WBC16 Pre-Conference (Part 4): Wente Vineyards & The Winemakers Studio

The Winemakers Studio at Wente Vineyards – An interactive space at Wente Vineyards in California that allows visitors to take different classes focused on grape-growing, winemaking, and wine tasting activities. The offerings are seasonally inspired and change throughout the year. Cheers! | AGlassAfterWork.com

The Winemakers Studio at Wente Vineyards – An interactive space at Wente Vineyards in California that allows visitors to take different classes focused on grape-growing, winemaking, and wine tasting activities. The offerings are seasonally inspired and change throughout the year. Cheers! | AGlassAfterWork.com

Wente Vineyards

Wente Vineyards

After leaving Murrieta’s Well, our group headed to Wente Vineyards proper. The Wente family started their vineyard on this property in 1883 with 47 acres. Since then, they went on to create the first California varietal wine label—a Sauvignon Blanc–and are recognized as the oldest continuously operating, family-owned winery in California.

The Winemakers Studio at Wente Vineyards

The Winemakers Studio at Wente Vineyards

In addition to the tasting room and winery tours that most vineyards offer, Wente Vineyards also has The Winemakers Studio, which is an interactive space that allows visitors to take different classes focused on grape-growing, winemaking, and wine tasting activities. The offerings are seasonally inspired, so they do change throughout the year.

Our blogging group didn’t have enough time to do the full version of the current class offerings. Instead, we did mini versions of 4 of the sessions—the Black Glass Blind Tasting, the Wine Aroma Discovery, Size & Shape Matters, and the Wine & Food Pairing.

The Winemakers Studio Double Blind Tasting

The Winemakers Studio Double Blind Tasting

Black Glass Blind Tasting
Duration: 60 minutes
Price: $35
This session is a double blind tasting, which means that not only do you not know what the wine is before you taste it, but also you can’t even see what you’re drinking. Instead, you have to use smell and taste to determine what wine is in the glass. While it may seem easy to differentiate between a red and a white wine, what happens if a rosé is thrown into the mix? Or a sweet wine?

The first wine in our double blind tasting had lots of tropical fruit characteristics, particularly guava and mango, mixed with some pineapple and grapefruit. I also thought that I detected a hint of flowers on the nose. It had medium acidity and alcohol with a light-to-medium body. I really liked the wine and was pleasantly surprised because the slightly floral aspects made me think it was a Viognier, and I don’t tend to like Viognier. It turns out, though, that I was completely wrong. The wine was Sauvignon Blanc–2015 1846 Wines Ghielmetti Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc (SRP $24). Maybe that explains why I liked it so much?

The second wine had dark fruits, chocolate, and olive characteristics. I also thought there was a hint of flowers, maybe violets. The wine had medium acidity, medium-to-full body, and medium-to-strong tannins. The floral notes let me astray again. I guessed that the wine was a Cabernet Franc (as did everyone else in the room except for one person). The wine ended up being a Cabernet Sauvignon–2013 Nottingham Cellars Livermore Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (SRP $60).

The whole experience was a lot of fun. While there were certain characteristics that we all picked up, there were others that made us each think differently about the wines. That said, we all really liked the wines we tasted, so I think the important take away is that while we each had different tasting notes, we all liked drinking the wine!

The Winemakers Studio Aromas

The Winemakers Studio Wine Aromas Discovery

Wine Aroma Discovery
Duration: 90-120 minutes
Price: $55
This session was fun and very challenging. At the end of the table, there were three vials from a wine tasting aroma kit that we were supposed to identify. To help with that identification, all around the table there were glasses filled with objects that are often used to describe wine characteristics—chalk, coffee, stones, grapefruit, nutmeg, etc.—and we were supposed to sniff the objects to help us isolate those specific aromas.

I was able to identify two of the three vials, but more than anything, what I enjoyed about this session was the ability to really spend time focusing on the characteristics of each object. It reminded me of when I was studying for my wine exams and how I would constantly be sniffing things in our spice rack or buying strange food to really get used to identifying the unique characteristic of each smell and taste. Sticking your nose in a glass full of chalk really gives a sense of what a wine with chalk characteristics would smell like.

My biggest takeaway from the session was that while I did ok with my identifications, it’s time for me to go back to my basics for a refresher.

