In his dim tasting room, illuminated by lamps made from sawed-off wine bottles, vintner Roberto Cipresso had prepared four different red wines made from grapes grown in Montalcino, Italy: Sangiovese, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Each had been aged in wood for a year and then left to rest in steel or cement vats for six months. They would all blend pretty well, he told me, and are often found, in varying combinations, in the region’s famed Super-Tuscans.
“You’re the architect, I’m the engineer,” Cipresso said as he poured the four wines into numbered glasses. “You know what you want, but I’m the one who says, ‘Put a column here or the building will fall down.’”
The opportunity to blend wine with a mastermind like Cipresso doesn’t arise for just anyone—unless that someone is a member of the Vines, a club born halfway around the world in Argentina’s Mendoza region. Launched last year by the founders of the Vines Resort & Spa, the program allows members to buy plots of land at the vineyard and work with the winery team to create their own vintages. The Vines has now partnered with living legends in regions like Montalcino, Germany’s Mosel, and Spain’s Priorat to host “blending escapes” that include master classes, tours of legendary cellars, and local wine and food experiences. Members pay an initiation fee of $100,000 and annual dues of $12,000, which entitle them to participate in these site-specific wine weekends.
Montalcino was chosen as the debut locale for the program partly because the club has strong connections to Tuscany and its most prominent winemakers—the mad professor Cipresso among them. In his tasting room, he suggested I start by simply deciding, on a scale of one to ten, how much I liked each of the unblended barrel samples. The Montepulciano was all power, no finesse, while the Merlot was pleasant enough but a little lacking in character. My host suggested I begin with a two-grape blend dominated by my favorite, the Sangiovese, with a slightly smaller proportion of my runner-up, the Cabernet Sauvignon.
Then the alchemy began. Cipresso mixed 60 percent Sangiovese and 40 percent Cab. I sniffed and tasted, and it was good, but there was something unbalanced about it that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Cipresso said my blend had Sangiovese’s acidic backbone and Cab’s spice and fragrance, but needed some fruit pulp and balsamic notes to glue it all together, to make it rounder and more complex. “Merlot?” I ventured. “Bravo!” he replied.
That touch of Merlot turned out to be a revelation. I realized that, with a little help from Cipresso, I had created a wine that I liked better than any of the varietals I tasted in the first round. It was an achievement I could toast for months—even years: The Vines members can place a 25-case order of their chosen blend (priced from $8,000 to $35,000), complete with a customized label. My label, I decided, would show a bicycle wheel to honor the road that runs past Cipresso’s headquarters, a stretch I had once pedaled along during a grueling 130-mile cycling event. I’d call it “Il Ciclista.” Why not? My wine, my rules.