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Villa San-Juliette Merlot 2013
Ken Warwick- At the winery, Ken is known for his keen “design eye” as he is consistently looking for ways to make the estate and the experience more beautiful for everybody. Outside the winery, Ken has had an amazing career, culminating with his current role as Executive Producer on worldwide productions of American Idol, World Idol and An American Idol Christmas for FremantleMedia. Ken has received numerous awards for his work, including Europe’s top television award, the Golden Rose for Montreux (the Rose d’Or), a British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Award, and National Television Award for Best Entertainment Program, as well as five Emmy nominations. His work on American Idol has earned 30 Emmy Award nominations to date, and in 2007 he received the prestigious Governors Award, the Television Academy’s highest honor, for Idol Gives Back. Ken also executive produces the wildly successful America’s Got Talent, and previously produced primetime entertainment shows for the BBC and ITV, including Gladiators, Don’t Try This At Home and Royal Tournament coverage.
Dan Smith was raised in Tualatin, a small city 12 miles south of Portland, Oregon surrounded by the vineyards of the Willamette Valley. As the youngest of five children, he watched his siblings as they progressed through school and various careers and decided at an early age that he needed a plan of action. "It was a mixture of the geography around me, on top of a fascination with my Aunt and Uncle’s obsession with collecting wine that led me to tell my parents that I wanted to be a winemaker when I was 14 years old. Always supportive, they bought me some books to read and even let me paint my room in a wine color theme." In 2005, Dan ventured out of Oregon to start school in Cal Poly’s Wine & Viticulture B.S. program. It was his first experience with California’s Central Coast and he immediately fell in love with the SLO life. Dan met many influential industry leaders and mentors while working on his degree at Cal Poly. "I remember a career discussion before graduation I had with my Viticulture professor, the late Dr. Keith Patterson, where I expressed my desire to keep living and working in the area. He strongly encouraged me to leave the region and get as much experience as possible, then return given the right opportunity.” Dan took Dr. Patterson’s advice and worked vintages in Sonoma, New Zealand, California’s Central Valley, and back in Oregon before one of his college mentors, Matt Ortman, asked him to become Villa San-Juliette’s Cellar Master in 2013. "It’s been an amazing experience working with the VSJ vineyard and wines along with our small team, and I’m thrilled to step in as Winemaker and continue producing quality, hand-crafted wines."
Paso Robles has made a name for itself as a source of supple, powerful, fruit-driven wines wines. But with eleven smaller sub-AVAs, there is actually quite a bit of diversity to be found in this inland portion of California’s Central Coast.
Just east over the Santa Lucia Mountains from the chilly Pacific Ocean, lie the coolest in the region: Adelaida, Templeton Gap and (Paso Robles) Willow Creek Districts, as well as York Mountain AVA and Santa Margarita Ranch. These all experience more ocean fog, wind and precipitation compared to the rest of the Paso sub-appellations. The San Miguel, (Paso Robles) Estrella, (Paso Robles) Geneso, (Paso Robles) Highlands, El Pomar and Creston Districts, along with San Juan Creek, are the hotter, more western appellations of the greater Paso Robles AVA.
This is mostly red wine country, with Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel standing out as the star performers. Other popular varieties include Merlot, Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot, Syrah, Grenache and Rhône blends, both red and white. There is a fairly uniform tendency here towards wines that are unapologetically bold and opulently fruit-driven, albeit with a surprising amount of acidity thanks to the region’s chilly nighttime temperatures.
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.