The Winemakers Studio Size and Shape Matters

The Winemakers Studio Size and Shape Matters

Size & Shape Matters
Duration: 60 minutes
Price $35

I will say upfront that this session made the biggest impression on me. The purpose was to determine if the size, shape, and overall construction of a wine glass really impacts how a wine smells and tastes. There were four glasses on the table in front of us—a generic restaurant-type glass, a Chardonnay glass, a Pinot Noir glass, and a Bordeaux glass.

Let me start by saying that I went into this experiment thinking that while there might be a touch of a difference, it would be minimal. I was under the impression that unless the wine drinker was very sophisticated that the difference in glasses would be negligible. I was very wrong…

There is a caveat, though. I think the differences between the Chardonnay, the Pinot Noir, and the Bordeaux glasses were negligible. Not that there wasn’t a difference. There was. And, I can see how using the glass that is made for the specific wine can be the difference between enjoyment and making the wine sing, but I think that a well made set of Bordeaux glasses can do the job (and I intend to invest in my own set).

The big difference really occurred between the generic restaurant-type glass and the fancy glasses. Holy cow! The generic glass swallowed all of the aromas. It left me with the impression that the wine were tasted had very little to offer and that, honestly, it wasn’t very good. It was a wine that I would give 2.5 or 3 corks. That same wine in the Chardonnay glass was complex and wonderful. It was a wine that I would give 4.5 corks. For a glass to make that much of difference in the same wine floored me. It’s an experiment I think every wine lover should do.

The Winemakers Studio Food and Wine Pairing

The Winemakers Studio Food and Wine Pairing

Wine & Food Pairing
I don’t see this particular session on the website, although there is a 60-90 minute wine & cheese session for $55 and a wine and chocolate pairing session for $15. The food in our session was delicious, and it paired nicely with both the 2014 and 2015 Cuda Ridge Wines Semillon. In fact, as sometimes happens with good pairings, the food significantly improved both of the wines. All that said, I felt like this session was the least interesting of the four. I’d rather do a wine pairing dinner at a nice restaurant and spend the money to do one of the other more unique sessions at the Winemakers Studio.

Question of the Day: What are your thoughts on the impact of wine glasses on how a wine tastes? Do you have fancy wine glasses for different types of wine? If you do, do you use them?

Mailbag Monday: Online Wine Courses?

Hi Alleigh,
I’ve been looking to get some advice on investing in a more formal wine education, and recently came across your blog. I love how easy it is to sort your posts – makes a great resource!

I’m an almost 27-year old Air Force wife and my husband and I have talked about investing in a wine education for me for some time now, but we haven’t been sure where to begin. I discovered my love of wine while living in New York City in my early 20’s. During the four years I lived there, I went to periodic tastings and frequently sought out restaurants with notable wine lists. Now that I’m no longer in the city, it’s much more difficult to continue growing my self-taught wine knowledge, and to find new wines that stand out. I’m thinking that a formal program could help fuel my wine curiosity wherever I happen to be, and might also be useful down the road.

We currently live in Pensacola, FL and will be moving every few years. Do you know if it’s possible to pursue a wine education with online courses? Are there any programs you know of that would be a good fit for someone in my situation?

Any other advice you have would be much appreciated!


Hi…and thanks for the compliment!  I’m glad that you’ve found A Glass After Work helpful!

Your question about online wine courses is a very good one.  Admittedly, I don’t have any personal experience with online wine classes, but I can share a little of what I have heard from others.

To start with, the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), which is based in London, does offer online courses directly.  I took the WSET Level 2 and Level 3 courses in person at the Washington Wine Academy in DC.  About half the people in my Level 2 class were wine enthusiasts looking to get a better understanding of wine, while the other half were professionals working in the wine industry.  I entered the class with no real wine knowledge except for knowing that I liked drinking it.  While I was taking my WSET Level 3, my instructor was actually in the process of doing his WSET Diploma online.  There were no WSET Diploma courses being offered in the area at the time, so this was essentially the only option for him.  Everything he said about it sounded like it worked out very well, and he passed earned his Diploma soon after we finished the course, so he was clearly successful.  Additionally, this past January, Hubby and I spent a week at Ti Kaye in St. Lucia, and, of course, I became friendly with Cleus, the Sommelier at the resort (they have an underground wine cellar with one of the largest wine collections in the Caribbean and were in the process of applying for Wine Spectator designation while we were there). At the time, Cleus had just passed his WSET Level 3, and he took the online course through WSET to prepare.  In fact, he’d also taken the WSET Level 2 online course, and he felt that the distance learning worked so well that he would begin the WSET Diploma Online sometime within the next year.

