3 Reasons Why I Put My Neck on the Line 6 Times a Year
There aren’t a lot of wineries that offer blind tastings. In fact, Lenné Estate might be the only one that regularly puts our homegrown pinot noir up against seven other great wines, and lets members of the wine-drinking public vote on the ones they like the best. Six times a year, we invite people to come, taste, and judge for themselves which wines are best. Once we’ve tallied up the votes and crowned the winners, we reveal the identity of every wine—winners and losers alike. It’s democracy in action, and—just like democracy—it’s often a little scary.
There are a few reasons I do this risky business, though.
1. It’s a great educational tool for consumers.
There is really no better way for people to learn what they actually enjoy in a wine. When we don’t know who made a wine, where it’s from, or what to expect, we’re able to focus 100% on whether we like the experience of drinking it. It’s all about our subjective appreciation of the wine, and not at all about prestige, packaging, or expectations. Even though I get a little schoolmarm-ish at our events and tell people not to talk as they taste through the lineup, the silence is actually really freeing. Our guests enjoy getting to focus on their own individual palates, and discovering which wines they prefer when no one is looking at the label.
Plus, it’s fun! Everybody loves the drama and anticipation at the end, when we finally reveal which wines were the most highly rated. Many guests get hooked on the concept and become regular attendees of our blind tastings. Since we change the wines and the themes throughout the year—Dundee Hills versus Yamhill-Carlton, New Zealand pinot noir, red Burgundy, Willamette Valley—it’s never the same lineup twice.
2. It’s a great educational tool for the industry.
I love doing blind tastings with the public because we get to see what style of wines consumers are actually responding to. We often invite wine industry, trade and media participants to solicit their opinions, as well. Over the last 10 years hosting these blind events, I’ve found most people strongly prefer wines with good texture on the back of the mid-palate, which is one of the reasons why our Lenné Estate wines almost always come out near the top.
Participating in blind tasting is good practice for us, too. I run our tastings so even our staff doesn’t know which wines are which until the end, and we can evaluate our (and our competitors’) wines free of our own prejudices. I actually first started doing blind tasting as an employee education perk when I worked at Vichon Winery, a Mondavi property. At that time, the Mondavis hosted weekly blind tastings for employees that pitted their wines up against the best in the world—including several First Growth Bordeaux for their cabernets, and Burgundy titans like Domaine de la Romanée Conti for their pinot noir. I wish I could afford to include DRC in our tasting classes at Lenné, but our pricing hasn’t quite kept pace with theirs.
3. We’ve got confidence in our site.
Lots of other wineries (and PR professionals) think we’re crazy for putting our wine up against our competition in such a public way. But I know our site, and it’s about as good as it gets.
The steep, southwest-facing slope has unbelievably poor soils that make the grapes fight hard to survive. We lost thousands of vines in our first few years, and had to replant some blocks entirely. It took us six years to get a normal-sized yield. But the result is worth it—tiny clusters of thick-skinned berries with intense concentration, distinct mocha aromatics, and our remarkable signature mouthfeel.
We put one of our wines in every single blind tasting, and I’m never disappointed in their performance.
Lenné Estate hosts blind tasting events approximately six times each year. For more information and tickets, visit our Facebook page or online calendar at: http://www.lenneestate.com/events.