Merry Edwards is one of those living legends in the winemaking world of California that changed the way wine consumers viewed The Golden State. As Napa Valley became known for Cabernet Sauvignon, the more northern wine region of Sonoma County quietly carved out a name for Pinot Noir within Russian River Valley, a wine area tucked away within Sonoma, producing some of the best Pinot Noir wines in new world winemaking countries such as the U.S.
Merry was not only the first woman to receive a Master’s degree from the well-respected University of California, Davis, in the Department of Viticulture and Enology, but she was also one of the first to pass up some lucrative positions in wine labs to gamble on being a winemaker in California in 1974 so she could be a part of opening the door for many more women to enter positions of leadership in the wine industry.
Despite all of those impressive milestones, Merry is best known for her single vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir wines that proved the idea that sense of place (a.k.a. terroir) doesn’t only belong to Burgundy. And happily, one of her favorite single vineyard bottlings is making a comeback in spirit after it was brought to a halt after the 2003 harvest.
Back in 1999, a couple of years after Merry Edwards Winery & Vineyards was established, Merry started buying Pinot Noir from a property in an area called Windsor in the Russian River Valley that had “beautifully mature” 30 year old, unirrigated vines that were farmed by fourth generation farmer Lee Martinelli Jr. with Merry eventually naming the property Windsor Gardens. She said the wine quickly developed a “cult following” with customers referring to the wine as “the Grand Dame of Pinot” as it was “captivating and seductive when young” but it developed into a powerful, majestic wine as it aged.
Unfortunately, the owner of the property removed the old vines after the 2003 harvest to build new tract homes. It was a shock to Merry, Lee and all the fans of this special wine and a wake was held for the vineyard that included Scottish bagpipes as well as the last vine, displayed in an open coffin for viewing. Luckily, Lee kept some of the budwood from the vines so he could replant them in another location.
In 2012, Merry planted a new vineyard on a hilltop in Green Valley in Russian River and she used the budwood from that vineyard in Windsor that Lee had preserved, as she wanted to recreate the “legend” of her previous wine. The rebirth of this new vineyard with those cherished vines was given a new name: Warrens’ Hill.
The name of Warrens’ Hill has deep meaning connected to three men that have been an important part of Merry’s life and no one more important than her son Warren who passed away in 2006. Once she realized her son had been born with “multiple disabilities” she knew he needed a strong name. Warren Dutton had been a friend of Merry’s for many years and was one of the most respected growers in Russian River and Warren Arnold who was another good friend, was a renowned sculptor in the area as well as a “staunch supporter” of Merry back to her early days in her career.
Tribute that Lives On
In the beginning of 2019 Merry sold her winery and vineyards to the Champagne house Louis Roederer which was serendipitous as she had always loved Champagne and she has made a few vintages of her own tiny production of vintage sparkling wine in the Champagne method throughout the years. Merry and her husband, who is also her winery partner Ken Coopersmith, never thought of selling their winery with all their vineyards that they have accumulated throughout the years, but Roederer greatly appreciated the nuanced differences between the various Merry Edwards’ vineyard sites and when they approached her it seemed like the right time and the best wine producer to take them over. Merry is always there for Roederer if they need any help and the company even bought the vineyard that surrounds the house where she and her husband live, so literally she is always there for them.
It is great to see that the Merry Edwards wines are still being led by strong women such as the new winemaker Heidi von der Mehden, who worked under the guidance of Merry, as well as president Nicole Carter, who has had over 20 years of experience in the wine business, but it is the soul of her son that lives on in the great Pinot Noir vines at Warrens’ Hill that is still being celebrated by Roederer that really honors her incredible lineage – a lineage that has been built not only on the people who supported her from the beginning, but also by the one that still lives deep within her heart.
Everyday Drinking Wine (less than $15)
2018 Kenwood, Chardonnay, Sonoma County, California ($13): 100% Chardonnay. This is made from another winery called Kenwood that is able to source from many vineyards in Sonoma County and hence they are able to make a range of wines with their moderately priced bottles offering great value. Also, today 99% of Sonoma County vineyards are certified sustainable and so grabbing a bottle of Sonoma, whether specifically in the Russian River Valley or other areas, is a good way to promote environmentally friendly products. This is a refreshing Chardonnay with pretty white peach notes with a hint of spice.
Special Occasion Wine (from $15 to $50)
2018 Merry Edwards, Sauvignon Blanc, Russian River Valley, California ($36): 100% Sauvignon Blanc – one-third of the blend made with the highly floral Sauvignon Musqué clone from Sancerre and two-thirds with the Shenandoah clone which has a classic herbal character. Merry was the first producer to make serious Sauvignon Blanc wines in Russian River. This wine has an aromatic nose with honeysuckle and key limes with an intense minerality.
2017 Merry Edwards, Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, California ($48): 100% Pinot Noir. Initial note is broken earth with zingy cranberry brightness on the palate with savory notes mixed with hints of nutmeg with a focused finish; 5,100 cases.
Fantasy Wine (over $50)
2017 Merry Edwards, Pinot Noir “Warrens’ Hill Vineyard”, Russian River Valley, California ($63): 100% Pinot Noir. The 2017 vintage of Warrens’ Hill is the inaugural vintage. This wine really transports you, evoking images of walking through the forest after a refreshing rain. It also has playful cardamom and fresh tarragon notes that were juicy and bright on the finish; 240 cases.
2017 Merry Edwards, Pinot Noir “Bucher Vineyard”, Russian River Valley, California ($63): Dark brooding aromas that opened through time to reveal citrus blossom and an intense minerality that carried through its long, expressive finish with defined tannins that gave it structure and power; 580 cases.
2017 Merry Edwards, Pinot Noir “Olivet Lane Vineyard”, Russian River Valley, California ($68): Vines planted in 1973. Pristine fruit from the first sip that opened with gravelly notes that were multifaceted with turmeric, forest floor balanced by ripe black cherries, baking spices that were electric in their brightness, with a long, long fiercely refreshing finish; 730 cases produced.