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Ramspeck Merlot 2012
I consider myself fortunate to have worked with some of the great pioneering wineries of Australia, New Zealand and the United States. I began my career working in the vineyards and winery of B. Seppelts and Sons, one of the oldest wineries in Australia. I was introduced to the Napa Valley as a harvest intern at Stags Leap Winery during the great vintage of 1987. At Chappellet Winery, one of the first post-Prohibition wineries, I worked as Assistant Winemaker from 1989 to 1997.
In 1991, while I was learning the art of making mountainside wines at Chappellet, I also began making my own wine under the Ramspeck label. In 1997 I left Chappellet to devote myself full time to Rowland Cellars. At the same time, I began consulting for William Hill Winery in Central Otago, New Zealand. The challenges of southern New Zealand intrigued me, and for ten years I made a New Zealand Pinot Noir under the Rowland label, before ultimately deciding to concentrate my winemaking in California.
My interest in making the best wine possible has led me to the invention of winemaking equipment, including a barrel stirrer that has been reproduced by many companies around the world. I’ve also consulted for a number of small private labels and vineyards. My current research is in the improvement of grape berry phenolic production and the prevention of berry dehydration."
"I grew up in Sacramento, a fourth generation Californian, but I have called the Napa Valley home for most of my life. I worked as an art and science educator for over twenty years, teaching in the Napa Valley and presenting at national conferences. I am also an illustrator, and have designed wine labels, menus, and posters for a variety of clients.
From the very start of Rowland Cellars, I’ve been a true partner and “the other half” of our two-person enterprise. My support and input has been there during every phase of production. As a graphic artist, it was natural for me to design promotional and sales material. When we introduced Cenay in 1997, based on my family heritage, it was my pleasure to design the label.
In 2009 I began to devote myself full time to our wine business. I now work with distributors on the road in other states, meet with sommeliers and restaurant owners, run tastings, and generally back up Gerry on the business side of Rowland Cellars. I love my work! And I love the collaborative spirit of our joint passion for making the best wine we can.
When I’m not working, I enjoy hanging out with my family, performing in the Napa Valley Follies, and tasting Gerry’s delicious recipes prepared in the Food and Wine Lab, aka our kitchen."
In 1991, when I decided to make and market my own wine, we traced my family history for inspiration. We found that my ancestors had made wine with their family crest on the label as early as 1537 and sold it throughout Europe. So it was with a deep sense of pride and respect for the past that we revived the Ramspeck label. Our first bottling was 200 cases.
In 1996 we started the Rowland label, making wines from vineyards too small to bottle individually. All our red grapes came from a triangle bordered by Atlas Peak, Stags Leap and Coombsville, so we called it our Red Triangle, a play on the notorious hunting ground of the great white shark off the coast of northern California.
In 1997, we introduced the Cenay label, based on Linda’s heritage. Her ancestors purveyed the accoutrements of the good life during Gold Rush days: fine cloth, premium cigars, and quality food and wine. Cenay continues that tradition, offering exceptional vineyard-designated wines of the finest quality.
We now produce 12,000 cases of wine annually, but despite this growth, we have been able to keep the business family run, with our staff consisting of myself, my wife Linda, and our three cats. We’re very proud of this achievement, especially considering that we are competing against newer labels in the Napa Valley that have the backing of sports celebrities, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and film makers.
The quality of our wines is ensured by control over every facet of the process, from vine management to winemaking techniques and products. Our story continues in every bottle of our wine, from one year to the next, as we continue to learn and to raise the bar for excellence.
One of the world's most highly regarded regions for wine production as well as tourism, the Napa Valley was responsible for bringing worldwide recognition to California winemaking. In the 1960s, a few key wine families settled the area and hedged their bets on the valley's world-class winemaking potential—and they were right.
The Napa wine industry really took off in the 1980s, when producers scooped up vineyard lands and planted vines throughout the county. A number of wineries emerged, and today Napa is home to hundreds of producers ranging from boutique to corporate. Cabernet Sauvignon is definitely the grape of choice here, with many winemakers also focusing on Bordeaux blends. Napa whites are usually Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
Within the Napa Valley lie many smaller sub-AVAs that claim specific characteristics based on situation, slope and soil. Farthest south and coolest from the influence of the San Pablo Bay is Carneros, followed by Coombsville to its northeast and then Yountville, Oakville and Rutherford. Above those are the warm St. Helena and the valley's newest and hottest AVA, Calistoga. These areas follow the valley floor and are known generally for creating rich, dense, complex and smooth reds with good aging potential. The mountain sub appellations, nestled on the slopes overlooking the valley AVAs, include Stags Leap District, Atlas Peak, Chiles Valley (farther east), Howell Mountain, Mt. Veeder, Spring Mountain District and Diamond Mountain District. Wines from the mountain regions are often more structured and firm, benefiting from a lot of time in the bottle to evolve and soften.
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.