How are wines made? Would you like to learn how they are blended to create the perfect mix of acidity, tannin, sweetness, fruit and body? You can do that at Raffaldini Vineyards and Winery in Ronda, North Carolina.
When Visit Winston-Salem introduced me to the culture, history and fine dining of the area, a wine blending class at Raffaldini was included on my itinerary. I appreciated the opportunity for an off-the-beaten-path drive through the Yadkin Valley and the chance to finally sample North Carolina wines.
A winding road climbs the rolling terrain of the Blue Ridge foothills near Ronda. Off to my right sits the tasting room—a stone villa worthy of any Italian estate. But I turn left on a dirt road that leads to the actual winery. Rather than tasting wine, I’m going to learn how to blend it at Assembliaggio! Grand Riserva blending trials. In the process, I’ll help to determine which Raffaldini varietals end up in the Raffaldini Grand Riserva for 2015.
Owner Jay Raffaldini welcomes guests at the door, then directs us through the winery and into the barrel room where I discover that I’m not the only one interested in blending wine. A number of tables, accommodating 8 winemaker wannabes, are placed around the room. And they’re filled with visitors who’ve driven from Winston-Salem and even Charlotte to learn the fine art of blending red wine.
Raffaldini wines and glass beakers sit on the tables along with instruction sheets and pencil and paper for taking notes. I feel more like a chemist than a wine blender. Will my creation end up in one of the hundreds of wine barrels stacked around the room?
Jay Raffaldini leads the class, educating us about wine, sharing his family’s Italian heritage and entertaining guests with humorous stories and quips. The Wall Street businessman came to North Carolina in 2000 to make wine in the tradition of his Italian heritage, which traces back to 1348 in Mantua, Lombardy. Brash, funny and dry-witted, Jay makes it apparent that we’re going to have fun and learn at the same time.
The blending session begins with Jay explaining how to rate the bottles of varietals placed on each table. Determining qualities of appearance, nose and palate will help us draw a conclusion about the wine. Is it youthful, ready to drink or mature? Is the wine acidic, tannic or balanced? Do we find it acceptable, good or outstanding?
And then the blending begins. Teaming up in two’s, we mix varietals, taste, rate, spit out, mix again taste, spit out and, in many cases, start all over again. And, of course, we can’t forget to notate the percentage of each varietal used in the blend.
Later, each team of two presents their blend to the others at the table. The goal is for each table to come up with a blend, by critiquing the work of the other teams before coming to a consensus on who has the best blend. Naturally, that means lots of tasting and clearing of palates with the water and crackers placed in the middle of the table. And, before we’re done, the group of would-be winemakers must create a catchy name for the blend. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the name of our blend—obviously I swallowed more wine than I spit out.
Jay Raffaldini roams the room offering advice peppered with plenty of quips. And then it’s time for the big reveal. Each table presents their wine, with the reasoning behind the mix that’s been created.
But the real test comes when Jay tastes the blend giving a thumbs up or humorous rendition of why it tastes awful or why it will in a couple of weeks. How did my table do? Let’s just say that you won’t be drinking our blend anytime soon.
After the class, the wine experience continues with a tasting at Villa Raffaldini to sample award winning wines like the sparkling La Dolce Vita and Montepulciano Riserva 2012. The room is buzzing with visitors on a beautiful fall day. Stepping out onto the patio, I take in the fine view of the vineyards with the soft curves of the Blue Ridge Mountains rising in the distance.
From the front of Villa Raffaldini, a walkway leads through a garden and across the drive to another patio where visitors enjoy a glass or two of Raffaldini wine while munching on Italian-style food items available from the tasting room’s deli case. It’s a relaxing way to end a day of wine blending and tasting.
Be sure to bring a designated driver or schedule a ride with Yadkin Valley Wine Tours for a tasting road trip.
If you’re visiting Winston-Salem, take the time to drive through the Yadkin Valley to taste the Italian wines at Raffaldini Vineyards and Winery. Although I didn’t create an award-winning blend, I did bring home a bottle of Raffaldini Montepulciano 2010 to share with Alan.
Start your travel planning at hotels in Winston-Salem.
Disclosure: Visit Winston-Salem and Raffaldini Vineyards and Winery provided this travel experience. But, as usual, the opinions are all mine.