Winemaker Renee Ary shares her secrets
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.