The only problem with going directly through WSET is that you have to go to London to sit for the certification exam.  There are places in the U.S. that offer WSET courses online, like the Napa Valley Wine Academy, the Vermont Wine School, or the Atlanta Wine School.  Unfortunately, though, they still require that you sit for the exam in person.

Since it doesn’t sound like you’re looking for courses to help with a career change, but rather are furthering your personal interest in wine, it may be worth seeing if one of the U.S. wine schools offering the WSET Level 2 online will let you take the course without taking the exam (unless, of course, you’re willing to make the trip to the take the exam).  I loved my WSET, and I think it would have been very valuable even without the exam as it really helped me understand wine, how to taste it, what I liked, and why I liked it.

Outside of the WSET courses, I’ve often looked at the Wine Spectator online courses, but I haven’t taken one.  The materials look like they are very detailed, even down to how to go into the wine store and buy the wines necessary to do the tasting portion of the course.  Obviously, as is the case with any online course, you’ll only get out of it as much as you put into it, but it’s at least worth looking into, particularly since you don’t have to travel anywhere for the final exam.

Unfortunately, as it doesn’t look like there are too many options on LocalWineEvents.com for Pensacola, those are the only two options that I really know of.  That isn’t to say there aren’t others out there, but online wine education is still fairly limited.

I hope this was at least a little helpful.  Good luck!

Question of the Day: Have you taken or do you have any recommendations for an online wine class?  I’d love to hear your feedback and experiences!


Do you have a question?  Don’t be shy!
Send me an email, leave your question as a blog comment,
or ask me on Twitter!

Endings to the Spanish Wine Course

The last regions we covered before taking our exam on the final day of the The Wine Academy of Spain’s Spanish wine course were Condado de Huelva, Málaga & Sierras de Málaga, and Montilla Moriles. After going over the slides on each area, we had our final two tastings.

Tasting #3 on Day 3
(sorry that there are no pictures!)

3 Corks

2006 Veleta Tempranillo VdT (winery)
90% Tempranillo, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot
Ruby with purple flecks
Medium-to-high Acid
Medium body

2006 Veleta Cabernet Sauvignon (winery, snooth)
Very ruby
Ripe cherries and plums
Medium tannins and acid
Medium body

2006 Veleta Nolado’s (winery)
40% Cabernet Franc, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Tempranillo
Ruby with flecks of purple
Strawberry, blackberry, fennel, and rose petals on the nose
Violets, Strawberry, and blackberry in the mouth
Low-to-medium tannins and acid

2005 Finca Moncola Cabernet Sauvignon & Syrah (winery)
70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Syrah
Ruby with a purple tinge
Strong green and black olive aromas, followed by black plums, black currant, and spices on the nose
Lots of olives and black fruits in the mouth
Medium tannins, low-to-medium acidity

Tasting #4 on Day 3

2008 Botani Moscatel Seco (winery, snooth)
Grapy, floral, blossoms, & rose petals
Bitter on the finish

Toro Albalá Fino Eléctrico (winery, snooth)
Pale gold
Almonds and something bitter on the nose
Almonds and salt in the mouth
Not as elegant as the Sherry

2006 Jorge Ordóñez & Co Selección Especial (winery, snooth)
Bright, medium lemon with gold flecks
Orange blossoms, dried apricots, honey, lemon peel, and nectarines on the nose
Very Sauterne-like
Honey, white flowers, and nectarines in the mouth
Nice balance between the sweetness and the acidity
Full-bodied, a little syrupy
Long finish

Toro Albalá Cream PX (winery)
Brown with an amber rim
Raisins, prunes, brown sugar, toast, toffee, and caramel on the nose
Raisins, prunes, nuts, and burnt sugar in the mouth
Not too thick
Good balance

1982 Don PX Gran Reserva (Bodega Toro Albalá) (winery, snooth)
Very dark mahogany with an amber rim
Raisins, prunes, coffee, chocolate, licorice, soy sauce, and molasses on the nose
Burnt sugar, raisins, and prunes with a hint of chocolate and licorice in the mouth
Sweet with very high acidity
Body is think and syrupy

Sherry, Sherry Baby, Sherry

The second Sherry tasting on the final day of the The Wine Academy of Spain’s Spanish wine course was comprised of sweet, complex wines. Unlike the first tasting, where most of the Sherry were not my style, each Sherry in this tasting was more delicious than the next. In fact, the last one we tasted (the Nectar PX 7 Years Old) left me wondering what it would taste like poured over warm French toast.

