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Consumers ‘back in love’ with Merlot

The ‘Sideways effect’ is being reversed and consumers are starting to fall back in love with Merlot according to one of California’s top producers.

Mer-love: Daniel Baron of Silver Oak and Twomey Cellars believes consumers are falling back in love with Merlot

Speaking to the drinks business during a lunch at Cut in London this week, Daniel Baron, director of winemaking at Silver Oak and Twomey Cellars said:

Sideways definitely had a negative effect on Merlot sales but the good thing is that the only producers left making Merlot in California are really serious about it.

“There was a lot of bad Merlot in California before, now there is a lot of bad Pinot. People need to stop patting themselves on the back about it.

“The love for Merlot is definitely coming back. Like Sangiovese, it’s beautifully positioned between Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon in terms of power and elegance. It’s a great compromise between the lighter and heavier styles.

“Cabernet is inherently complex and reveals itself in nuanced layers. Merlot is a simpler grape so it’s important to introduce Cabernet Franc to the blend, not Cabernet Sauvignon as it’s too dominant.

“With Merlot you need to achieve complexity and interest in other ways, like different clones, different aspects and blending from across vineyard sites.”

Twomey Cellars was founded in 1999 with the aim of making a top-end single vineyard Merlot, a goal inspired by Baron’s stint at Petrus in 1982.

“I always thought there was great potential to make a top Californian Merlot. I wouldn’t call what we’re doing as the ‘Petrus of California’ as the wine tastes completely different at La Fleur Petrus down the road in Bordeaux so there is no way of recreating Petrus,” he told db.

“Like a composer you can be inspired by the classics. The thing with Merlot is that you need to know when to pick it.

“The terroir of our vineyard site in Napa is a hugely influential factor. The soils are volcanic and not very fertile. We stress the vines to get the aromatics out,” he added.

During the lunch, Baron spoke of the importance of blending before the wine goes into barrel.

“The essence of wine is the balance of fruit, tannin and acidity, which you are in a better position to judge before it sees oak, creating a more seamless wine – it needs that time in barrel as a blend to marry the components,” he said.

Unusually for California, Baron uses the labour intensive soutirage traditionnel method of racking, where the wine is moved from barrel to barrel using gravity in place of a pump to soften the tannins.

A Sauvignon Blanc and several Pinot Noirs have recently been added to the Twomey Cellars range.

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