Breaking Barriers, Merry Edwards Celebrated California Winery is Admired in Greenwich

Twenty or so wine-shop retailers and distributor representatives from Greenwich, Stamford and other towns Connecticut gathered earlier this month at Harlan Social, in Stamford’s South End, to taste a range of about 15 wines from the celebrated Merry Edwards Winery of Sebastopol, California, in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley.

The tasting was sponsored by Brescome-Barton-Worldwide Wines of North Haven, the largest distributor of premium wines in the State of Connecticut. It was moderated by Ken Coopersmith, Co- Owner of the Merry Edwards Winery. Ken is also Merry’s husband.

Merry Edwards is admired in the wine trade on many levels: for the barriers she broke coming up through the ranks, the quality of her credentials, her business acumen, the winemakers she has trained, and most of all, for the quality of her wines.

Merry got her degree in Enology at the American academic temple of winemaking, the University of California at Davis. She was one of only three women in her Master’s graduating class, and the only one of those to become a winemaker. Merry’s Advisor was Dr. Maynard Amerine, the foremost Oenologist and Professor of Wine in the United States during the 20th century.

Her Master’s thesis showed that the lead from capsules used as wine closures was getting into the wine in the bottle; her work caused winemakers to discontinue using leaded capsules.

When it was suggested to Merry that she become a laboratory technician – the typical career path for women in wine at the time – she refused. Instead, she set out to become a winemaker – a field dominated by men.

Merry’s projects read like a who’s who of the northern California wine industry, but one has to remember that these wineries did not make Merry’s name. On the contrary: in many cases, her winemaking made the winery’s name. Merry started at Mount Eden Vineyards, then made Matanzas Creek Winery famous before becoming a consultant to a number of wineries. She finally bought some property near Sebastopol, California in 1996, founding the Merry Edwards Winery a few years later.

Merry was one of the first winemakers to recognize the importance of matching a grape clone to a specific site; where many winemakers search for vineyards that have the right mix of location, sunlight, soil, and other climatic factors, Merry has always looked for the right grape to match the vineyard.

More to the point: she looks for the right strain of grape variety that will match the site.

At Glenville Wine & Spirits, the team attends these tastings not only to choose good wines that are appropriate for our customers, but also to learn about the wines so as to allow our customers to make informed choices based on our acquired knowledge. Ken Coopersmith guided us through the history of each vineyard and the character it gives to the wines. Tasting across multiple vintages also gave us a sense of how the weather in a particular year affected the end product. As importantly, speaking with the Owner or Winemaker from a winery means getting some important 411 about the nuances and singularities that a winery may not always indicate in their publicity flyers.

I will write a separate article on the tasting itself, but let’s just say that Merry Edwards wines are focused on Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. They are full of California fruit, but are remarkably restrained. This means that they are complex (many different flavors competing for your attention) and not overly alcoholized. Nor do they hit you over the head with a single, overwhelming punch of fruit.

Merry’s Chardonnays offer the classic line of fat that all Chardonnays aspire to, but few achieve. Not real fat, but the understated glycerine that makes a Chardonnay feel ample and buttery. The oak treatment is perfect, not overwhelming. The acidity is integrated, not overt.

Tastings often leave me with three impressions. The first is the “meh” of a mediocre group of wines.  The second is the not-quite- satisfied feeling of an analytical slog.

The third impression is the giddiness I feel when I am reminded of the first time I ever tasted a great wine and understood just how complex wine could be. Those giddy impressions are rare, but the Merry Edwards brought them out in spades.