Tasting #2 on Day 3

Apostoles Palo Cortado Muy Viejo (winery, snooth)
VORS (at least 30 years of aging)
Palomino and Ximénez
Medium brown with an Amber rim
Flan, toasted caramel, vanilla bean, with a touch of raisins and prunes on the nose
Almonds, hazelnut, caramel, with a touch of raisins in the mouth
Very complex

Matusalem Oloroso Dulce Muy Viejo (winery, snooth)
VORS (at least 30 years of aging)
Medium-to-dark brown with an amber rim
Pronounced aromas—almonds, raisins, and prunes
Almonds and raisins in the mouth
Sweet, with a slight bitterness on the long finish

Nectar PX 7 Years Old
Deep Mahogany with amber rim
Pronounced aromas—strong raisin, fig, and prune with hints of caramel and brown sugar
Dried apricots, raisins, and prunes with a hint of caramel and brown sugar in the mouth
Like drinking liquid velvet
Very long finish

Oh, Sherry

The third, and final, day of The Wine Academy of Spain’s Spanish wine course was particularly intense because there was an exam looming over all of us. After 6 ½ hours of class, we had an hour to complete our Spanish Wine Educators and Andalusia Wines exam. The exam included blind tasting 8 wines and answer 5 questions about each wine (including identifying the wine), followed by 50 multiple-choice questions. It felt like Extreme Spanish Wine.

Before the exam, though, we went through an introduction to Andalucía, which included a fascinating history of the region, before learning about the history of Sherry and the viticulture and vinification practices.

For those who might be unfamiliar with Sherry, it is a fortified wine from Jerez, Spain. To make Sherry, winemakers start with a base wine, which is then fortified by adding pure grape spirit. The level of fortification determines the aging process, as the lighter Fino Sherry allow for the development of a film of yeast (called flor), which protects the wine from oxidation, and the darker Oloroso Sherry are heavier, darker, oxidized wines. There is a 3-year minimum aging requirement for Sherry, and the aging system (the Solera system) that is used to blend and age Sherry is very important.

Jesus had a wonderful slide that explained exactly how the Solera system works. While the slide only had three levels of botas (the special barrels used to age the Sherry), there are generally 4 levels. A portion of wine is taken from the bottom bota and bottled, leaving space for an equal amount of wine to be transferred from the 3rd level of botas. Once the wine is taken from level 3, there is space for wine from the 2nd level of botas to be added. After the wine from the 2nd level is transferred, the wine from the 1st level of botas replaces it. This leaves space in the 1st level of botas for the addition of new wine.

Tasting #1 on Day 3

Tio Pepe Fino Muy Seco (winery, snooth)
Pale, lemon yellow
Pronounced smell
Almonds, green apples, toast, and salt on the nose
Salt, nuts, and granny smith apples in the mouth
Very dry
Very bitter
Long finish
Could pair with ham, almonds, cheese, asparagus, artichoke, and calamari
Not my style

Viña Ab Amontillado (winery, snooth)
Medium, liquid gold
Stone fruits, nuts, and spices on the nose
Nuts, caramel, and dried apricots in the mouth
Very dry
Not my style

Alfonso Oloroso Seco Palomino 10 years old (winery, snooth)
Amber color
Nuts, dried apricots, vanilla, and cinnamon
Dry, but smooth
Long finish
Might pair nicely with gamey foods
Not my style

Solera 1847 Oloroso Dulce (winery, snooth)
Medium brown with amber rim
Raisins, prunes, figs, walnut caramel, burnt sugar, and candy licorice on the nose
Raisins, burnt sugar, and toffee in the mouth, with a very nutty finish
Sweetness is balanced nicely by the acidity
Very nice!