Marty’s thoughts on why WA State Merlot excels on the world wine stage
Merlot may be grown in many parts of the world, but there are only a handful of winegrowing regions with the perfect mix of growing conditions that allow Merlot to showcase the characteristics that make it one of the great noble varieties. When Merlot finds the right home; like in Washington and Bordeaux (where it is the most widely planted varietal), the resulting wines are truly remarkable.
For Merlot to strut its stuff it needs long, warm, sunny days to ripen matched with cool nights so as to retain its natural acidity and beautiful balance. Sitting at 46° latitude, Washington receives more than 17 hours of sunshine each day during the peak growing season and sees up to a 40° diurnal temperature swing once the sun goes down. It’s no secret that eastern Washington can be a windy place. That wind exposure stresses the vines and encourages them to grow thicker skins, resulting in more robust tannins and improved cellaring potential. Normally thin skinned, Merlot tends to plump up when exposed to water during the final ripening stages. Fortunately, we rarely see rainfall during harvest in Washington, and I believe this is a key reason we can make such extracted, aromatic, and beautifully balanced Merlots.
These factors, along with Washington’s unique geology are the very reasons we have been crafting premium Merlots since our founding in 1983. Since that time we have maintained a strong focus on producing high-quality Merlot by:
• Working with great vineyard sites throughout the Columbia Valley. One particularly special Merlot in our portfolio is our Estate Merlot from our Seven Hills Vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley. This vineyard was named one of the “Ten Great Vineyards in the World” by Wine & Spirits in 2004.
• Utilizing sustainable biologically-based vineyard practices, our Estate Seven Hills Vineyard is Certified Sustainable and Salmon Safe.
• Gentle handling in the cellar by using gravity assisted fruit movement (no must pumps), small lot fermentations, cap management accomplished by punch-downs rather than harsher pump overs, gentle pressing, and no fining. We utilize a balanced oak program that adds aromatic complexity, finesse and fleshiness in the mouth without dominating or over-oaking the wines.
If you’ve been looking past Merlot in search of the next hot wine, I encourage you to try a bottle of the varietal that first propelled Washington State’s reputation forward as a premium red wine producing region. Whether it is to enjoy with dinner tonight or for your cellar, I think you will like what you find.
Marty Clubb, Managing Winemaker