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Enjoying Wine and Beer in the Augusta GA area

Merry Edwards Displays Her Passion For Russian River Pinot Noir


Merry Edwards Pinot Noir Meredith Estate 2017, Russian River Valley

Cost: $65-69

I have always admired people with passion, especially those who can turn that passion into a successful career.

Merry Edwards, who is in her fifth decade as a winemaker, has used her passion to fight discrimination, change the California wine industry’s appreciation for clonal selection and produce eye-popping wine.

Her Merry Edwards Pinot Noir Meredith Estate 2017, from the Russian River Valley ($65-69), lets you know right away it is going to be a great experience. It is a deep ruby in the glass, nearly opaque. Sensual aromas of black raspberry, Bing cherry and plum jump out, along with hints of vanilla, cocoa and cola.

The first sip is equally bold, full of tart cherry, blueberry and blackberry. It is a complex wine, with a suggestion that it will continue to develop in the bottle for many years. The lingering finish is soft and smooth.

The wine comes from grapes Edwards planted more than 20 years ago, her first experience in being a winegrower after many years of being a top-notch wine maker.

“When I talk about Meredith Estate, I feel like a proud parent bragging about her oldest child,” said Edwards.

She studied the vineyard site and made careful decisions about orientation of the vines, soil conditions, style of trellising and the crucial selection of rootstocks and clones. All that careful work paid off with this blockbuster wine. She even pulled up 32 oak trees to lessen the possibility of root fungus infecting her vines.

“The experience shaped my conversion from being a winemaker to being a vigneron or winegrower.” said Edwards. “This in turn led to my focus on developing our own sustainable estate vineyards as the foundation for true quality.”

The winery follows sustainable practices and in 2017 it became a Certified California Sustainable Winery, and all of their vineyards were certified in the same year. They conserve water, use their own organic mushroom compost to feed the vines and even use recycled car bodies for vertical trellis stakes. Solar power covers nearly all the electrical needs of the winery.

They also produce a Sonoma Coast pinot noir ($48) that is soft and elegant, full of strawberries and blackberries with spice notes. Their Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($36) is barrel fermented and has a smooth mouthfeel. The palate shows citrus, vanilla and creme brulee with a touch of Creamsicle. A crisp minerality leads to a refreshing finish. And this sauvignon blanc will improve in the bottle for several years.

Winery: Merry Edwards has been involved with wine in some way since her teenage years when she learned how to cook with wine. Fascinated with food chemistry and fermentation in particular, Merry worked with yeast in baking bread and then turned to beer. A book on home winemaking led her to ferment fruit wines.

Later in graduate school at UC Berkeley, she was surprised you could study winemaking as a discipline. She shifted her graduate studies from nutrition to wine and earned a master’s degree in 1973.

Looking for her first job as a winemaker she met discrimination as wineries tried to hire her as a laboratory technician, the traditional spot for a woman at that time. In 1974 Mount Eden Vineyards selected her to be their winemaker. She made three vintages and earned a reputation as a rising star.

She sent cuttings from Mount Eden’s pinot noir vineyard for propagation after having them heat treated for viruses. That became UCD clone 37, also known as the Merry Edwards selection. It is now planted throughout the Russian River Valley where it produces great wine.

She worked with many wineries including Matanzas Creek, Laurier Winery and the family-owned Merry Vintners. Merry also studied clonal research in France at a time when the importance of clones was not recognized in California.

Merry Edwards. (Photo from the Merry Edwards website.)

Her work at Matanzas Creek with chardonnay clones changed the California wine industry, and a seminar she and Dr. Harold Olmo offered at UC Davis convinced skeptical vintners and growers that clonal selection was important.

After years of consulting for many wineries, in 1996 Merry bought some land in the Sebastopol Hills region of Russian River Valley. In 1997 she bought grapes and produced a Merry Edwards Winery pinot noir.

While rafting the Grand Canyon that year she met Ken Coopersmith, who later became her husband. Together they planted the first vineyard on her Russian River property in 1998, calling it Meredith Estate. Other plantings and long-term leases on other property followed.

Russian River Valley. (Photo from the Merry Edwards website.)

The next project was building a winery and tasting room. Construction began in 2006. The 2007 harvest was produced on site and the first visitors were welcomed in 2008. They had to expand the winery in 2010 to make room for the growing success of her barrel-fermentation program for sauvignon blanc.

Merry celebrated her 40th year as a winemaker in 2013 by being inducted into the Culinary Institute of America’s Vintners Hall of Fame. She also won the James Beard Award for Best Wine, Beer or Spirits Professional in the United States, making her one of just three women to win both honors, along with Zelma Long and Jamie Davies.

Besides producing a wide array of pinot noir, the winery also offers chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, a sparkling wine and a late harvest sauvignon blanc. The wines consistently receive 90+ scores from national wine critics.

Goes with: We had this outstanding wine with a two-course meal, a rarity for us. But we figured during our quarantine we could take a little extra time with dinner and not miss anything. And since one course was a leftover it didn’t take much time to fix.

The first course was fried chicken wings, which both Teri and I love. I saved a little time by frying whole wings instead of separating them before frying. I experiment with different seasonings so each time it’s like a whole new dish.

This time I used House Autrey breading mixed with Morton Nature’s Seasons, Hungarian paprika, red pepper flakes and a dash of celery seeds. They cooked for about 15 minutes at 350 degrees in my small deep fryer which holds about six wings.

This may have been the best combination yet. The wings had a little zip, but they weren’t hot like Buffalo wings. The paprika gave it a smooth, smokey taste, and the celery seed added some complexity. The wings were juicy inside with a crisp coating.

The second course was vegetable beef soup. I often make a large pot of it, and we eat it for several meals. If we don’t finish it in a week, I freeze the rest in smaller containers, so we can just thaw the soup out for a meal when we don’t feel like cooking.

The soup is rich and savory so the lush fruitiness of the wine paired perfectly.

The folks at Merry Edwards suggested braised lamb shanks for a pairing. The recipe sounds delicious, so I’m going to have to try it soon.

If you have questions about wine you can email Dennis Sodomka at dennis@bottlereport.com

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