What is a field blend?
It’s a question that comes up from time to time. Winemakers generally don’t make wine this way often and if they do, it’s typically not advertised much largely because consumers don’t place much value on the practice.
A field blend is when grapes are harvested and added together to allow to ferment instead of blending finished versions of each varietal at the end of the winemaking process.
Throughout the course of winemaking history, you most often saw the practice in both the Rhone Valley in France, as well as, in Italy. In those old world wine growing regions, often a small percentage of one grape would be added to a much higher percentage of a dominant grape. Some combinations have included a bit of Viognier with Syrah, or Sangiovese and Trebbiano (although this combo has pretty much went the way of the Dodo Bird).
Today you rarely see field blend’s any longer. You will sometimes see them coming from old Zinfandel vineyards that predate Prohibition here in California. Part of the reason for that is two fold. First, Zinfandel does mutate incredibly quickly, so after a hundred years or so you may have very distinct blocks within your vineyard. Secondly, when vineyards were planted say in the years after the Gold Rush, clippings of Petite Sirah and other similar grapes got mixed in with Zinfandel. So sometimes, you have a lot of Zinfandel, but there are other grapes mixed in and creating a field blend and adding a marketing name to it, instead of trying to call the wine Zinfandel, helps a winemaker keep things as simple as possible.
What’s the advantage of a Field Blend?
Outside of the simplicity aspect to it and the sales aspect that can come in, a winemaker will sometimes make a field blend to give people a look into a more natural and ancient form of winemaking. There’s a real sense of place, or terroir here and there are a few excellent examples that have come out over the years.
While it isn’t easy to find a ton of field blends for wine these days, it’s a practice that may come back into fashion at least a bit as winemakers move increasingly into a more natural form of winemaking.