El Gaucho Employees Visit Northstar Winery for a Wine Blending Experience. “Walla Walla, Washington – the place so nice, they named it twice!” locals like to say.
A select group of 30 employees from El Gaucho Hospitality boarded a bus last week for a picturesque road trip across the state to Washington’s pioneering wine region. As we neared our destination at Northstar Winery, the increased anticipation was apparent, as one of us would call out familiar winery names as we passed their vineyards: Amavi, Va Piano, Sleight of Hand… just to name a few.
Our mid-afternoon arrival was breathtaking: the meticulously cared-for grapes, ripe for picking, along with the lush green leaves, provided ample inspiration for photos. A back drop of the just-harvested wheat fields and Blue Mountains, along with a gorgeous, sunny fall day, captured a stunning experience.
We were greeted by the friendly staff at Northstar with a glass of Stella Blanca, and were introduced to winemaker David “Merf” Merfield, who personally led us on a tour of the Northstar 15-acre estate, vineyards and facilities. Our timing was perfect – just a week before the busy harvest, with beautiful weather, meant we had the winemaker’s undivided attention. As Merf explained, it’s “the calm before the storm,” describing the 16+ hour harvest days ahead, which were to commence the following week.
After our outside tour of the grounds and equipment, we were led inside to the incredible “Blending Experience” room, where each table was set with what looked like a scientific laboratory, full of beakers, graduated cylinders, wine bottles, cups and professional guides to blending. After a brief presentation on Washington’s wine-growing regions, we set right to work, tasting 2013 Merlot straight from the barrel from four different Washington AVAs (Walla Walla, Columbia Valley, Horse Heaven, and Red Mountain), along with a Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot. A 2010 Columbia Valley Merlot was provided to use as our base.
Using the same blending components that Merf uses to craft his acclaimed Merlot-based blends, we were each given free reign to create our own blend to bottle and take home. We completely geeked out, sharing tasting notes, collaborating on blending percentages, and tasting each other’s concoctions. In the end, it was amazing to see not only the mess we created, but also the differences in our individual palates and preferences. Each of us walked away with a bottle of our personally made wine, complete with a customized label.
Following our mad science experiment, we were ushered upstairs to the outside patio and treated to an amazing three-course BBQ, each paired with the exclusive Northstar wines that will soon be featured in each of our restaurants: Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec. In the past, these varietals have been used mainly as minor blending components, or offered exclusively only to Northstar Wine Club members. Soon, however, El Gaucho will be showcasing these varietals for our guests to enjoy, along with other fantastic wines in the Northstar portfolio: Northstar Columbia Valley Merlot, and Northstar Cabernet Sauvignon.
Winemaking is a blend of artistry and science, and a window into the art of blending world-class wine for a day was an amazing educational experience for our team. We are proud to share the passion and stories behind creating the world-class products we enjoy from our trusted partners like Northstar, and we look forward to imparting the knowledge we gained with our guests. Cheers!