Here is an excerp from an interview I had recently with Betsy Parks of Winemaker Magazine on the art of fruit wine blending. I think this would be very useful this time of year when so many of you are in the middle of fruit winemaking and thinking ahead of the end product you are creating.
Betsy: When you make a blended country wine, do you make two separate wines or do you crush and vinify both fruits at the same time?
Dominic: Most of the time I make two different wines and blend after both have been fermented, stabilized, fined and at least rough filtered. Blending after the individual wines have been made gives me the most flexibility in terms of achieving the best end results. You are able to “play” with different wine blends and ratios a lot better this way.
By blending raw fruit together and ferment together, it is a little harder to know what end result you will get, unless you have made numerous batches of the same wine and from experience you know exactly what fruit blend ratio works best.
Betsy: If you make two separate wines, how do you decide on the blend? For example, by taste alone, or by acid and sugar readings as well?
Dominic: I determine my blends by taste as well as laboratory readings.
Very often one of the fruit wines used in the blend will have the purpose of balancing out acids, sugars, tannins or color in the other wine.
In regards to taste, this is a very important factor as well as the final wine must have harmony and taste balance. No individual part of the blend may be allowed to compete with the other part(s) but instead create a harmonious blend, which is an improvement of the sum of its parts. This harmony can only be determined by taste.
Betsy: If you crush all your fruit and vinify at the same time, do you encounter any problems? If so, what do you do?
Dominic: I can’t say that I have encountered any serious problems with crushing and fermenting fruit at the same time, however, my main concern when making wine commercially is to be able to provide the customer the best wine possible with the fruit I use. Therefore, I try to ferment separately as much as I can to allow me more flexibility in my blends and also allow me to make a more consistent wine, batch after batch.
Betsy: What kinds of fruit wine blends do you prefer? Why do these fruits work well for you?
Dominic: I use a lot of what I can “neutral fruit” such as apple or pear in my blends because they blend so well with other “stronger” tasting fruits.
In fact, I find that using dry apple wine in some of the stronger flavored fruit wines such as raspberry, cranberries or even cherry wines can tone down the racy acidity and actually improve the harmony of the “stronger” fruit. Two strongly flavored fruits do not always blend well unless it is for a sweet or fortified fruit wine. So I aim for a more neutral tree fruit wine blended with a berry or even tropical fruit wine.
My favorite blends are:
Cranberry – Apple
Saskatoon – Strawberry
Strawberry – Rhubarb
Raspberry – Pear
Passion Fruit – Apple
For the sweet, fortified wines, these work well: Blackberry-Raspberry, Black Currant–Pear and Apricot-Apple.
Betsy: Do you age any of your fruit wine blends? If so, what do you do and why?
Dominic: Fruit wines such as Blackberry or Black Currants need a fair amount of aging to mellow out, much like the more tannic red grape wines. Blending some lighter wines into them such as apple will reduce the amount of time needed for the blended wine to age before release. So this can be another reason to do fruit wine blends, to allow the wines to be enjoyed sooner.
However I aim for aging at least 3 months post blending to allow the blend to get its full harmony.
Betsy: For home winemakers, what should they keep in mind when making fruit wine blends? What are the most important factors?
Dominic: The main thing to remember is to think of wine blends as a way to make a better or more complex wine than having the individual wines on their own.
Once the style of wine wanted is determined and basic individual wine specifications are recorded it is easy to at least get a starting point for blending. Then the fun really begins when trying out blending the wines to achieve what works best.
From experience, I find that blending 15-25% of a “neutral” wine such as apple or pear into a stronger fruit or berry such as raspberry or black currant works well depending on the final style you wish to achieve. Anything thing more and you may take away from the stronger fruit and anything less may not be enough to make a noticeable difference or add to the complexity.
Betsy: Is there any other advice you can give for making fruit wine blends?
Dominic: Blending is where a “good” wine can help make a “great” wine if blended in the right proportion and with the right “partner”.
Two clashing personalities do not always make a great relationship; the same can be said with wine.
It can almost be compared to a marriage. You need two compatible people to make a great couple. The ideal scenario of compability is when one partner’s strength complements the other’s weakness and vice versa. Blend a low acid wine with a high acid wine, or a strongly flavored wine with a more neutral wine, etc.
Wine blending for me is one of the most fun parts of winemaking. This is where a winemaker’s skills and “flair” are determined. So my advice is don’t be afraid to experiment and most importantly, have fun with it!
Hope this is helpful for some of you. Let me know you fruit wine blending experiences, I would love to hear about them!