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Feeling Supery

A Winery Happily Exposes Itself

Winemakers can be secretive. Like chefs who guard their recipes as if they were nuclear launch codes, winemakers are typically loathe to give the public access to the subtleties of making their wine. If you can figure it out when you taste it, fine. But don't try to pry when they're putting it in the bottle.

But of course there are exceptions. And in fact in some cases the complete opposite is true. Some wineries are like open books, availing their inner pages to prying eyes-or at least to any eyes who care to peer. One of the best such examples can be found in Napa Valley's St. Supery, where last fall I had an experience that seemed more like that reserved for employees only. Turns out, the winery is known for providing guests a behind-the-scenes experience that not only demonstrates how they make their wine, but let's guest try their hand at making it themselves. It's hugely educational and enormously fun. And it's available to everyone.

Among the many variations of get-to-know-the-winery programs available at St. Supery, is the Napa Valley Vineyard Experience, held each year on select dates. The Experience is a unique opportunity to get out into the vineyard and get first-hand knowledge of what it's like to tend the vines. Guided by a resident expert, your excursion in the winery's Rutherford Estate vineyard covers such techniques as grafting, planting, training and trellising - while of course discussing the "why" of these practices. The vineyard experience is offered this year on August 18 and September 8 (book early), and each session includes samplings of wine grapes and concludes with a tasting of St. Supery Wines.

Another way to get to know the winery is by understanding what goes into blending their wines. At St. Supery, on select Saturdays, you can get that experience first-hand as well. The winery's blending seminars are led by expert wine educators in the winery gallery and include discussions about the various properties of the Bordeaux grape varieties and how they present themselves in a finished bottle of meritage wine. Using pure cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, and petit verdot, guests can experiment in making their own unique blend. It's harder than you think; my own attempt at this yielded something that I thought was award-winning during the blending session, but was ultimately undrinkable when I got it home and pulled the cork. Yes, guests get to leave with a bottled sampling of their own making. Scheduled blending seminars remaining are set for August 11 and September 22. Cost is $75 per person.

Of course, there's the simply titled Behind-the-Scenes tour of St. Supery, which gives a rare glimpse of a winery's inner workings. The tour includes an exploration of the winery's cellar guided by a wine educator who illuminates the winemaking process soup to nuts, from the crush to the bottle. The one-hour tour is scheduled for Sept. 1 ($25 per person) and includes a barrel tasting of St. Supery's estate-grown red wines.

And as we approach harvest season, I'd be remiss not to mention the Harvest Adventure, which offers a rare hands-on wine experience that all wine fans should experience at least once in their lives. The Adventure begins in the morning with breakfast and coffee before heading off into the vineyard guided by the skilled leadership of winemaker Michael Beaulac, where you'll pick grapes and prepare them for an old-fashioned grape stomp. From the vineyard to the cellar you go for an insider's look at the winemaking process. In the cellar, you'll barrel taste last year's vintage before going on to blend your own varietal during a seminar like that mentioned above. The adventure closes with wonderful lunch prepared by winery chef Ron Barber and enjoyed on the lovely St. Supery grounds. Harvest Adventures are scheduled for Sept. 14, Oct. 5, and Oct 12. Price is $295 per person, but if you're really into wine, you'll find it's the best money you've ever spent.

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