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Spring 2010

Napa valley in a Bottle

Conn Creek's Barrel Blending Experience will teach you what each growing region has to offer.

by Ethan Fletcher

Tired of enjoying a nice Napa Cab and then forgetting everything about it the next time you want to buy a bottle?

You might want to check out Conn Creek's Barrel Blending Experience, a two-hour seminar that provides a unique introduction to Napa Valley's famed Cabernet Sauvignons. Best of all, you’ll walk out with something a little harder to forget: your own bottle of custom-blended wine.

Falling somewhere between wine tasting, a history lesson, and a high school science lab, the blending experience shows off Napa Valley’s unusually diverse wine-growing regions by letting you play winemaker. Inside its recently completed AVA Room, the Yountville winery has collected Cabernets from the region’s 13 distinct subregions. The Cabs are lined up in barrels underneath posters that detail their unique regions, climates, and soil types. Wines are ordered according to their characteristics, starting with the three lightest varietals, which offer the softest tannins, and ending with the three boldest Cabs.

The upshot is you can try some of Napa’s finest wines—most are from vineyards handpicked for Conn's own label—while getting blending tips from experts. Once you’ve honed in on your faves, you mix up your dream wine in a graduated cylinder, multiply the ratio to fill a bottle, cork it, and slap on a custom label.

Unveiled last year, the program is already gaining attention, and not just from tourists. Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible and chairwoman of the Culinary Institute of America’s Professional Wine Studies Program, takes her students to the Conn Creek barrel blending as part of a course she teaches. "It's an extremely educational program that Conn Creek offers, and they do it in a way that really respects the integrity of the wine," she says. "Not to mention, it's just a lot of fun to get to try to blend your own wines.”

Seminars are held twice daily except Wednesdays, by appointment only; $95 per person, $65 for club members. For info, go to

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