Rabbit Ridge Sangiacomo Vineyard Merlot 1998
In 1981, Erich opened Rabbit Ridge Winery and Vineyards in Healdsburg, California named after his college track nickname, "The Rabbit". Rabbit Ridge became a successful, cult winery producing up to 250 thousand cases per year. The winery continued growing and producing wine in Sonoma County until all operations were moved to beautiful Paso Robles, on the Central Coast of California. In 1998, Erich met his wife Joanne James, a lifelong resident of St. Petersburg Florida, while promoting Rabbit Ridge wines at one of Disney's top restaurants. Joanne was interviewing with Rabbit Ridge's wine distributor at the same time, and the two met. Having graduated from Northeast High School and Eckerd College, Joanne was working as a runway model and had her own catering business, along with a fledgling interest in good wine. Erich and Joanne were married in 1999 and maintained a residence in St. Petersburg while Joanne's daughter grew up, completed high school and went off to college. Joanne's daughter has since graduated from college Suma cum laude and now works for Rabbit Ridge in Paso Robles. In 2001, Erich and Joanne began construction on their new winery on San Marcos Road. Erich had always wanted a winery that was high-tech with all the bells and whistles. The couple took design ideas from their trips to Tuscany and the Mediterranean and implemented them to get the look they wanted for the Paso Robles winery - Regal and Old-World. After years of national and international distribution, Erich and Joanne decided to down-size to the level of the "good ol' days" and get out of the "rat race." Today, Erich and Joanne produce 10 thousand cases per year and farm 200 acres of premium grapes, all grown on the west side of Paso Robles, California.
Known for elegant wines that combine power and finesse, Carneros is set in the rolling hills that straddle the southernmost parts of both Sonoma and Napa counties. The cooling winds from the abutting San Pablo Bay, combined with lots of midday California sunshine, create an ideal environment for producing wines with a perfect balance of crisp acidity and well-ripened fruit.
An easy-going red variety with generous fruit and a supple texture, Merlot can be made into a range of styles from everyday-drinking to world-renowned and age-worthy. Merlot is the dominant variety in the best wines from Bordeaux’s Right Bank regions of St. Emilion and Pomerol where it is blended with Cabernet Franc. On the Left Bank in the Medoc, it plays a supporting role to Cabernet Sauvignon—in both cases resulting in some of the longest-lived and highest-quality wines in the world. Merlot also frequently shines on its own, particularly from California’s Napa Valley.
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.