Hoby Wedler at Coppola (far right), Courtesy of Coppola Winery

For me, wine has always been a sensory experience where you use all of your senses to appreciate and anticipate what is in the glass in front of you.  Francis Ford Coppola Winery has created an experience that takes away one of those key senses – sight.

The winery’s “Tasting in the Dark” event is billed as a blindfolded, sense-engaging tasting, and uses wines from the Diamond Collection.  What really made it amazing for me was our host – Henry “Hoby” Wedler, a blind chemistry graduate student who established the program in 2011.

We came into the room and after exchanging pleasantries; we put our blindfolds on and dove right in.  Hoby was so passionate about wine and wanted to hear why we all came to the tasting.  What I loved is how he brought his love for wine to life.  He talked about how he equates wine with art – when he reads a great work of literature, listens to a movie or hears a beautiful musical interlude, he experiences the same sensations as when he drinks a great wine.  At Coppola, they want wine to be appreciated like art.

Our objective was to experience that we don’t have to see to enjoy wine.  Without sight, we actually have an advantage when tasting foods/wines; we can be more focused in our energy and attentions.   We started by smelling several aromas that were passed around the table (yes, we still had on our blindfolds).  I successfully guessed lemon zest and oak chips, but was stumped by the black peppercorn that smelled like Pine-Sol to me.

Hoby said that guests usually walk through the vineyards with their blindfolds on.  Because we were at SER Steakhouse, that clearly wasn’t the plan that day.  We tried four wines.  We were directed to swirl, smell and then taste.  The reds and whites weren’t located together and we were asked to determine if the wines were red, white and what varietal.

I successfully identified all the wines as red or white and successfully chose 75 percent of the varietals.  Without the confirmation of sight, I second guessed myself and didn’t go with my instincts.  I knew the first wine was Sauvignon Blanc, but I guessed Pinot Gris.  From that point on, I went with my gut choice and was right.

We tasted the following:

  • 2012 Francis Coppola Diamond Sauvignon Blanc – which was delightful with apple, citrus, grassy, grapefruit, pear, peach, apricot, nectarine, floral and honeysuckle.
  • 2012 Francis Coppola Diamond Pinot Noir – smoky, coffee, red berries, black cherry; vanilla, Asian spices, sandalwood, and caramel.  This was a nice mid-range Pinot.
  • 2012 Francis Coppola Diamond Chardonnay – tropical fruit, green apple and vanilla.  This was a little too oaky for me.
  • 2011 Francis Coppola Diamond Cabernet Sauvignon – caramel, clove, black pepper, tobacco, anise and leather. I’d give this some time to open, but it was nice.

This was such a cool and unique experience, although humbling.  It proves the adage that you will always be a student of wine and Hoby was an incredible teacher.