There seems to be a bit of buzz ramping up regarding Merlot in the blogosphere this week and I wanted to add my two cents. I was recently talking to a colleague about my concerns about Merlot disappearing from Napa. It seems every time you turn around someone else is pulling a Merlot vineyard to replant it to Cabernet Sauvignon. I really like Merlot. When it is done well, it is a beautiful thing. However, during the PS era (pre-Sideways) there was quite a bit of very bad Merlot on the market since it was the “it” grape. The quintessential red wine of America, one could almost look up “red wine” in the dictionary and have a picture and description of Merlot as the definition. Post-sideways, it became the least desirable, least flashy workhorse of the wine world and sales plummeted for the next few years and vineyards began to pull it.
The pulling has slowed however it is becoming harder and harder to find good Merlot. I personally feel that Cabernet needs a little bit of Merlot. It fills in the middle and rounds out the edges. There is a reason these varieties are blended together most of the time because they truly do complement each other. The Sommelier Files brought up a great point saying “Thanks to the combination of soft tannins and finesse, the distinct flavors of … high-quality Merlots are also very approachable and fantastic with winter dishes.” It’s a great variety and one that I would hate to see reduced further in the valley. I have a fear that we as winemakers are going to wake up one day to a monoculture of Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa and have no Merlot or Cabernet Franc to enhance it.
I’m not fortunate enough to own vineyard land in Napa but if I did, I’d be looking at all my neighbors planting Cabernet Sauvignon and probably would decide to go with Merlot. If you are planting now one has to think about the market in 3-6 years and beyond. I think Merlot is going to be the scarcer commodity in a few year’s time and it might be quietly coming back while no one is looking.