Tag Archives: Emma Pearl Wine

Merlot: The Red Delicious Apple of the Wine World

As I was perusing the produce section of my local Safeway this weekend I was trying to decide which fruit to get for the week.  I love apples so I decided to go that direction.  For the first time in quite a while I did not reach for the Pink Ladies or the Galas.  I went back to my old staple.  The apple that started my love affair with apples; the Red Delicious.  I found myself being momentarily self conscious.  I know I have friends that would be appalled that I chose the old standard rather than searching out a “more flavorful” or “less mainstream” variety.  Now I usually love my Galas in CA, Empires in NY, and love of all loves the King apple that I’ve only found in Hendersonville, NC but something about that shiny, dark crimson flesh with the white spots spoke to me.  There’s nothing wrong with the Red Delicious, it’s usually the sterlingly beautiful example of what a theoretical apple should be, absent of defects but also lacking in any really distinguishing factor outside of it’s color.  It’s moderately sweet, moderately acidic, and moderately crunchy which appeals to the mass majority of apple consumers.  I was instantly struck by how similar the Red Delicious apple variety is to Merlot.

Merlot is one of those varieties that people who are really geeky about wine love to disparage.  It doesn’t have the power of Cabernet or the delicacy and finesse of Pinot Noir.  It lacks the spiciness of Syrah and the depth of Malbec.  Merlot has been turned into, in so many people’s minds, the standard red wine just like the Red Delicious is the standard red apple.  However because Merlot possesses so many qualities that are widely appealing to the wine consuming masses it has some how been deemed uncool.

Go ahead, blame the movie “Sideways”.  No one can dispute that it helped push Pinot Noir from relative obscurity to mainstream obsession but did it really hit Merlot as hard as everyone said it did?  I was working in upstate NY when the movie came out and if I had a dollar for every customer who asked me if I had seen the movie I would be a wealthy woman right now.  All these people tended to stay away from Merlot in favor of Pinot.  But what about the regular average consumer?  The people who are casual wine drinkers? The “Mr and Mrs Cul-de-sac” as one of my marketing people loves to say?  What do they think of Merlot?  Signs point to mainstream America loving Merlot.

Consider the data that started me off on this apple/grape comparison put forth so eloquently by Steve Heimoff  in a recent post.

Here’s the direct quote from his Nielson Data breakdown that really got me thinking.

“Despite rumors of a “Sideways effect,” 45 percent of participants in Nielsen’s custom survey of Merlot drinkers never saw the movie, and 93 percent of those that saw the movie say it had no effect on their opinion of Merlot”

It is very easy, as avid wine drinkers, to assume that your tastes are the tastes of the rest of country.  On the contrary, avid wine drinkers (and if you’re reading this blog that probably includes you) really only make up around 20% of the wine drinking population, which in turn, is only 30% of the population of the country as a whole.  (Sources: Constellation’s Home and Habitat study in 2008 and the economics portion of the Mastering Wine Seminar at UC Davis a few weeks ago)

Now who feels like they are in the minority?

Turns out that like the Red Delicious apple, Merlot is hugely popular.  More so, it never really lost popularity with the core group of people who were consuming it.  So instead of looking down on Merlot, maybe we should rediscover it?  If you haven’t had a Merlot in a while, try one this week!  Maybe you’ll even try an Emma Pearl Merlot (SHAMELESS PLUG FOR MY OWN WINE).  While you’re at it if you’re one of those Foodie types that thinks the Red Delicious is a dull flavorless variety that is not to be consumed by educated palates, go buy yourself one of those too!  Let’s all branch out and try something that we haven’t in a while just to see if we had the wrong notion in the first place.

Let me know what you find!

