by Fred McMillin
for December 23, 1998

 

How To Mend A Blend


Prologue

"Meritage [rhymes with "heritage"] is a trade-marked name for a blend of grape varieties made in the image of Bordeaux whites and reds. It was devised to distinguish these blended wines from varietal [75% minimum] Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, etc., most usefully on wine lists...If growers find patches where Merlot and Cabernet Franc improve on Cabernet Sauvignon, the breed may improve."

...The Oxford Companion to Wine


The Rest of the Story

During a decade of improving his red Meritage, winemaker Dennis Johns has discovered some of those "patches that improve on Cabernet Sauvignon." Quote: "We have found one of the most successful blending agents to be Cabernet Franc. [It provides a] more crisp, fruity entry...and more sweet, ripe flavors. It's amazing how little of it can change the overall blend."

Hence, two years ago he increased the Franc content of the 1994 Oroppas to 27%, compared to the 12% used in the '93. Rapid sales confirmed that the public liked the change, too, so Dennis has kept the Franc content above 20% ever since. Here are the details on the current release, which is a dilly.


The Wine

1996 Oroppas Meritage Red, Napa Valley
St. Clement Vineyards, St. Helena, CA.
Composition:

    Cab Franc—22%
    Merlot—18%
    Cab Sauvignon—60%
Vineyards—Would you believe, the grapes came from EIGHT different Napa Valley patches. Aging—13 months is top-quality French oak, mostly new.
Bottled—March 1998
Production—Only 1,900 cases
Rating—Easily one of the best Meritages tasted this year. Both the beginners and the professionals gave it an EXCELLENT...a GREAT Christmas gift!
Contact—Jennifer Lamb, (800) 331-8266
Price—$33 range


St. Clement Winery

Postscript

You may have noticed the "saintly" nature of this piece, the address of the St. Clement Winery being St. Helena. Whence the names?

Saint Clement—In 1975 ophthalmologist William Casey bought a Napa Valley winery and named it after his ancestral home in Maryland. It was built on a seventeenth-century grant by the English crown and named St. Clement Manor.

St. Helena—The area was first controlled by the Wappo Indians, then the Spanish, then the Mexican government, and finally, 150 years ago, the U.S.A. Which named it? NONE OF THE ABOVE. Two Russians, prior to the shutdown of their Russian River settlement, climbed the Napa Valley mountain in 1841 and named it in honor of the Empress of Russia. (There are rival, Russian legends.)

 
About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

 

 

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