This Friday, I thought I would write a bit about field blends. Field blends are wines from vineyards with more than one grape variety planted together in the same block. Some field blends might have over 50 different grape varieties planted in a mosaik-like pattern and the winemaker might even be unaware what all of the varietals are. Sounds daunting? Well I actually love (most) field blends. Even with many different “ingredients” they blend together to characterize the terroir; the climate, soil and surrounding fauna.
In the past, before the time of varietal purism, different varieties weren’t always planted separately in distinct blocks as they often are today. Growers used this as a relatively inexpensive way to blend wine and planted their vineyards as a “field blend” of different grapes that they figured would combine to make a good wine. The growers would often pick all of the grapes at the same time, even if they weren’t equally ripe, and pour them into the same vat to ferment together — a technique called co-fermentation.
Initially co-fermentation may have been popular because it was easier and less expensive. It required less equipment, from big fermentation vats to barrels. Co-fermentation might seem old-fashioned, but some contemporary winemakers believe that combining different grapes during fermentation can produce wines that are better integrated, more seamless and perhaps more aromatic — a true field blend is whatever Nature gives that vintage.
Most of today’s field blends are from these old vineyards of post-Gold Rush America or the ones that survived the European wine plague of 1948, making them interesting from both a historical and quality perspective. Many winemakers also believe in the superiority of old vines. Initially field blending may have been perceived as a budget way of making wine, however, today co-fermented wines made from those old field-blend vineyards still produce some of the worlds most sought-after wines.
The Winecurious also has some great field blends in the selection. Our Portuguese producer Quinta do Escudial make an Old Vines edition from their family vineyards in the Dao region. The wine is a combination of over 30 different varietals. Also, Antonio Madeira, a producer who makes just one (perfect) red, uses a field blend of around 20 different varietals. Both wines are aromatic and earthy with red fruits and herbal character.
So don’t be daunted by field blends, give them a try. They might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but you will at least have an interesting ride!