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Kenwood Jack London Vineyard Merlot 2003
The Jack London Ranch creates distinctive red wines that have a loyal following throughout the world. The red volcanic soil and pleasantly warm climate of this hillside vineyard combine to produce rich, full-bodied wines. Located on Sonoma Mountain with an eastern exposure, this vineyard gets early morning sun and breezes in the afternoon that temper the day's most extreme heat. The vineyard crew pulls leaves off the vines to fully expose the Merlot clusters to the sun. This encourages early ripening and gives the wine flavor, depth and rich color.
Following a mild growing season, Kenwood harvested the 2003 Merlot crop in late September and early October. The juice was fermented in stainless steel and then aged in French and American oak barrels for 20 months.
Located in the heart of the Sonoma Valley, Kenwood Vineyards is dedicated to producing premium wines truly representative of Sonoma County’s world-class vineyards.
Kenwood Vineyards was established in 1970 in the former Pagani Brothers Winery, a historic cellar dating back to 1906. Thoroughly refurbished and modernized, the facility now boasts more than 125 stainless steel fermenting tanks and large oak uprights, and 20,000 small French and American oak barrels, all devoted to Kenwood Vineyards’ “small lot” style of winemaking.
In addition to the 22-acre vineyard surrounding the winery, Kenwood Vineyards sources grapes from dozens of vineyards – many farmed sustainably, using natural soil amendments and pest controls whenever possible rather than chemicals - in Sonoma County’s best appellations, including Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma Valley and Sonoma Mountain. Each lot from each vineyard is kept separate throughout the winemaking process, enabling the winemaker to bring it to its fullest potential. This “small lot” or “cuvee” style of winemaking also enables the winemaker to draw on an exceptionally broad “palette” to assemble wines that showcase classic character, subtle complexity and superb balance. As a result, every Kenwood Vineyards wine – whether Table Wine Series, Sonoma Series, Reserve, Jack London Vineyard or Artist Series – is consistent in quality and consistently delicious.
Home to a diverse array of smaller AVAs with varied microclimates and soil types, Sonoma County has something for every wine lover. Physically twice as large as Napa Valley, the region only produces about half the amount of wine but boasts both tremendous quality and variety. With its laid-back atmosphere and down-to-earth attitude, the wineries of Sonoma are appreciated by wine tourists for their friendliness and approachability. The entire county intends to become a 100% sustainable winegrowing region by 2019.
Grape varieties are carefully selected to reflect the best attributes of their sites—Dry Creek Valley’s consistent sunshine is ideal for Zinfandel, while the warm Alexander Valley is responsible for rich, voluptuous Cabernet Sauvignon. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are important throughout the county, most notably in the cooler AVAs of Russian River, Sonoma Coast and Carneros. Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Syrah have also found a firm footing here.
An easy-going red variety with generous fruit and a supple texture, Merlot’s subtle tannins make it perfect for early drinking and allow it to pair with a wide range of foods. But the grape also has enough stuffing to make serious, world-renowned wines. One simply needs to look to Bordeaux to understand Merlot's status as a noble variety. On the region’s Right Bank, in St. Emilion and Pomerol, it dominates in blends with Cabernet Franc. On the Left Bank in the Medoc, it plays a supporting role to (and helps soften) Cabernet Sauvignon—in both cases resulting in some of the longest-lived and highest-quality wines in the world. They are often emulated elsewhere in Bordeaux-style blends, particularly in California’s Napa Valley, where Merlot also frequently shines on its own.
In the Glass
Merlot is known for its soft, silky texture and approachable flavors of ripe plum, red and black cherry and raspberry. In a cool climate, you may find earthier notes alongside dried herbs, tobacco and tar, while Merlot from warmer regions is generally more straightforward and fruit-focused.
Lamb with Merlot is an ideal match—the sweetness of the meat picks up on the sweet fruit flavors of the wine to create a harmonious balance. Merlot’s gentle tannins allow for a hint of spice and its medium weight and bright acidity permit the possibilities of simple pizza or pasta with red sauce—overall, an extremely versatile food wine.
Since the release of the 2004 film Sideways, Merlot's repuation has taken a big hit, and more than a decade later has yet to fully recover, though it is on its way. What many 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.