No one likes mistakes, but not all blunders are bad ones. Straying from the plan can sometimes lead to something better. This is especially true in wine, where trial and error are essential, and so much changes during hands-off processes like aging.
California winemaker Dave Phinney is one of the more legendary examples. Using an ad hoc mix of grapes, he created The Prisoner, a Zinfandel-driven red blend that proved unexpectedly popular, consistently selling out and establishing a new quality benchmark for blended wines all together.
Phinney’s not the only vintner who’s made the most from a fluke in the cellar or vineyard, however.
An Impromptu Breakthrough
For John and Stacey Reinert of Napa Valley’s Brilliant Mistake Wines, it was a fleeting impulse that brought success. In 2014, they sought to create a Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant red blend. They enlisted Maayan Koschitzky, winemaker at Screaming Eagle and Atelier Melka by Philippe Melka, and sourced Cab from two of Napa’s most acclaimed vineyards. When other varieties were added, however, nothing worked.
“We tried all kinds of measurements and different grapes, but it still didn’t taste right,” says John. “That is, until Stacey poured two sample [Cab] bottles into one wine glass on a whim. It was mind-blowing.”
They changed course and chose to instead make a 100% Cab Sauvignon. Delicious already, but with structure to age, the wine earned high praise and established the label’s reputation. “[It] turned out to be a phenomenal wine for us,” he says.
An Intuitive Vinification
In New York’s Finger Lakes, winemaker Thomas Pastuszak also found fortune by chance. A sommelier and wine director at NoMad New York, Pastuszak started Empire Estate winery with Kelby James Russell, winemaker at Red Newt Cellars, in 2014.
Hoping to showcase the region’s dynamic terroir, he set out to create a Riesling from multiple vineyards. But impressed by one particular organic site, he followed his gut and left the grapes apart from the others.
“We harvested the site a month after the others and…it was such a unique expression that it demanded to be on its own,” he says.
Pastuszak believes the result, Empire’s Reserve Dry Riesling, is what set the brand apart from others.