This intensely-colored wine displays aromas of plum jam and blackberry syrup, framed by hints of baker's spices, vanilla, licorice, graphite and toast. In the mouth, the wine has bright and concentrated forward fruit supported by mid-palate volume, a distinctive fine-grained tannin structure and a lengthy cocoa-dominated finish.
In Bordeaux, where many feel Merlot reaches its greatest expression, it is grown almost exclusively in those soils and microclimates that have proven too cool to ripen Cabernet Sauvignon. This thought has inspired us to seek the cooler reaches of Napa when planting our Merlot.
This achieves two ends: First we save valuable land for the venerable Cabernet vines; and second, we return Merlot to its more native expression, one of pure red fruits and lightly, herbal, earthy tones as opposed to the more ponderous, jammy style one evokes in warmer climates. Mitsuko's Vineyard, in Carneros, provides us with clay slopes of varying aspect to try our hand at just such a classical style.
Our Merlot is harvested quite late, relative to other sites in the Valley, as we await the subtle evolution of fruit and acid balance that is so difficult to precisely achieve in Merlot. Once the fruit is picked by hand, we gently destem the berries and transfer them to our fermentation tanks. Many of the lots undergo a saignée -- the "bleeding off" of a small percentage of the uncolored juice to concentrate the remaining must prior to fermentation. (Think of a chef reducing a sauce by removing some of the excess liquid).
Typically the fruit is macerated cold for 5 to 7 days, where much of the color and primary fruit flavors steep into the must. The fermentations are completely native, and the wines are often pressed at dryness, with only a brief period of extended skin contact.
Once pressed the wine is sent to French oak barrels, about 40% new, for malolactic fermentation and continued maturation, which usually takes about 20 months. During this time the wine is frequently topped off, and occasionally racked (separating the sediment from the wine) until we feel it is ready to be bottled without filtration. Redolent of red currants, raspberries and plum cherries with hints of mint and sous bois, our Merlot possesses the rich tannin structure and natural acidity to age and evolve in the more classic manner preferred by our Bordeaux brethren.