This post is sponsored by Dancing Dragonfly Winery.
ST CROIX FALLS, WIS. — Dancing Dragonfly Winery stands an hour northeast of the Twin Cities; it’s an easy day trip. With 42 acres of vines under cultivation, it’s one of the newest and largest wineries in the state of Wisconsin. It is also one of the most ambitious: featuring live music as well as a host of community events such as tours, dances, festivals, and wine dinners. The Tasting Room is open seven days a week for wine tastings and to purchase wine by the glass, bottle or case.
For those who want to get under the hood of the winemaking process, Dancing Dragonfly offers an immersive event called the Private Blend Experience.
The Private Blend experience is an opportunity to see a culmination of all the facets of the vintner’s art. The process is the art of deciding what properties best combine to make a delicious bottle of wine — from the flavor of the fruit grown to a barrel program. Visitors participate in a tasting session, to create a bottle of wine they can truly call their own. Guests are encouraged to compare the flavors of different grapes and the impact of factors such as the wood used in barrels (American vs. European oak, for example, or the level of toasting on the interior).
It’s an elegant but complex process.
It’s also a lot of fun. On a recent visit to sit in on a blending of the winery’s signature red wine, “Bill’s Waltz,” we quickly determined that while all of us were picking up on similar notes among the four blends we were choosing between, we all tended to personally prefer different outcomes. Sitting in on a blending session is a fascinating crash course in the objective qualities of wine versus the subjective opinions of individuals, all set to the rhythm of sip after sip of blends under consideration. As we tasted the four blends before us, we picked up on subtle differences, particularly in the nose and the finish. But all four were plausible — any would be a wine worth drinking.
“I’m liking the third one …” said Christine Bluhm, co-owner of the winery with her husband, Bill.
“I’m still going to lobby for four — it’s by far the softest one,” said Dancing Dragonfly’s winemaker. Number two might get there after another year in the bottle …”
“Fortunately for me, it’s my personal blend!” exclaimed Bill Bluhm, the namesake of the Bill’s Waltz bottle. Bluhm was a champion of the second blend being sampled, which was buttery, full bodied, and nicely oaked, without going over the top.
Blending is an annual affair at the winery. The formulations of its 19 or so different wines need to be adjusted annually, to account for the dynamic nature of the fruit and the impact of aging in different sorts of tanks and barrels.
“This is high-end farming, and the characteristics of the fruit change every year,” says Dancing Dragonfly Winery General Manager Todd Schweim (below). “This is a very wet year and that makes for a lot of juice with lower sugar levels. In a dry year, you’ll see smaller berries with more concentrated flavors, and generally some higher sugars. Every year the crop is going to be different.”
The ultimate goal of the blend is finding a wine with varying characteristics, but also a harmony. As Christine said, “Blending is all about balance, and the many different aspects of it.” Winemaker Mark Wedge added, “There’s a balance between sweetness, acidity, fruitiness, and tannins. A lot of times we’ll be blending a wine and add 5 or 10 percent of something that might not taste all that great on its own. You get a hint of it in the overall blend and say, ‘oh – wow!’ Even five percent can complete change what’s going on within a wine.”
At the end of our blending session, we compared the results to the last vintage of Bill’s Waltz. “This Waltz is going to be better,” declared Bluhm, with satisfaction.
THE PRIVATE BLEND EXPERIENCE
You and one guest will join Dancing Dragonfly’s winemaker for personal bench tests, where you will choose a blend based on three red or white wines.
Next, the winemaker will blend five (or more, if you wish) gallons of wine per your specifications.
If you want, the wine will be aged in your own, personalized oak barrel.
When finished, the wine will be bottled and labeled with your own labels — personalized with your name and photo.
The barrel and your bottled wine are yours to keep.
To top it off, you can reserve the Dancing Dragonfly Clubroom or Mezzanine for a catered evening for you and your friends. Imagine hosting your very own private release party! (An extra fee applies.)