Grapes sourced from the Oak Knoll and Los Carneros AVAs, in the cooler, southern half of Napa Valley. Napa Valley's 2009 vintage is considered one of the finest of the decade. Whole-berry fermentation and cold soaking enhanced the rich fruit expression, while a portion of new French oak barrels added complexity. This Merlot elegantly complements poultry or red meats roasted with caramelized vegetables, or lasagna layered with mushrooms and sausage.
Appellation: Los Carneros, Oak Knoll
Aging: 20 months, French Oak, American Oak and Hungarian Oak (41% New Barrels, predominantly French)
Varietal Composition: 97% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc
Napa Valley’s stellar 2009 vintage, with its mild temperatures and unrushed harvest, gave us deeply flavored, beautifully balanced grapes with which to craft this Merlot. The expressive aromas suggest sun-warmed satsuma plum, cherry, date, espresso and caramel. On the palate, the flavors offer a soft, inviting entry and then fan out across the palate in rich layers of Bing cherry, mocha and black tea. Muscular, mouth-coating tannins frame the plush flavors, while integrated nuances of chocolate and smoky oak—from new French oak barrels—give complexity to the aromas, flavors and long, jammy finish.
Chris chose Merlot from vineyards in the Oak Knoll and Los Carneros American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) of Napa Valley, which have especially favorable conditions for this Bordeaux-heritage grape varietal. The Merlot grown in the Oak Knoll AVA gives the wine rich, ripe flavors and softer texture, while the cooler Los Carneros AVA—closer to the San Francisco Bay—contributes bright acidity. The different soil types found in the two appellations also contribute to the wine’s myriad of complex flavors.
Although winter and spring rainfall during the 2009 growing season was only about two-thirds of normal, the timing of the rains was excellent for the vines. Our Merlot vines completed budbreak in late March and developed through a frost-free spring. Ideal conditions prevailed during bloom and berry set in May. Moderate temperatures during summer and early fall produced excellent fruit quality by allowing the Merlot grapes to ripen slowly and fully, while maintaining acidity. A fabulous vintage!
We quickly brought the hand-harvested grapes to our winery and destemmed the clusters, retaining 60 percent as whole berries to maximize fruitiness. For gentle extraction of varietal character and color, we cold soaked the must for two days before the two-week primary fermentation. Malolactic fermentation was conducted in barrels during 20 months of aging. We choose 41 percent new barrels to give enticing complexity to this generously fruity Merlot. A splash of Cabernet Franc enhanced the structure. The wine was gently clarified with four rackings during aging and then bottled without fining.