If you’ve ever driven highway 29 up the Napa Valley, you’ve likely seen the Merryvale Vineyards building right across the street from everyone’s favorite hangover spot (I mean burger shack) Gott’s Roadside Grill (neé Taylor’s Refresher). The ubiquitous mortared wall has stood on the side of that road since the 1930’s. It was operated as a co-op for a while, then as storage for Christian Brothers, and eventually the winery was sold to Bill Harlan in 1986. In 1991 Swiss businessman and realtor Jack Schlatter invested to become a partner and eventually bought 100% of the winery in 1996.
Since then the newly-minted Napa Valley wine family from Switzerland saw the business convulse through a recession or two, but thanks to the Schlatters‘ continued investment in pursuing excellence, Americans’ growing love for wine, and Merryvale’s historic pedigree, the brand has not only survived but thrived.
Jack Schlatter’s son, René Schlatter became Proprietor and CEO of Merryvale in 2008. He says, “I’m sure you’ve heard the wine industry saying, ‘The best way to make a small fortune in wine is to start with a large one?’ Well, my dad might have agreed with that in the early years, but things quickly went uphill and we’ve continued to evolve to keep Merryvale a true, traditional expression of Napa Valley wine.”
Evidence of the winery’s continued evolution is its newest label called Forward Kidd, which René Schlatter was in town to present to buyers last week. Named for two types of soil present in Napa Valley (Forward Gravelly Loam and Kidd Loam) the wine is an elevation of the current trend of red blends with big fruit and a softer appeal.
The largest percentage of the Forward Kidd blend is petit verdot, a black grape variety once grown on a much larger scale in Bordeaux. Transplanted to California, the grape enjoys the warmer climate and the long mild growing season of the 2012 vintage brought out it’s rich, spicy side. It makes up 30% of the blend; the other grapes ranking in the bottle are cabernet sauvignon (25%), merlot (20%), malbec (20%), syrah (3%), and petite sirah (2%).
On the palate it is softer than a big cabernet sauvignon, but it is by no means a wimp. There are bold flavors of ripe cherry, some raspberry jam and baking spices. The tannins are soft which makes it a perfect companion to fillet or other lower-fat beef. It will also drink well without food, as long as you like a mouthful because this wine is not shy. Up front fruit will make it a perfect upgrade for people following the red blend trend, and challenge them to experience a much more complex expression of fruit and spice (retail price $50-55).
While evolving and adding news blends, Merryvale continues tradition with its signature red blend called “Profile.” The just released 2012 vintage sports upgraded packaging with the profiles of René Schlatter and his wife, Laurence seemingly carved into the label.
“It was destiny,” René says of his wife. “We come from the same town in Switzerland, but I met her in Napa....destiny.”
Every year, Profile is made up of the best wine grapes the estate has and in 2012 the blend turned out to be 85% cabernet sauvignon and 15% petite verdot. To call this wine big would be like calling Trump confident. Major understatement. Huge. It’s a massive wine with piles of black fruit flavor; but it’s complexity lies in the floral and cedar aromas that combine with broad-shouldered tannins and unifying oak notes. It needs to be decanted now since it’s just a baby, and can easily lay down in your cellar (if you can stand the temptation) for up to 10 years, although I suspect it will continue to develop even longer (retail price around $200).