. It’ll be obvious from the very first sip, with or without grandma’s meatballs alongside the wines—perhaps even enlightening if you uncork the red with our Lamb & Beef Feta Burgers, and the white with our Chicken & Fresh Basil Fettuccini.