Harvest 2011 – Week 8 – Harvest Halfway and MW preparations

At this point we’re halfway through the harvest season.  In another 8 weeks it will all be wrapped up.  Wine will be tucked away in barrels or tanks either going through ML, extended maceration, and sur lee aging.  Between now and then is the most complex time during the harvest.  This is when the bulk of our North coast fruit comes in. NorthCoast is made up of Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, and Lake Counties.  Next week we’ll be inundated with Sonoma County Chardonnay as well as seeing our first Cabernets come in from Lake County.  This week has seriously warmed up with temperatures between 95 and 100 degrees.  Hot but not hot enough to really do damage like we had last year.  Just hot enough to kick the harvest into gear.  A ton of the reds are sitting around 22 Brix and as I heard someone put it for this harvest “22 is the new 24”.  I’m very excited about that prospect!  Chardonnay on the Central Coast is also coming in steadily this week.  My vineyards for Emma Pearl have ripened nicely and are now being received to begin the process of primary fermentation.  The Viognier that I use as 10% of the blend (give or take depending on the year) is already almost finished and ready to be sulfured.  Acids have been amazing and the flavors are already showing very well.  One of my earliest lots, a Gewurztraminer, is finished with primary, has had SO2 added and was clarified.  At this point I’m just trying to figure out in what blend will the beautiful spicy aroma fit. 


I’m also trying to work on my MW studies during this crazy time although it does tend to get put to the back burner this time of year.  Since my disappointing results that I wrote about at the beginning of the month I’ve been able to rally through the support of many of my fellow students, colleagues, friends, and of course family. I feel like I have a much better plan than I did at this time last year (when I was still in shock and moping about). This week I cut up the last 11 years of theory exam reports and filed them in folders based on the theory paper the questions and commentary came from.  My goal for the weekend is to get them sorted in to question buckets to try to see if I can discern a common theme (outside of the obvious themes of the papers) among the similar questions.  In November, I will be traveling to Bordeaux and Burgundy thanks to a scholarship sponsored by AXA Millésimes with five of my fellow MW students from around the world.  I’m very excited and love the fact that I’ll be touring in Burgundy, the classic home of my favorite red variety, Pinot Noir!  I’ve resurrected my essay question basket and am seriously considering re writing all the essays that I’ve done running up to the exam this past year.  I also would like to finish my World Wine File, an excel file distilling all the pertinent information about regions and countries of the world including climate, soils, laws, varieties, and general descriptors.  Perhaps one day I’ll put it up on this site as a paid subscription information source.  Heck, maybe it will be a book eventually. Who knows, but right now I want to get that massive database finished! These are huge goals but I’m going to try.  After all achieving the MW is a huge goal as well and if one is going to dream why not dream big?


First, I have to get all the grapes put to bed… Bring on the 2nd half!

Harvest 2011 – Week 3 – The Pinot Commeth

We’ve begun harvesting Pinot Gris from the Central Coast vineyard, CatCanyon (also the source of the Emma Pearl Chardonnay).  Pinot Noir doesn’t seem to be too far behind in Brix so I’m sure we’ll start to see that soon as well.  Here atAstiwe have our first grapes scheduled for mid-next week however it’s mainly Sauvignon Blanc that is going to be opening our season up mixed with a bit of Pinot Gris.  The word from the Central Coast is that tonnages are down even from already reduced estimate numbers but given that we’re only 2 days in to it down there that may not be indicative of the entire harvest.  It should be an interesting season to say the least but we already knew that, right?


The weather has still been fabulous for both grapes and people with cool foggy mornings and moderately warm, sunny afternoons.  So far the forecast calls for more of the same with a slight cooling this weekend and then warming again next week.  I love it. The grapes love it.  Everyone is happy!


Personally, I love a bandage type harvest (If you get it done quickly it hurts less!).  You’re crazy busy for a little bit but you get a lot of work done and the season just flies by.  Before you know it, it will be Halloween and you’ll be breathing a sigh of relief.  Slow harvests seem to drag on forever.  It’s much better to be super busy than waiting for the next vineyard to ripen up. 


On the MW front, I’m now a little less than 3 weeks away from getting my results from this year’s exam.  I’m nervous and excited all at the same time which is a mildly uncomfortable feeling in itself.  Excited because I feel like I did well and nervous because I felt that way last year too and it didn’t turn out all that well for me.  Only time will tell for sure.


I’m excited about Fall as it seems to be showing up more and more now.  Our Bartlett pears are ripening as is my table grape vine (when I can get to the fruit before the raccoons do).  There are little signs in the trees that the chlorophyll is breaking down and little tinges of red and yellow are beginning to show through.  September is right around the corner and it’s time to begin thinking of fall decorations, spring bulb planting, and butternut squash and pumpkin bisque.