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The Art of Blending

When Tom Tiburzi holds up a glass of Chandon Brut Classic to the light, he knows that he is looking at more than just one wine. As Chandon's Sparkling Winemaker, Tom is responsible for blending many different wines from different grapes — and even different harvests — to produce a unique and consistent flavor in every bottle that is released.

Tom Tiburzi - Domaine Chandon Winemaker

When Tom Tiburzi holds up a glass of Chandon Brut Classic to the light, he knows that he is looking at more than just one wine. As Chandon's Sparkling Winemaker, Tom is responsible for blending many different wines from different grapes — and even different harvests — to produce a unique and consistent flavor in every bottle that is released.

We asked Tom to describe how he approaches what many call the most difficult task in the entire winemaking process, a task that demands years of experience and a true master's touch.

"When it comes to sparkling wine, blending is everything," says Tom Tiburzi. "It enhances the aroma, improves the taste and mouth feel and even affects the color. Blending is without a doubt the most important part of my job here at Domaine Chandon. Just like the right mix of colors in a painting, it takes just the right combination of individual wines to make a great bottle of wine."

The secrets of blending

Unlike still wines, which are primarily made from a single grape varietal and a single vintage, our sparkling wines are the product of a complex blending process using three different varietals: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. These are the traditional varietals used to make Champagne-style sparkling wines. Tom Tiburzi explains how it's done.

"The first blending opportunity comes at the grape harvest itself, starting in early August when the grapes are pressed to produce juice. We assemble different juices from different vineyard blocks into a common settling tank. It's their first chance to get acquainted on their long journey together. During harvest we ferment 200 or more base wines individually that are consolidated into 80 to 100 plus lots by the time we are ready to start blending individual products."

Reserve engineering

"Our second blending opportunity comes when we move the juice from the settling tanks into the fermentation tanks. We also add some older reserve wines from previous years. Domaine Chandon has an extensive library of reserve wines, allowing us to build complex blends that can literally span many different years. You might say they're our 'secret ingredient.'

"The next step in the blending process is moving the newly fermented base wines into storage tanks. At this time some base wines are selected to be kept individually distinct while others are blended — the aim being to have as many individual lots with distinctive structure, aroma and flavor profiles.

"Once all the new base wines have been fermented and made ready for blending, I'll ask the Chandon blending team to join me. Together, we'll note color, aroma, flavor and mouthfeel characteristics. We'll select a number of base wines for inclusion in blending trials for individual products. We'll knock out one or two blends in December and the rest by the end of January the following year.

"Now it's time to put the wine in the bottle, where it will undergo a secondary fermentation. This is where the bubbles are born. Even at this point, we're not done blending yet. Once the wine gets its sparkle, we remove the yeast and add a 'dose' of a liqueur blend to each bottle — a labor-intensive process — to achieve the final balance."

How Brut Classic gets it's groove

Blending wines all day may sound like a dream job. But it's full of challenges. For Tom Tiburzi, one of the hardest is to stay focused on the taste profile of the wine he's blending at any given time. "When I've been working for hours, refining version after version of a blend, comparing it to previous versions and moving forward to the next version, I have to be careful not to imprint too much of my own personal preference on my work. My objective is to give each wine its own unique flavor profile — individually distinctive yet equally as good as every other wine that bears the Chandon name.

"For example, Chandon Brut Classic is a Chardonnay-led blend. With this wine, I'm looking for vibrant fruit flavor and aromas that lean towards apple, pear and citrus. A wine that's crisp with a soft finish and pairs well with shellfish, Caesar salad, fried and salty foods. When I ask my colleagues to try the wine in my blending laboratory, I want to hear them say 'this tastes great, Tom — let's go buy some oysters.' Then I know the wine is ready to be called Chandon Brut — and ready to be enjoyed by our Club Chandon members."