Fernande's famous hospitality and Georges de Latour's entrepreneurial spirit are how the BV winery gained its reputation. Fernande would be sure that if she hosted anyone in her home, she would always greet the guest with a glass of wine at the door. Georges, on the other hand, was out and about town and was quickly becoming a highly respected figure in the California wine industry. In 1902, the opportunity to purchase more property was presented to him by his neighbor and he bought and planted 127 acres, conveniently located right next to his home.
By 1911, Georges was already garnering attention for his work. This is a quote from the St. Helena Star in May 1911, "When it comes to quality, California is greatly indebted to Mr. G. de Latour, of Rutherford, who for some years has imported hundreds of thousands of the choicest French grafted wines, which have been planted in all the important vineyards in the state."
Today the fourth most widely planted red variety in the state, Merlot has much to offer. While it bears similarities to Cabernet Sauvignon (its half-sibling), it tends to be lower in both acidity and tannins, giving Merlot wines a mouthfeel that is often perceived as soft, round and plush. These qualities make it an ideal blending partner for Cabernet, the two complementing each other throughout.
Merlot arrived relatively late to the California wine scene. It wasn’t until the 1970’s when producers like Louis Martini, Sterling and Matanzas Creek—influenced by European Merlot blends—began crafting single varietal versions. These trend-setting bottles opened the eyes of others in the California wine scene and spurred increased plantings. From there, the variety’s lush drinkability led to a surge in popularity, then overplanting (some of it on unsuitable sites) and finally a backlash that was turbo-charged by the infamous 2004 film, Sideways. What most viewers didn't realize was that, as much as Miles derided the variety, the prized wine of his collection—a 1961 Château Cheval Blanc—is made from a blend of Merlot with Cabernet Franc.
Fine examples of California Merlot—either as a single varietal wine or as part of a blend—can be found from Napa Valley, Sonoma County, the Central Coast and most regions around the state. Merlot wines offer a ripe, sensual mouthful of plummy fruit, suggestions of mint, herbs and vanilla, all carried along by an approachable structure and often, a great potential for improving with age.