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by Fred McMillin
for November 1, 2000

 

Where to Grow Great Merlot?


Prologue

"In Monterey County nearly all of the original Merlot has been uprooted because it was planted in unsuitable locations."

...Prof. John Baxevanis, Wine Regions of America, 1992

"The huge Salinas Valley of Monterey County remains very much a vinicultural work in progress...There, Merlot has yet to make a real move in the Valley."

...Bob Thompson, Wine Atlas of California, 1993


The Rest of the Story

Monterey Merlot certainly is a work in progress.State stats show zero acres 30 years ago. Little was learned in the 1980s, as plantings started and finished the decade at around 650 acres. Then, in the next seven years, the figure shot up to 3,200. The vintners were making their move.

One of those leading the charge was California's oldest family of wine-grape growers, the fifth generation of Mirassous. Back in 1961 they had made one of the first major moves into the Salinas Valley, planting over 1,000 acres and establishing their Mission Vineyard. It was located in the foothills of the Gabilan Range which forms the eastern side of the Salinas Valley.

Moroccan Cooking

Mrs. McMillin over
a hot cauldron in Morocco.

But they had another property of interest, located on the Gavilan Bench. Facing the afternoon sun, its southwest exposure produced a warmer, drier microclimate. The soil was alluvial, low nutrients, high flavors. Today it is known as the San Vicente Vineyard, and it turned out to be very Merlot friendly. It produced almost all of the grapes for...


Our Wine of the Day

1997 Harvest Reserve Mirassou Merlot
Monterey County, California
Ratings—The 1995 Reserve picked up a gold medal from the Tasters Guild. The 1996 scored a resounding 90 points with the Epicurian. As for this 1997, it was the best Merlot under $20 my panel has sipped this year.
Food Affinities—Mirassou Chef David Page recommends his Roast Saddle of Lamb with Moroccan Spices. Since my wife has had plenty of cooking lessons in Morocco (photo), she says she'll make it and we'll try it.
Contact—(408) 274-4000, FAX (408) 270-5881, Ask for Dave Muret.
Price—$18 range


Postscript

Quick! Which ripens first, Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot?

Answer: Given the same conditions, Merlot ripens first. Consequently, it can be planted in somewhat cooler regions than Cab, and still ripen. and cool conditions produce "cool" wines.

 

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers. For information about the wine courses he teaches every month at either San Francisco State University or San Francisco City College (Fort Mason Division), please fax him at (415) 567-4468.

 
 


This page created November 2000

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