Wine lovers contributed to the decisions that produced the winery’s 2014 Crowdsourced cabernet sauvignon.
EARLY IN MY CAREER, I tried my hand at making a little wine. I quickly discovered I’m much better at drinking the stuff than making it.
Winemaking is hard. It’s mystical how the grapes are grown, then disappear into the winery and come out months or years later in delicious bottles. Perhaps that’s a bit of hyperbole, but winemaking is complicated. A thousand different decisions go into the process, from which grapes to use to yeast strains to barrel selections.
Juan Muñoz Oca, Columbia Crest’s head winemaker, decided he wanted to include wine lovers in the process, so in 2014, the longtime Washington winery launched its “Crowdsourced” program.
Join the crowd
Columbia Crest 2014 Crowdsourced cabernet sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills, $30: Columbia Crest’s inaugural crowdsourced wine is a plush, approachable red with aromas and flavors of blackberry jam, cocoa powder and hints of spices. It is a youthful wine that is delicious now and should gain complexity for another half-decade.
Basically, consumers (and more than a few winemakers) signed up to take a virtual role in producing a cabernet sauvignon. For the inaugural vintage, they helped make picking decisions, decided on what kinds of yeast to use, made choices on barrels and selected the blend.
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For this wine, Muñoz Oca chose one of his best vineyards: an estate block that typically contributes to his highly acclaimed reserve program. He also guided his online team through the process, giving the crowd a series of choices on which direction to take the wine.
While the crowd certainly was integral in making the final product, Muñoz Oca wasn’t going to provide a way for it to veer wildly out of the mainstream. For example, the audience could choose how often the grape skins and juices were stirred during fermentation, but it wasn’t going to be able to vote for flying monkeys to do the job.
Even the packaging was left to the crowd, as the public was able to give direction and vote on the look of the label.
In 2015, the process was repeated, and this time it started earlier, so everyone could better understand what happens in the vineyard. Those involved — and more than 6,000 participated last year — could help choose crop levels and many other factors that affect the final product.
One goal was to teach the public about the winemaking process and to have a fun time. Muñoz Oca also learned a few things along the way. For example, the winery doesn’t usually use petit verdot in its reserve blends — an echo of a former winemaker who tended to avoid the minor Bordeaux grape variety — but the crowd wanted it, so the final 2014 cab has 4 percent petit verdot.
About 1,000 cases were made of the 2014 Crowdsourced cab, and it becomes available to the general public this weekend. Want a delicious, one-of-a-kind Washington wine? Head to columbiacrest.com.