Reading Room

MERRYVALE VINEYARDS 'Quality Over Quantity, No Compromises'

by Charles Neave
Wine Country This Week
Friday, September 22, 2006

While family-owned wineries are not at all uncommon in the Napa Valley, to have a winery as historic and prominent as St. Helena's venerable Merryvale Vineyards be in family hands is exceptional. With its handsome grounds and gardens, the visually arresting stone-walled Cask Room with its enormous (2,000 gallon) century-old oak casks, and an exceptional tasting room, it is a major presence not just in the town in which it resides, but in all of the California Wine Country. Add to that the fact that it was the first winery (then known as Sunny St. Helena) to be built after the repeal of that long, cold winter known as Prohibition -- a fact that served as a benchmark for the wine industry across the country -- and you can begin to measure its importance in the culture of California winemaking.

Today, the winery produces approximately 85,000 cases of wine a year, with 'Starmont,' 'Reserve & Single Vineyard' and 'Prestige' collections of an assortment of carefully chosen varietals, including Chardonnays, Sauvignon Blancs, Pinot Noirs, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a rare 'Antigua' Muscat de Frontignan, as well as other special and limited bottlings.

As part of the continuing effort to make sure that their wines remain at the top of their game, just this summer it was announced that the new winemaking team of Sean Foster and Larry Cherubino would begin working with veteran Assistant Winemaker JoLyn Setian and Viticulturist Remi Cohen to focus on further improving the quality from the different family-owned vineyard sites, and providing stronger support to growers. "Our goal is to craft elegant, complex world-class wines in the finest European style yet reflecting the exuberant fruit from Napa Valley's finest vineyards. To that end, we emphasize quality over quantity and no compromises." And at that they succeed exceedingly well.

The winery is also famous for their much anticipated and well attended weekend events. These include a "Wine Component Tasting Seminar" every Saturday and Sunday morning at 10:30 a.m., which includes a tour of the winery. However, on the fourth weekend of the month, it is replaced by Merryvale's "Wine & Food Pairing" seminar that also includes a winery tour. If you are feeling impulsive and have not made reservations for one of the seminars, you will be delighted to learn that Barrel Tastings are held the second Saturday and Sunday of every month from 1 to 5 p.m., and no reservation is necessary.

But whether you make it to Merryvale for a seminar, a sample from the barrel, or simply stop by for a taste, you cannot miss such wines as the Pinot Noir Carneros or the Starmont Sauvignon Blanc, a wine so crisp that it almost crackles. Or try the latest vintage of their 'Profile,' a Bordeaux blend. Each wine is distinct, each is beautifully crafted, and that, combined with such a unique setting, all adds up to an experience you are not likely to forget.

The tasting room at Merryvale is located at 1000 Main Street (Route 29) just a quarter-mile south of St. Helena. They are open to the public every day from 10 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. For more information on visiting the winery or on special events you can reach them at (707) 963-7777 or go on to the web to www.merryvale.com. You can also sign up for either of the two weekend seminars online, or by calling 800-326-6069 extension 439.

Updated: Tuesday, June 07, 2011