The SOMM Journal

April / May 2016

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Page 45 of 108

{ }  45 S ome things are best tackled by a team of experts. On February 2, proprietor Jean-Charles Boisset hosted a group of esteemed som- meliers—many of them Advanced Sommeliers from highly lauded establishments all around the coun- try—for the seventh annual Sommelier Selection blending experience at Napa Valley's Raymond Vineyards in St. Helena. In exchange for their services in help- ing create the next Raymond Sommelier Selection blend, Boisset provided unique edu- cational opportunities for the hosted somms, encouraging them to taste many of the wines within the Boisset Collection, to visit Boisset's extremely rare and unique historical proper - ties throughout wine country and to learn more about the process of blending. The Winemaker and Her Team Typically, the blending of wine for distribution and sale to consumers is reserved for a highly skilled team of winemaking elite at Raymond Vineyards. And Jean-Charles Boisset, or "JCB," as he is commonly known, has employed the best. Director of Winemaking, Stephanie Putnam, is Boisset's secret weapon, hired just after Boisset purchased Raymond in 2009. Putnam is all personality, with a com - manding presence. She grew up in the Bay Area with a wine-centric family. As a child, she would color-coordinate her grape juice to the wine her parents drank at the dinner table and even had her own Baccarat crystal decanter—quite a coincidence given JCB's par tnership with the brand and his affinity for Baccarat's iconic chandeliers. I asked Putnam if, for all of JCB's improve - ments, there was anything that we—the con- sumers, trade and critics—are missing? She emphasized that a lot of attention is paid to the front-of-house experiences, but added, "We've been working equally hard behind the scenes, and it's not just a renaissance of Raymond in terms of the experiences, it's also one in terms of the wine styles." Some of the ways in which they've set out to achieve their goals, Putnam explained, is by phasing out the use of American oak, while focusing on extreme berry sorting, extended macerations, smaller fermentations and leav - ing their wines unfiltered. Still, for all of Putnam and her team's experience, the blending team she was to work with on February 2 was not the Raymond winemakers she has at her dis - posal—Associate Winemaker Kathy George or Assistant Winemaker Thane Knutson— nor their District Collection, Generations and JCB wines consultant, Philippe Melka, but rather a group of highly regarded som - meliers from around the U.S. Their task? To craft the next Raymond Sommelier Selection blend, from the 2014 vintage. The Sommelier Selection In the center of the ceiling of the Blending Room at Raymond Vineyards is a disco ball, which bounces particles of light off the stain- less steel surfaces illuminated by ultraviolet blacklights, making it easy to forget you are in a working winery. The sommeliers had teamed up in groups of two, five groups in all, and were seated at their stations, outfit - ted in futuristic laboratory coats like some- thing out of The Twilight Zone. Dance music underscored Putnam, as she explained the rules of the blending session. From the five 2014 barrel samples in front of them, each team would have about 45 minutes to come up with a winning blend. They were given a Napa, Sonoma and Lake County Cabernet Sauvignon and a Napa and Sonoma Merlot. Putnam would super - vise the process, answering questions as they The somms pose for a group photo on the grounds of Raymond Vineyards.

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