Mas­ter­ful Mer­lots

Wine­maker Re­nee Ary shares her se­crets

Wisconsin Gazette - - Opinion - By Michael Muck­ian Con­tribut­ing writer

Re­nee Ary par­layed col­lege de­grees in art and chem­istry into a ca­reer in the Cal­i­for­nia wine in­dus­try.

Af­ter start­ing in the lab at Robert Mon­davi Win­ery, Ary pur­sued her wine ed­u­ca­tion at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia-Davis, and in 2003 landed in the lab at Duck­horn Vine­yards, an­other Napa Val­ley stal­wart.

By 2013, Ary had worked her way up to be­come Duck­horn’s head wine­maker.

The late New York Times wine writer Frank Prial once dubbed vine­yard founder Dan Duck­horn “Mr. Mer­lot” for the ex­per­tise he brought to wines made from the noble Bordeaux grape. Since her as­cen­sion, Ary has as­sumed much the same role and her comments shed sig­nif­i­cant light on mas­ter­ing Mer­lots.

What makes Mer­lot so spe­cial is how sup­ple and vel­vety it can be, while still be­ing very com­plex and ter­roir-driven . ... The com­bi­na­tion of sup­ple­ness and struc­ture makes for an in­cred­i­ble food wine.

Our How­ell Moun­tain Mer­lot is very dif­fer­ent from our val­ley floor Mer­lot; and like­wise, our south val­ley Mer­lot takes on a dif­fer­ent feel than our up-val­ley, warmer­cli­mate Mer­lots. They are all still Mer­lot un­der­neath, but they offer dif­fer­ent ex­pres­sions of the va­ri­etal, which is some­thing that has al­ways fas­ci­nated us here at Duck­horn Vine­yards.

With that be­ing said, there are def­i­nitely places where Mer­lot truly ex­cels.

For in­stance, when you grow Mer­lot in the heat of the Cen­tral Val­ley with high crop yields, the re­sult­ing wine can be quite in­nocu­ous and will lack struc­ture and com­plex­ity, whereas with Mer­lot from a metic­u­lously farmed Napa Val­ley vine­yard, where yields are low, and the clones and viti­cul­tural tech­niques are tai­lored, you can pro­duce a more com­plex and age­wor­thy wine.

We look for soils with good drainage but that have some mois­ture-hold­ing ca­pac­ity. Mer­lot does not do well in heavy soils. Mer­lot can do well in a warmer location, but it needs good tem­per­a­ture swings be­tween day and night to re­tain acid.

Our ($54) is clas­sic and ap­proach­able and can be en­joyed now or held. The tan­nins are soft and pol­ished, and it is per­fect if you are look­ing for a ver­sa­tile food-friendly wine with lots of lush fruit and a sup­ple mid-palate.

Our ($98) is a col­lec­tor’s wine. It is one of our most com­plex, struc­tured Mer­lots and re­flects the unique site that it comes from. The wine ex­udes rich red and black fruit, lots of lay­ers, a dense struc­ture and an un­der­ly­ing earth­i­ness, or wet-stone char­ac­ter­is­tic that is so uniquely Three Palms.

Our ($98) is a moun­tain Mer­lot at heart, and com­ing from How­ell Moun­tain oozes with dense com­plex­ity. It show­cases lay­ers of wild berries, dried herbs and sweet spices backed by a firm moun­tain struc­ture.


($75) is the only other moun­tain Mer­lot in our port­fo­lio. At­las Peak can be up to 10 de­grees cooler than the val­ley floor but lies above the fog line. This makes for great even ripen­ing which yields bright acid­ity, while still de­liv­er­ing beau­ti­ful dark fruit ac­com­pa­nied by wild spices and sub­tle un­der­ly­ing herbal notes.


($75) is our coolest cli­mate Mer­lot. It is vi­brant and red fruit-driven, with a giv­ing

Many peo­ple don’t re­al­ize that Mer­lot is one of the world’s great grapes. With more than 700,000 acres of Mer­lot planted around the world, it is one of the most pop­u­lar fine-wine varieties.

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